At a past Michaela debate I heard Peter Hyman describe a desire for education ‘…with a smile, not a SLANT.’ The implication was not only, bizarrely, that the two are mutually exclusive (Bright Face is another technique taken from Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion) but that ‘SLANT’ is somehow not desirable.
The acronym stands for Sit up straight, Listen, Ask and answer questions, Nod your head, and Track the speaker.
It’s largely a ‘child’s guide to active listening.’
…super hard to wrap my head around what’s egregious about this.
In my experience, some of these, like ‘nod your head,’ tend to fall away quite quickly, and SLANT becomes more of a shorthand for how you expect pupils to sit: straight backed, eyes on the teacher, and with hands interlocked, or arms folded.
This last part’s the interesting bit.
If you struggle to picture it, you can see Colleen Driggs use a hand gesture to remind a child to return to a ‘hands interlocked’ position in this video (the others are already there.) You have to be pretty quick to see it, mind. The whole thing takes only a second or two, and Colleen doesn’t break her flow for it at all.
I’ve been in a few trainee teacher classrooms recently where I saw something strange. When they counted down to silence, they got it pretty quickly. When they were speaking, the pupils were largely silent. Maybe they did, but I couldn’t remember my classes going that well in the first couple of months. Despite this, I noticed something else… I couldn’t for the life of me focus on what the teacher was saying! Despite the relative quiet, I was constantly distracted by a cacophony of ruler waving pen tapping hand stomping fidgeting that was endemic in the classroom.
What’s a teacher to do? At most, I expect you could ask that the trainee focus on a firm expectation of ’empty hands.’ That has two problems. The first is that it doesn’t really deal with the hand stomping or finger tapping. The second is that… well you know what it’s like, we will all sometimes mindlessly pick things up and play with them when we’re trying to focus for a period of time. Not just *low level* disruption; this is, for the most part, likely, completely *unintentional* disruption on the part of pupils, yet disruption it is. I couldn’t focus and I was trying really hard!
How could children focus in this environment? Truth is most couldn’t. Yes there was quiet, but there wasn’t a high degree of attention being given in most the classrooms I saw, and I couldn’t blame them – distractions abound. As lessons drew on, the relatively high level of respectful quiet that the trainees had initially commanded began to wane, I suspect, in direct relation to how much pupils felt they weren’t really learning.
And so I was met with a newfound love and appreciation of SLANT; at least, that part of it that asks not only that pupils ‘sit up straight,’ but that gives a clear expectation of what to do with their hands during teacher instruction so that they don’t accidentally disturb those around them, and so all have the opportunity to think deeply about the content.
In schools that make use SLANT or similar, I’ve seen this expectation around ‘folded hands’ fade with older pupils. Despite this, I also saw those pupils exhibit more of the typical ‘mature adult’ mistake – far fewer of the class were wont to fiddle and fidget in general, and those who did needed only a quick, gentle reminder, and they immediately emptied their hands, a little embarrassed, pretty much any of us do when we realise we’ve accidentally started clicking a pen or tapping something that might distract those around us.
So, long live SLANT!
(or some version of it.)