“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