Straight and quiet lines

Not exactly a real-world skill.

Kelly Leehey wrote a great post questioning why we teach students to walk in quiet lines:

Sometimes when I see a group of students walking by in an exceptionally straight and silent line, I get that teacher impulse to say, “Wow, look at what a great line Mrs. So-and-So’s class is making!”  However, now, I stop myself, because, really, what’s the big deal?  Why do we need to control the way our students walk?

We want our students to be responsible, respectful, innovative, and creative.  We want our students to think outside the box.  We want our students to become critical thinkers and problem solvers.  We want our students to see the big picture, to always seek the why.  We want our students to crave deeper answers and new understandings.  We want our students to walk in straight, silent lines.

This last desire doesn’t seem to fit in with the others.  If we are trying to empower students, why exert our power over them in such a controlling, trivial way?

I have to admit–I’ve always insisted on orderly lines. My expectation is usually (relative) silence on the stairs and in hallways. Quiet conversations in outdoor hallways and courtyards are okay, assuming kids can talk and look where they’re going at the same time, which is not a given in the primary grades. (Oh, if I had a dollar for every child who rammed their sideways-turned head straight into my stomach…)

I want students to buy into the need for quiet in the hallway, so I have lots of discussions with them about the “why” behind this expectation. Usually I let the class draw up the guidelines for hallway behavior themselves. Most of the kids get it…and it only takes one noisy class to go tearing down the hall while my kids are trying to think for someone to exclaim, “THAT’S why it’s important to walk in a quiet line in the hallway!!” The whole class will nod in solemn agreement and you can almost see the lightbulbs turn on.

So the need for quiet is fairly obvious to me (and my students.) Walking in a line, less obvious. Why do I insist on it?  For one thing, a line helps kids keep themselves from talking when it’s disruptive to do so. A line makes it easier for kids to exert self-control and be respectful of the classes who are trying to learn. Lines also make it easier for classes to pass one another in the hallway. It’s less painful to stab yourself in the eye with a plastic fork than to try leading your group of kids around another class that is walking in packs and shouting incessantly to each other.

Walking in quiet lines is unnatural, yes, and it’s not a skill that’s very useful outside of the school environment.  That’s one reason why it’s hard for kids to do–and also why it’s so important for teachers to be understanding and patient with wiggly little bodies who need to bee-bop down the hall.  But calm, orderly lines are a necessity when large groups of kids need to move simultaneously down echo-y hallways. Everything that happens in school won’t perfectly reflect life outside of school, but if we can help kids understand the reason for our expectations, the results will benefit everyone.

That’s my take. What’s your opinion on teaching kids to walk in orderly lines in the hallway?

UPDATE: There’s a nice discussion happening here, too.

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Angela Watson was a classroom teacher for 11 years and has turned her passion for helping other teachers into a career as an educational consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has published 3 books, launched a blog and webinar series, designs curriculum resources, and conducts seminars in schools around the world. Subscribe via email for blog updates, exclusive tips & tricks, activities, printables, and more.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 John T. Spencer November 30, 2011 at 10:29 pm

I’ve mocked quiet lines before. How dare we teach social conformity! How dare we insist on trivial compliance. Then I went to a school where kids ran from hall to hall and it was unsafe. Really unsafe. It got me thinking of traffic rules. Yes, we are compliant. True, we don’t want to get pulled over. But honestly, I’d rather be in a place where people follow the traffic rules than a place where the social contract is broken and traffic is insane.

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2 Angela Watson December 1, 2011 at 6:58 pm

John, I remember your mockery of quiet lines, and did not think your comment would follow the line of reasoning it did! LOL! I like your analogy of traffic rules–when driving, we don’t stay in our lanes because the government insists on making us conform to its wishes and comply with its random power-hungry whims. We do it so we don’t bring harm to ourselves or others, and so we can get to our destination as quickly and safely as possible.

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3 Melina December 1, 2011 at 3:42 am

When I visited Japan we were in Osaka for the beginning of the financial year. There were tonnes of mostly men in dark suits walking around in two straight lines. Apparently these were new recruits for companies, and it was their orientation. Although I’m so used to seeing it at school, it was weird to see grown ups doing it.

Our administrations’ need for order has stretched to the lunch shed (our students eat mostly packed lunches sitting on concrete) where they have to sit in two straight lines. Today, most kids were at a swimming meet, so I let kids sit wherever they liked. Quietest, calmest lunch ever with both kids and teachers appreciating the change.

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4 Angela Watson December 1, 2011 at 7:01 pm

Melina, that’s realllly interesting about what you saw in Osaka. I can only imagine seeing that in America on a military base. And side note that just occurred to me: I grew up on military bases, and did see grown-ups marching in a line all the time. Maybe that’s why it always felt natural to me to teach students about orderly lines. :-)

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5 Karen December 1, 2011 at 9:06 am

This is really well expressed. I get so frustrated when I’m trying to hear my quietly spoken students in class, and there is a great racket in the hallway while other classes transition. Unfortunately the higher you go in a school, the less understanding there seems to be for respect for other classes. I really appreciated a comment today from another teacher in our staff meeting, where she shared how she had to stop the interview she was conducting until the class outside had got where they were going. Unfortunately we seem to live in a “me” focussed world, where the needs of others don’t really matter.
I live in a country where traffic rules are gradually being enforced, but where many drivers and moto riders think nothing of going through a red light! I’ve seen too many near misses or minor accidents to even think about it, and even if the light is green, I proceed with some caution. It’s getting better, but it’s travelling on the roads can still be hazardous to our health.
If we can teach the children in our school that it’s not just about rules, but about respecting other people, and being safe (because running in hallways isn’t exactly a safe occupation), then we are truly doing them a favour.
Thanks for an interesting post.

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6 Angela Watson December 1, 2011 at 7:08 pm

Karen, I agree that it’s much more common to see quiet lines of students walking in the elementary grades. It is much more difficult, in my opinion, to get middle and high school kids to walk with any semblance of quiet and order. (I’d love to hear tips from anyone who has experience with this.)

I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with your remark about a “me-focused world.” Racing down the hallway while screaming to a friend is a behavior that results from only thinking about what you want and need in that moment, and not about what’s best for others. Running red lights and cutting people off in traffic? Same thing. I’ve done it countless times. None of us are except from the tendency. But I think we owe it to our students to try to teach them a more mindful, conscientious way of living.

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7 Angela Watson December 1, 2011 at 7:09 pm

Also…just subscribed to your blog…love reading about your teaching experiences in Cambodia!

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8 luckeyfrog December 1, 2011 at 5:31 pm

We talk in our class about how school has its rules for its purpose, just like different places around the world have different rules for their purposes. We talk about how an amusement parks have lines, about how libraries insist on quiet, about traffic rules, and why they are all necessary. The kids start to realize that there are rules for a reason. Once we look at school’s purpose as a place where everyone can learn, it’s easier to talk about the things that help different people learn, and what rules we need to have for inside and outside the classroom to be respectful of that.

I do insist on quiet and a line, but sometimes that’s really hard for my students to do without something else to concentrate on. I will often use hallway time as a chance to mix in a little exercise. I do a motion, and the students copy me all the way through the line. Sometimes we are a train that moves faster and slower, sometimes we are flapping arms like ducks or giving ourselves moose ears, sometimes we are playing a memory game to see how many motions in a row they can remember, and sometimes we are basically dancing down the hallway. As long as we’re quiet, we can do “fun” things in the hallway- and with a lot of kids, I find that having something to think about while they are on the way really helps us stay quiet. Plus, so many kids need energy release, and it’s a great way to fit it in!

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9 Angela Watson December 1, 2011 at 7:26 pm

Luckeyfrog, as always, you’ve got some really great ideas and perspectives. I really like the conversation with kids about different rules in different places. I have had those discussions with kids but never in this context (usually more about what language/grammar/spelling is appropriate for various settings.) That’s a pretty powerful way to approach this topic, and is likely to leave a lasting impression on students for long after they graduate from your classroom.

The energy release is a major issue for the little ones. I remember teaching with a self-contained special ed kindergarten teacher who never made his students walk in a straight and quiet line, but they were always orderly because the kids were following his movements. Hallway time was learning through movement time. It was really cool to watch. Of course, he always marveled that I had 18 three- and four-year-olds walking in a perfectly straight and quiet line. :-) Looking back now, I wish I would have tried his methods sometimes. I tend to err on the side of being too serious with my students.

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10 Amy Gillespie December 1, 2011 at 7:36 pm

Self Control. This concept is taught in different ways and walking quietly in a straight line through school is just one of those self control moments. Although I do love luckyfrog’s ideas with pretending we are something quiet. :)

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11 Angela Watson December 1, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Hi, Amy! Self-control is not always an easy skill for students to learn (or easy for us to teach), but it’s worth the time and energy. Thanks for commenting. :-)

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12 Jessie December 1, 2011 at 9:23 pm

Come teach where I teach and you will understand why we make our children walk in quiet, straight lines.

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13 Angela Watson December 1, 2011 at 9:44 pm

Hi, Jessie! There are some schools where absolute chaos would erupt if hallway expectations were not explicitly taught, modeled, practiced, and reinforced. That’s great that you recognize what your students need and provide it.

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14 NancyG December 1, 2011 at 11:19 pm

I always tell my classes that they will never get a better job be ause they know how to walk in a quiet line. We do it to show respect for other students’ learning time as we hope they will give us the same respect. Enough said.

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15 Robyn December 2, 2011 at 12:28 am

I was working in a school today and looked out the window to see a line of 5 and 6 year olds passing by. They were like a bunch of spring lambs! At the time I thought how much they were reflecting the joys young kids find in life!

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