The Clapper Kid

This article was in the queue to be published in 2016. Why? Who knows? The queue is crowded, for sure. Anyway, here it is. I think I didn’t want to publish it bc I was unsure about the content, but in the light of the recent discussion generated by James, I’ll just publish it here now:

The Clapper Kid is the most important of 53 possible student jobs in the classroom.

Most of us have simply been incapable of making their CI classes work to full potential because we haven’t had the weapons. We haven’t been able to master SLOW, we go out of bounds, we allow blurting, we all know the drill.

But now I have created a tool to make SLOW, in-bounds, staying in the TL, circling, etc. actually work. It’s another job. The job is called the Clapper Kid and for me the idea is a breakthrough, if only in my opinion and in my classroom. The Clapper Kid is a weapon. The Clapper Kid is a bad boy.

The Clapper Kid is a weapon for classroom management that you pull down off the shelf in the discipline aisle along with various cans of Whoop Ass. The Clapper kid is students policing students. The Clapper Kid has an alias – Shut the Fuck Up in My Classroom.

The job description of the Clapper Kid falls short of being able to walk around the room and clap the plastic hand into the face of a person with their head down or who is otherwise not listening or showing up fully as a human being in class.

I’d love to allow the Clapper kids to do this, because some kids are such assholes, but it’s just too rude (I tried it with a class once and it just had too much of a bitchy edge to it).

Short of that rather extreme move, the Clapper Kid does in fact have the authority to clap loudly whenever there is a fail by the class BUT NOT AN INDIVIDUAL l to show up strongly in response to my questions.

I must learn to absolutely insist on a strong class one word response whenever I ask any question and stop the class if I am not getting the kind of reciprocal and participatory behavior I want. I’ll say that again. If the response is weak, I stop class.

But since I suck at that and keep on rambling like Old Man River, I have to employ this unique kid who is there to help me. A sidekick sitting off to the side of the class who can then see me and pay attention to the lesson but also see the class and enforce so many things that I forget about because so much is going on.

(When I say fail I mean in the sense of Blaine always cautioning us to be careful and look out for weak responses.)

What is a weak response? It’s a shitty response from the class. A non-enthusiastic response. A sucky response. A surly response. A pain in the ass response. A response that makes me want to put on my  I Hate This Job tshirt. A weak response.

Because we have all, with very few exceptions if any, allowed to creep into our CI practices an acceptance of kids not responding, dumb asses that we are. We have talked about it here for years. The challenge of getting all the kids in the class to participate fully has been, perhaps, THE one big thread dominating the history of this blog, a thread connected in some way to every discussion we’ve had now for six or seven years.

Weak responses have spurred us to create jGR. Weak responses are why we have the Classroom Rules. Weak responses are why we go SLOW and try so hard to stay in bounds and get reps through proper Circling.

But we still get weak responses. So I don’t think that assessing a kid on their ability to “contain the urge to speak English” is going to work. Blurters are just rude and how many of us have stopped our habitual blurters so far this year? I would bet few if any. They aren’t going to contain their urge to speak English if we politely ask them. We need more. 

I can only say that the Clapper Kid has brought me much much better responses, not weak ones. It is amazing. So who is the Clapper Kid and what does she do?

Job Requirements for the Clapper Kid

• is our most important hire of the 53 jobs in our jobs category. • must be a superstar who can focus on us and our lesson and on the class at the same time. • must be able to clap – on the class but not individuals – in a lighthearted way, bringing good will, but at the same time bring the authority. • reminds teacher about the Jump into the Space option, which should occur a lot in class.

Here is a template:

1. Teacher goes to Party City and buys one of those big hand clappers made of plastic that make a loud clapping noise when shaken. 2. Teacher hires a truly sharp student as per the above required job qualifications. 3. Clapper sits at the side of the room, looking at both the class and the instructor, fully aware of both. 4. When the teacher is delivering the CI, the Clapper looks at the kids and claps if even one kid is breaking any of the rules below*. (This clap is not directed at any one person – it is a generic clap.) 5. The teacher stops teaching, trying to determine who the offender is. 6. The teacher doesn’t call out the kid in front of the class, but instead just waits for compliance. 7. If the clapper calls out the teacher, the teacher must comply**.

*Rules on clapping at the class. The Clapper claps at the class if:

1. a student is not involved 2. a student gives a weak response 3. a student blurts 4. a student speaks English 5. a student is looking down at desk of if head is down 6. do all this while never singling out a student

**Rules on clapping at the teacher. The Clapper claps at the teacher if:

1. the teacher goes into extended English (sometimes you gotta – like in mentioning some outrageously cool historical fact connected to the lesson) without first asking for a time out from the Clapper. 2. the teacher uses more than the three full time outs allowed per class (as in a basketball game.) 3. the teacher goes over four seconds on a pop up grammar point. (i.e. the Clapper is not allowed to clap at the teacher for use of English unless four seconds have gone by.)

So the Clapper, not the teacher, is the one who watches out for weak responses. That is her job. The teacher just can’t remember to do that – there is too much going on.

So the Clapper is a kind of referee. A really great Clapper would also remind the teacher to use the Jump Into the Space option*** as well.

When the Clapper is doing their job properly, there is much less confusion and much stronger responses. It truly is a game changer.





16 thoughts on “The Clapper Kid”

  1. I like the way James said he looks for the stoic, tough guy. How else to involve a kid that fits that description in class? It’s so funny to be going along in class and see a formerly totally uninvolved scowly kid suddenly clapping violently to bring the group back to focus. And since she usually has the scowl going, the kids listen!

    And that IS the purpose of the jobs, or one of them, isn’t it, to make class feel like we are all facing together in the same direction trying to accomplish a common goal of fluency building instead of the way it used to be, so oppositionally crappy between teacher and students. Can you imagine that we actually used to have to TRY to get kids to participate?

    As I look back on this year and how it’s been different, I have to state that the jobs have completely bridged all distances between me with most kids that in non-jobs years formerly would have stayed there all year.

    As a class, waiting for class to start or whenever, we often talk about who should do what job. Today, speaking about names (see TPRS Resources/Workshop Handouts) in one class, I had the most fun of my day when we went around the entire class before it started (small class) and gave English names to everyone.

    Aleah became Heather, Berta became April, Michelle became Sandy, Marco became Theodore, Vivianna became Veronica, and Luis became Sammy. They had to approve each name. What unity it brought us! And I am their teacher, usually the enemy!

    The power of names, and the power of jobs, that’s what I’m talking about!

  2. Ben, I saw how you use the clapper in one of the videos that you posted on this blog a while back. I saw that a student clapped on you at one point because you spoke English.

    After seeing the video I tried it in my classroom, yet with a bell rather than with a clapper. It was immediately a huge success. I’ve been using the bell for the past 6 months or so and the students police each other with it. I chalk that one up as one of my best discoveries this year. Thanks again Ben for posting the videos for us to learn from.

    I can confirm that it is absolutely a game changer and your life in the classroom will be incredibly easier. Please try it everyone!

    1. Is this Ray Bauer?

      If it is then this message is for you, otherwise please ignore.

      Ray: reading your post made me think that when you come to observe my class next week you shoud bring this bell. And you should use it, as a joke on the kids. I think it would be fun and they would love it. We can talk about it on Thursday but if you can remember to bring it that would be awesome!

      1. Hey Sabrina,

        It is in fact me, Ray Bauer. I will bring the bell on Thursday! Sounds like a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to it!


    1. In light of lamunoz’s comment, what about multiplying the power of the clapper job with a few more instruments/noisemakers for different infractions? For instance…the clapper claps for too much English, the kazooist kazoos for out of bounds language, etc.

      Then we train an accordion player to play an annoyingly peppy (or slow and triste, depending on the need), five-second little ditty for weak responses. The accordion player could also play festive music whenever applause errupts after retells and to mark other shining moments. We could even use the accordion player to accompany songs in the TL which we’ll sing together as brain breaks. If the accordonist plays music from whatever country, this could be a way to meet the “culture” standard as an experienced thing instead of an informational side-note. Pipe dream?

      I think having 2 or 3 “police” on different instruments could bring extra fun into the room. But I could also see that many different noises becoming a distraction -even if a fun one. Of course this would take away from the power of giving the one clapper kid the full power of this role, which seems like the main side benefit of the job. Any thoughts? Has the idea of multiple noisemakers already been discussed here?

  3. Greg,

    I had to laugh when I read your idea. I can imagine the total cacophonia in the room, and see a picture of it in my head.

    Wow, talking about pictures I heard this book review on NPR this morning ( Louder than word by Benjamin Bergen) about brain research and the now definite correlation between words and pictures inside our brains.

    In a summary of the book is written the above:
    “When we hear words and sentences, Bergen contends, we engage the parts of our brain that we use for perception and action, repurposing these evolutionarily older networks to create simulations in our minds. These embodied simulations, as they’re called, are what make it possible for us to become better baseball players by merely visualizing a well-executed swing; what allows us to remember which cupboard the diapers are in without looking, and what makes it so hard to talk on a cell phone while we’re driving on the highway. Meaning is more than just knowing definitions of words, as others have previously argued. In understanding language, our brains engage in a creative process of constructing rich mental worlds in which we see, hear, feel, and act.”

    That is the idea that Ben talks agbout all the time about having the kids make a movie of the stories in their head while hearing them.

    Isn’t that TOTALLY aligned with what we do with CI ?

    Sorry for hijacking your comment here Greg, but your words brought me back to that report I heard.

    1. I’ll have to add that book to my (overly ambitious) summer reading list, Sabrina…sounds very interesting. I definitely need to get better at helping my kids create the mental image.

  4. That reminds me of this past Saturday…we had a “Peer Coaching” session here in Maine, – thanks to SKIP!!! – small group of 6, but very invigorating and inspiring nonetheless. Dennis Gallagher gave us a presentation of “movie talk” in French. The next day, while talking on the phone with Sabrina, I was able to retell it — and Dennis only spent 1/2 hour on it!!! But it was so powerful!!! Seeing the actions, hearing the words, seeing the words written — WOW!!! it stuck! (except that crazy French pronunciation 😉 haha)

  5. Thank for the post mb…

    I was going to send the following as a “report from the field” but I think I will just post it here…. It is in the form of an e-mail to everyone who has expressed interest in peer coaching in our Maine/New England (and beyond) group…

    A group of five of us met at the USM/LA campus this past Saturday. I think I can safely speak for the entire group that we went away refreshed, encouraged and excited about some new things that we learned and can take to our classrooms.

    Dennis Gallagher demonstrated movie talk. A huge light bulb came on for me. Movie talk is a VERY powerful way to deliver CI and stay in the target language. Many thanks to Dennis for sharing this with us.

    Personally I was able to finally understand the “3 ring circus” and the “word chunking activities”. My thanks to the group for helping me hash those out.

    Mary Beth and Andrea shared very cool websites with us called “5 a day hula” and “5 a day disco” which we all agreed would be fabulous brain breaks during a lesson….

    Other equally useful ideas were shared as well.

    WE HAVE SET A DATE FOR THE NEXT PEER COACHING SESSION. IT WILL BE ON August 22 at the same location in room 107 from 9-3.

    I am more passionate than ever about this peer coaching thing. There is SO much that we can learn together and get better doing by practicing together. The primary objective is to help us become more effective at delivering CI to our students. I benefitted greatly from our session on Saturday and would give a warm invitation to all to join us in August. By then many of us will have attended national conferences, will feel very regenerated and should have LOTS to share.

    Thanks and I wish everyone a great end to the school year.

    1. Skip,

      Thank you for the update! It is very encouraging to hear.
      Yes! Peer coaching session is what is needed for many of us working in isolation all year.

      I am also setting up a group of us from this blog and any other TCI practionners in the Great Chicago Area interested starting this June, and I am really excited about it. It’ll be great to meet in person some of here and start collaborating on a local level. I am going to talk to Ben later on for some practical suggestions as well as you Skip since you have been doing this for a while now.

      I also attended a training seminar this past saturday on PLCs as part of professional development, and it reminded me that we can only do this kind of work TOGETHER. Individually we can achieve, but as a cohesive group just like the one we have here on this blog (thanks to Ben) the sky ‘s the limit.

      Skip, on Sunday Mary Beth did the retell to me in French of that movie talk story you guys did and I was really super impressed. Great job guys!

      Can’t wait to see you in Dallas Skip but until then TTFN( tata for now) !

      1. Does anyone know of any groups getting together in the Southeast over the summer? Or in the NY/NJ areas (I’ll be up there visiting family). Is anyone near NC even interested in getting together for some peer coaching this summer? I can’t afford to go to the conference or anything with a fee besides gas to get there b/c of saving up for France in the fall.

        Are the coaching sessions at the conference recorded? That’d be nice for those of us that can’t make it…

  6. Oh, that sounds good! I need to try that, although I have to admit I’m a bit afraid that it might not work because I haven’t been strict enough yet.
    The tests do help with participation, a lot, though. And the students don’t mind because they’re really happy about how well they do on them.

    1. Quick quizzes, the clacker, and stopping class if there is a weak response have been my big three of classroom management this year. It hasn’t been anywhere near perfect, mostly because of my laziness, but it has been a whole lot better than it ever has been.

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