Tuesday, June 2, 2009

I Can’t Hear You!

In Pump up the Volume from Learn Me Good by Mister Teacher, he states,

“I have a strict rule in my class that when someone works a problem in front of the class, they are not allowed to just write and DO the problem. They have to explain the steps verbally as they go. In some cases, I have to stop a kid midway through their first step and say, "We can't hear you." Usually, they pause for a heartbeat, then start over AT EXACTLY THE SAME VOLUME LEVEL. So I repeat, "We can't hear you. Please speak louder."”

When I was in school, I was very shy and unsure of myself. Classes where a teacher insisted that I speak in front of the class would make me break out in hives. In fact, it was probably the class that I hated the most. My fear of talking in class actually made focusing on the content almost impossible. I was probably the least popular student in the whole class and even experienced some bullying (because they usually attack the weakest student). I still can feel that same feelings just thinking about those situations. I knew that when I became a teacher, this was one of the things that I would not inflict on my students.

Maybe the student doesn’t talk loudly because of fear. They are afraid they might have the answer wrong and previously, they were ridiculed by the teacher for doing it wrong. Maybe they have been laughed at by classmates when they have gotten the wrong answer. Maybe they really don’t understand this concept and by making them talk about it in front of everyone just makes them feel bad. Sometimes this fear is so real and so big, that they would rather fail then to get up in class to do this. Unless a student trusts the teacher and the classroom, this fear is really hard to overcome.

I would allow students who want to work out a problem in front of the class to come up and do this. There are always some students who really like the attention and don’t mind doing this. This helps the others see a peer working out the problem and going through the thought processes out loud. I could still correct any mistakes as they happen and those students who make the same mistakes can see it from their seats.

If I call on students who don’t feel comfortable working it out in front of the class, I would give them the option of explaining to me at their seats how they worked it out. This could be done at a later time or I could ask the students to watch and help the student at the front of the class while I go around and ask individuals to tell me their process. Having a choice really alleviates their fear and lets them concentrate on the concepts.

My main reason for wanting them to explain the steps would be to check for understanding. Maybe if I was teaching a speech or drama class, talking in front of the group would be important but I need to look at the reasoning behind my activities. I’m afraid that by insisting a student speak louder only makes their brains shut down rather than encouraging them to try harder. Eventually by encouraging the students and building trust, they may eventually volunteer to work out a problem in front of the class. I would continue to ask them to come to the front of the class but if they turn me down, I would offer them other options to let them show me they understand. Maybe one day they will surprise me and say yes the next time I ask them.

I think eventually these students will feel successful when they can solve a problem on their own. Whether they show this by explaining it to the whole class or just to me, doesn’t really matter. Their success is what is important to me.

Original image: 'What did you say???' http://www.flickr.com/photos/66164549@N00/1905410893 by: Keven Law


Kila said...

I can definitely explain things better one-on-one than in front of a group of people. Turn the spotlight on me, and I can't speak!

teachin' said...

I see where you're coming from, but I disagree. I teach Language Arts, focusing on writing and speaking, and I make all my kids participate in class conversations and give formal speeches in front of the class. I've had other teachers tell me that giving speeches is mean, that some kids just can't handle that, but every single kid has gotten up and done it. (Granted, I've only been teaching for two years, but...) If I had a student whom I really felt couldn't handle it or who really freaked out, I'd give them other options (like do it for a group of friends at lunch, rather than the whole class), but I believe that public speaking is a necessary skill. You may not HAVE to use it in a job, but if you CAN'T use it, a lot of doors are closed for you, and that's how I explain it to my kids.

In class discussions, I call on everyone. They learn quickly to volunteer when they know the answer so I don't call on them for something they may be less sure about. If I know a student is insecure about getting the right answer, I give them an easy question that I know they can get to build confidence, and anytime a kid gets an answer wrong, they have a choice of asking for help from a classmate or trying again. Most want to try again. I work REALLY hard to create a safe atmosphere in class in which everyone's ideas are welcomed and respected, and I think I'm pretty successful.

I understand your perspective, but I think kids have to learn to talk in front of their peers if they want to have every possible option in life, and it's part of my job to support them in the process of doing that.

loonyhiker said...

@Kila I think I'm weird because I have no problem getting up before the students but put me up in front of adults, and I can barely remember my name.

loonyhiker said...

@teachin I see where you are coming from but I just remember the agony I went through whenever I had to speak in front of the class. If your goal is for them to learn how to speak in front of the class, I agree that they need to do it. But if your reason is to assess understanding and knowledge of a concept, I think there can be other ways for the student to show you this. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

bridget said...

I definitely agree with this post completely!

When I was in school, I too was terrified to speak in front of my classmates and peers. There was just something about the fear of talking about a particular subject in front of them that made me terrified; I would be shaking nervously, blushing, and stumbling over my words. After knowing how that feels, I know that I don’t want to make any of my students feel that way.

I am student teaching right now and I had the students draw a visual of something from the chapter we read that day and explain how this helped them understand the story better; how they were able to get more from the story from this particular visual. I wanted the students to draw their visuals on the board and explain their thinking. The idea of drawing their own pictures terrified some students; they were scared if their drawings were worse than other students.

After seeing the terror in some students’ eyes, I offered them a choice; students who wanted to put their pictures on the board were allowed, I offered to put students’ drawings on the board, or they had the choice to talk to me privately. But, I agree students need to be given the choice; they need to be able to decide themselves what they feel more comfortable with doing. In the end though, I need to know what their explanation is on the picture so I am able to check for understanding.

loonyhiker said...

@Bridget I'm so glad you gave your students a choice since your objective was to check for understanding. I think you will make a great teacher because you are sensitive to your students' needs. Good luck with student teaching! If you think of a topic or have a question that I need to write about, please email me! Thanks for reading the blog and leaving a comment!