|Squirrelly Audience? (source)|
They are usually pretty easy to spot the moment you come into the room. There is a restlessness with them that you can feel.
There are lots of possible reasons that they are squirrelly.
- Have they just gotten back from a holiday and they are still feeling loose?
- Is this the first assembly of the year and they need to learn/relearn proper behavior?
- Is this a school that rarely gets assemblies and they have little experience with being an audience?
- Are you in a school with students who speak lots of different languages and many of the kids don't understand you?
You start the storytelling, and you can tell that only part of the audience is listening.
I faced such a group this morning. There were almost four hundred Kindergarten, first, and second graders on the floor in the gym.
They really wanted to be at recess, running up and down the halls, or possibly in gym class. Instead, they were in a space where they normally got to run around and play, but they were sitting together for something different.
How do you deal with an audience that starts like this for whatever reason?
Suggestion 1 - Use The Pack To Overwhelm The Individual
I make sure that the stories I am presenting are VERY interactive.
Group participation tends to make even the daydreamers pay attention just so they can say the silly things, do the gestures, and be part of the group.
That goes a long way in gathering up the wanderers to become part of the telling community.
Suggestion 2 - You Can Use Some Simple Disciplinary Practices
If I see lots of poking or playing with each other before I begin, I call the behavior out upfront.
-Okay, everybody, let's keep your hands to yourself. If you play with your neighbor or forget your assembly behavior I will have you go and sit next to your teacher.
I try to catch the eye of the disruptor as I tell. I also try to give them a chance to make better choices.
Most of the time I don't have to move anyone, but sometimes I do. I ask them to go and sit by their teacher. I only do this with students who are so disruptive they are causing a small circle of distraction.
Today I ended up moving three kids. The rest of the audience calmed down after that.
Suggestion 3 - Give Them A Wiggle Break
My pre-k through second-grade set has a built-in wiggle break.
The stretch break involves the whole body so that each kid can participate to the best of their ability. There is an upper and lower body activity. I encourage the teachers to get into it as well.
I get them to march, breathe, stretch, dance about and follow visual and audio cues. I try to make it fun.
Sometimes the answer is that your young audience has not dealt with storytelling and doesn't really know what is expected of them.
Novice listeners might need some basic storytelling training.
You consume music and dance differently than sitting and listening to the spoken word without a book. Engaging their imagination without puppetry, costumes, or music could be a new experience for them.
The first story might be a little rocky, but with a little exposure, they crack the code.
Picking great stories helps!
Suggestion 4 - Make Sure You Offer Different Levels of Listening, Participation, and Action During The Performance.
When choosing stories for a wiggly audience, I look for tales that have lots of participation both physical and vocal.
I recommend stories that incorporate intensity, silence, and non-pedestrian sound for different levels of involvement. It is amazing how quickly they look up if you go completely silent! These are great techniques to catch their attention.
Hand gestures, call and response, physical cues, voices, rhythms, rhymes, and repetition are all good choices. Oh, and don't forget that three minute or so wiggle break! It will make all the difference.
Strap in and enjoy the ride!