With one full week of school behind us, now is the perfect time to step back and evaluate the year so far. Reflection is a key aspect of teaching with intention. We must carefully plan ahead AND thoughtfully reflect back. As teachers we often fall into old classroom routines simply because they are familiar. Is that happening in your classroom? Now, these routines can be good and sometimes not so good. I will give you an example. Last week during the first few days of school I found myself allowing the same voices in my classroom to respond. Those voices were the students who consistently raised their hands. These kids already were becoming my “go-to” students—while the other students were quickly fading into the background. I already know their names and have an idea about their personalities and values. Don’t get me wrong, I love students who want to participate, who are eager to discuss ideas, and who ask relevant and provocative questions. Yet, I think we can all agree, there is a problem if only a few students dominate the classroom discussion. The quiet students quickly begin to rely on the more vocal students. Perhaps they tune out. Perhaps they engage in an internal conversation in their minds and their ideas are lost to the rest of us. I don’t want a student to sit in my classroom and never speak in a class period. As I realized this familiar classroom situation emerging I began to make small shifts in my teaching.
- Small Group Chatter: After posing a question, I ask students to first discuss in their groups. With this method every student will have a chance to listen and respond to others. EL students will especially benefit from this because they are exposed to language through speaking and listening in a smaller, less intimidating setting. This is a way to quickly differentiate for ELs and for more introverted students.
- Turn and Talk: We all have used the turn and talk method, I am sure. Last week after one of my vocal students spoke, I then asked the students to turn and talk to the classmates across from them about what had been said. This is a way for the vocal student to feel validated and the other students to have a chance to weigh in.
- You Talk, I Walk: Often times when students are discussing in small groups or in pairs, I circulate the room and eavesdrop. When I hear something insightful, I ask a student if he or she feels comfortable sharing. I ask because sometimes students are painfully shy and introverted. If a student is not comfortable, I ask if I have permission to share on his/her behalf or ask the partner to share. You might find this hard to believe, but I was one of these introverted students in high school. I needed a lot of processing time to think of what I wanted to say. It wasn’t until college that I began to feel more comfortable speaking up in a classroom setting. **Note-a good twist on this is to ask a few of the more vocal students to do the walking. They can eavesdrop and then report interesting ideas they heard.
- Wait Time: This is an old classic. Post a question and then wait for students to think. Look around and wait for additional hands to go up. Allow the power in the room to shift from the first hands that shoot up to the others that need a little more processing time.
I never want a student to feel that he or she does not have a voice in my classroom. Calling on the same vocal students over and over again communicates that I do not honor everyone’s voices. At the same time I do not want to humiliate an introverted student right when I am trying to build positive relationships. Because I value both community and voice, I have to create classroom conditions that speak this to my students. The techniques outlined above can help all of my students—vocal, outgoing, shy, introverted, EL—feel like they are respected in my class.
Here are some ways we could end up unintentionally alienating our students…Avoid these!
- Calling on the same students over and over again because they are willing to participate and it becomes the easy route to go
- Never speaking to our shy, quiet students because we don’t want to embarrass them
- Telling our students that they “should have already learned this last year” instead of honoring where they are (because this is where they are! We can’t change how they come to us…we can only meet them there)
- Forcing a student to talk without giving the student advanced warning (this is especially painful for our EL students)
- Calling out errors in a student’s thinking or work in front of the whole class
- “Scaring” students when what you are actually trying to communicate is that you have high expectations
We have to remember that these young adults in our classrooms will respond to the classroom climates we create. At the beginning of the year we communicate our values to our students through our speech and our actions. Take some time to evaluate your classroom style and how it may be translated by your students.
Here are some questions to consider:
- What do you value? (Take a look back at the educational manifesto/philosophy you wrote our first PD day)
- What procedures do you have in place that communicate your values? Do these procedures help or hinder students?
- What language do you use with your students? What body language? What do these communicate to your students?
- Do your speech and actions align with your values?
- What have you done to help ALL of your students feel comfortable?
- How do you encourage everyone to have a voice and share their ideas?
I would love to hear what you have done so far to communicate your values to your students. Send me an email!