Teaching Students How to Talk Less, and Think More

Photo

CreditJessica Lahey

This week’s question comes from a discussion on my Facebook feed, in which Mark North, an instructor at Highline Community Collegein Des Moines, Wash., asked for suggestions about how to manage students who monopolize class time with their comments. I often get the flip side of this question from parents who say their child’s teacher calls on some students and not others, or from parents who are concerned that their quiet child gets overlooked in class.

Classroom management is a constant, and complex, balancing act. Teachers must weigh the needs of individual students against the progress of the class as a whole; supporting the enthusiasm of one without sacrificing the engagement of the rest. Nearly every teacher I know has been accused of ignoring a particular student or of favoring one student — or class of students — over another. When this accusation is directed at me, I try to remind parents that in a class of 20 or 30 or more students, it can be a challenge to hear each child’s voice in the crowd and take note of nonverbal engagement. Furthermore, a child may be painfully aware of the fact that she did not get called last Thursday, but fail to notice or remember that there were 20 other hands in the air at the same time as hers.

One suggestion, provided by JC Clapp, an English teacher at North Seattle Community College, also in Washington State, emerged as a favorite in the Facebook discussion thread:

I deal out playing cards and then students put their card on the table when they make a comment. That way, they can’t comment again until everybody else has put their cards on the table. This encourages students to speak that don’t usually, and it forces students who pipe up all of the time to choose their comments carefully.

Peter D. Ford III, a middle school math teacher in Inglewood, Calif. (Twitter bio: “my classroom is tough so the rest of your life won’t be”), offered a twist on the Clapp technique in an email: “I keep cards with each student’s name on them, then use them during instruction and class activities to elicit student responses, calling upon them randomly. I’ve never had students or parents complain about me calling on students unfairly.”

For a big-picture perspective on classroom management and student engagement, I turned to Doug Lemov and his book, “Teach Like a Champion.” The recently released 2.0 edition comes with a DVD that illustrates the teaching techniques that Mr. Lemov describes, so I spent one snowy weekend reading about and watching master teachers at work.

After my “Teach Like a Champion” binge weekend, I wrote Mr. Lemov to ask for his perspective on balancing class participation. He replied with a reminder: class participation doesn’t have to be verbal to be valuable. Once you realize that, Mr. Lemov wrote, it’s easy to make class participation fair and inclusive. His email continues:

I watched a video of a teacher named Maggie Johnson the other day — she was teaching “To Kill a Mockingbird.” She asked a question and about three-quarters of the kids shot their hands into the air. When a kid thinks, “I never get called on” it’s this kind of question they are thinking of, the one everyone wants to talk about. “I can’t wait to talk about it with you,” Maggie says, “but you’ve got to write about it first. Two minutes to answer in your packets. Go!” Those kids wrote, and she then could circulate and respond to their ideas. It was beautiful because she so clearly took their energy to talk and translated it into a more productive energy, the energy to write — which is not only more rigorous but everyone gets to do it.

Another important tool for classroom management is silence, or “wait time.” Mr. Lemov advocates for this quiet time in “Teach Like a Champion” because, “The answers the teacher can expect to get after less than a second’s reflection are unlikely to be the richest, the most reflective, or the most developed his students can generate.”

The benefits that flow from a few seconds of silence between question and answer, are manifold, Mr. Lemov writes. In those seconds, students have time to develop richer, more thoughtful answers. Evidence has the opportunity to emerge from memory, and assemble in support of those answers. Knee-jerk “I don’t know” responses can give way to more thoughtful contemplation. Best of all, those seconds are precious gifts to students with slower processing speeds and weaker working memory, students who would like to contribute to class discussion if only the runaway train of class discussion would slow down a bit.

We all feel rushed in today’s classroom — to teach, to question, to respond — but increasingly, we need to teach children how to close their mouths and open their minds. Silence, whether packaged as a reflective writing period, a mandatory three-second waiting time on student responses, or simply as a moment of quiet reflection between subjects, is golden.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s