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Signaling an End to Classroom,
Cafeteria Chatter

Some teachers are finding that mini traffic lights are as effective at regulating classroom conversation levels as the real signals are at controlling traffic flow. Devices such as the teacher-created Yacker Tracker tell students when to put the brakes on their chatter. Included: Tips for using the devices in classrooms, cafeterias.

Did you ever wish for a volume control on the level of student chatter in your classroom or school cafeteria?

One California education professor, after listening to her students' concerns about classroom management, came up with a tool for teachers that gives youngsters a green light when it comes to talking.

Students respond to a Yacker Tracker's red light in this promotional photo.
(photo by Tim O' Hara, Tim O'Hara Photograph)

Called the Yacker Tracker, the device is a small traffic light that shines green for appropriate conversation levels, yellow when the volume is rising, and red when talking is too loud and needs to stop. The red light also can trigger a siren, which can be deactivated. The Yacker Tracker is manufactured by Creative Toys of Colorado.

"I want my student teachers to focus on teaching, so the more tools I can provide to put the monitoring of noise and classroom management back on the students, the more time teachers can spend teaching," said Yacker Tracker inventor Fran Rebello.

HEEDING A CALL FOR HELP

Rebello, a former elementary school teacher who currently teaches in the education department at California State University, Chico, said she created the Yacker Tracker after getting feedback from students about their problems maintaining order in their classrooms.

"It saves the teacher from being the 'bad guy,' yelling at students that they are getting too loud," Rebello told Education World. "It's a non-threatening device that helps remind students that their talking is getting too loud. It also challenges students and is an incentive to be good: if the green light stays on, students earn a reward."

Another education instructor said she knows students and teachers who rely on the Yacker Tracker. "The teachers praised the effectiveness of the Yacker Tracker, [saying it] provided them control and management within the classroom," said Bobbie Bullard, who has taught in the elementary teacher preparation program at California State University, Chico. "The teachers feel they had been given more valuable instruction time."

The system also is easy for students to learn and serves as an immediate reminder of class rules, one teacher said.

"The Yacker Tracker has been a godsend in the fact that it is so versatile," said Darcie Regall, a first grade teacher in Chico. "I start off training my class on day one by showing students how to enter the classroom in an orderly and quiet way. Although this does take a while, it's much easier for them to watch the light, rather than have me shush them. This becomes a team effort and they all strive for the green light to be lit. I use the yellow light as a warning, and the red means a consequence of some sort.

"I also use it when entering and using our library -- it is so light, I can unplug it, tuck it under my arm, and use it other places."

The light can be used as cues for other behaviors as well. "In group work, the green means 'talk it up!' Regall told Education World. "Yellow means time to gather up work and supplies, and prepare for a presentation or a lesson. Red signifies quiet, be back in your seat, and be ready for a presentation by either a student or the teacher.

"I really like the teamwork that Yacker Tracker promotes. And the bottom line is that it makes my job a little easier. Thank goodness for that."

GIVING SUBSTITUTES CONTROL

Yacker Tracker also can help substitutes immediately establish control with different classes. "I was substitute teaching in a rural area of Georgia almost two years ago, and I had kindergarten to fifth grade children," said teacher Peggy Miller. "I would not have survived if not for the Yacker Tracker."

Miller said she began classes by having students guess the purpose for the red light and distributing stickers to students whose guesses came closest. She then told students the Yacker Tracker rules; each time the light turned red, they lost a minute of recess time. They needed two minutes with the green light on to earn back each lost recess minute.

"Of course, the kids immediately would see what noise level they could get away with," Miller told Education World. "As soon as the red light and siren would go off, I would place a chalk mark on the board. After two or three of those, I would see the kids policing each other. Soon the 'show offs' would become unpopular. It usually took only ten to 15 minutes for the classroom to settle down -- no matter what the age -- and the rest of the day was quiet. About ten to 15 minutes before recess (depending on how many chalk marks were on the board) I would have the students put their heads down and sit quietly to earn back those recess minutes."

Students told her they enjoyed having a quiet classroom when they had a substitute, and many of the teachers were surprised that Miller completed their lesson plans and had time for word games and puzzles.

"Fran's invention made it easy to keep control of a classroom and to get the kids' attention without shouting," added Miller. "I think the children liked 'seeing' the limits and having less chaos when a sub was the teacher of the day."

SEVERAL CHOICES

Elementary teachers probably make up the bulk of Yacker Tracker sales, although high schools have used them in speech and drama classes, to help students learn to project their voices to the back of a room, according to Rebello.

Devices similar to the Yacker Tracker also are available for larger venues, such as gymnasiums, cafeterias, and auditoriums. These conversation stoppers include the Talk Light and the Traffic Light Audio Monitor.

Rebello added that she does not worry that some people might criticize devices such as the Yacker Tracker on the grounds that children should learn to behave without gadgets. "You know what, I haven't had one negative comment about the Yacker Tracker," she said. "I get e-mails and notes all the time saying thank you, and talking about how much they love to use it in their classroom and how effective it is. I've had substitute teachers send me notes that say it is a lifesaver for them as they take it from school to school, and what a unique tool it is for them to keep the students quiet for the day."

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