A kindergarten teacher once taught me about the "secret word." As a music teacher going from class to class it was interesting how the classes would receive me. Some teachers would look up from their teaching and say, "Oh, boys and girls, I forgot we have music today. Put your stuff away and get ready for music." It would be a time while this took place and I could start with the class. On the other hand, I would go into some classes and the children would be sitting at their desks ready to go--some would even applaud. And I could start. The kindergarten class was always ready and very quiet. I asked her how she got these little wiggle worms to be so quiet? "The secret word!" And she explained, early in the year she taught the class a word she would not normally use in the classroom, like, scintillating. Once the children heard the word, they couldn't speak. Later on she would let them know they could talk again. She only used it for certain occasions. I filed the idea away.
Later when I was a fourth grade teacher (I even used this idea with my elementary school band) I introduce my kids to the secret word. Indeed, I used the word, "scintillating" as I hardly ever used it in sentences. So I told the class, when you hear this word--no talking! Not even a grunt. Then we practiced. During reading class I would say something like....my you are reading in a scintillating way. At first only half of the class quit talking but as we practice we got better. One day the principal walked into the room and I greeted him with, "Hi, Mr. Williams, you're seeing my class at their scintillating best." The class went quiet but kept working. He talked to a student and that student remained mum. He soon left and the class and I praised ourselves on how good we were. They were.
I didn't use this technique very often--only for emergencies like a parent coming into the class during the day or the superintendent showing up unexpectedly. The class and I had other tricks that we did--but this one was a staple.
Every year the school district would in cooperation with the county health department have an immunization day where most of the kids would get "shots." It really screwed up the day for teaching but it had to be done. Several weeks beforehand, permission papers would be sent home, checked off, signed and brought back. Some parent had to be called but by and large each teacher would get most of his/her class forms ready to go.
For me it was a good chance to go over some health lesson plans and get the kids to think about their bodies and how it works. I probably showed that movie, "Hemo, the Magnificent" as a lead in for this day. But it was quite apparent, the kids did not like getting shots. I could talk to them until I was blue in the face that it really didn't hurt much and it was good for them and..... As a group they didn't like it. And of course I always had a trouble maker in the room that would say to the class how his brother passed out last year. And I'd say, "Tom, you don't have a brother." "Oh, yeah." But the damage was done. Shots were not at the bottom of things disliked but probably close to it.
The office would send out a schedule for when each class was to go to the multi-purpose gym and as that time approached, my class got more and more nervous. I finally started reading to the class from their favorite story but it was not much of a distraction. And then it was time to go. So I talked to the kids one more time. And I told them I was going to use the secret word just before they went into the gym. Quick review--"What do you do when you hear the word?" "Close your mouth and speak to no one." "Okay, lets go."
Down to the gym, a few tears--one year one of my girls got out of line and held my hand. It was a scary time for them. We reached the door and I just said, "scintillation." Inside the door was a receptionist checking the paperwork that each child had. "How are you today?" she asked brightly. Not a response. "You can talk to me." Not a response. By now she had checked the paperwork and sent each child to a station with a doctor and nurse. The nurse job was to talk to the child while the doctor gave the shots. And the nurses had interesting questions for the each child. Not a response. The harder the nurses tried to get my kids to speak the tighter the lips became. It became a game of who get one of the children to say anything and the kids fought back silently. The kids won. Hands down.
We got back to the room and I released them from the secret word and the words tumbled forth. "We were good, weren't we?" "I never felt the shot!" "She couldn't make me speak." "No one passed out." I praised them--they really had done magnificently and I told them so. Talk about big heads. But you know when you've done something well, you need to speak about it for it to become part of your memory bank. I let them go on on how they got through all the shots. The stories got better, the needles longer and sharper as the moments progressed.
Since we were one of the upper grades, it was close to the time for us to start preparation for going home. The kids were excited. Then around the corner of the building by our windows came the principal, all the doctors and nurses and the receptionist. I teased the kids and said maybe we have to do it all over again. Wrong thing to say. You could see the worried looks. "I'm teasing you" but it didn't help.
In our door came the group--the principal coming up to me but not saying anything. I had no idea what was going on. Someone in the health group started speaking. Essentially, they had been in many schools giving shots over the past several weeks. They had been in other school districts and other elementary schools. And this class stood out and did so well they just had to come by and tell them how good they were. Indeed, not one person cried, passed out or yelled. And as a group they applauded the class. My principal was still giving me the evil eye wondering how we did it. And my kids were elated. I was afraid they might blow the whole scene but they kept it under control.
Yes, we talked about this experience for several weeks. I'm sure it was discussed over the dinner table in most of the children's homes as well. It made the class proud of what they had accomplished and I think I saw improvement in all their learning-----but then I was biased. I did think the kids did well.
There was a lot of learning that took place before and after the "shots". I really doubt if you would find anything about this in the WASL tests or The No Child Left Behind tests but in my mind this was much more important. The kids learned something about themselves--each one did their own learning.
My thanks to the kindergarten teacher who passed on the "secret word" to me. And to those kids, grown ups that you now are, "you were magnificent."