Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Silence is Golden

hidingIn The Teacher We Are, The Student We Were from Practical Theory, Chris Lehmann says,

“The teacher we are today is, without question, informed by the student we were. But we have to make sure that we create a vision of our classrooms — and our schools — that include all students in that vision, not just in ways to “make them fit,” but to create spaces where all students can find themselves and find success.”

When I was in school, I was the quiet shy kid. I hated to raise my hand. I hated to be called on. I used to find a desk sitting behind the tallest widest kid I could find. I would hide. I hoped if the teacher couldn’t see me, I could blend in and be forgotten.

When I became a teacher, I sympathized with kids like me. So, I called on the first person to have their hand up. I didn’t call on kids who I noticed were “hiding.” But then I realized that I was doing them a disservice. I guess that is why my teachers didn’t let me “hide” and they knew something I didn’t know. They gave me a chance, even when I didn’t want it. I couldn’t learn if they just let me slide by and hide. It was important for them to assess my understanding of the concepts. It was important that I learn to join the conversation. I believe if I was given more time rather than being put on the spot, I would have been able to answer questions more easily because I needed more time to process questions. I like to mull over questions and “chew” on it for a while before I come up with the best answer. I did well on written tests rather than oral tests for this reason.

So now when I teach, I look for the students who were just like me. Instead of calling on the first person to raise their hand or only the students who want to be noticed, I let there be silence. I inform the class that I will not call on anyone for a few minutes and I want silence so they can process the information. I learned to allow for “wait time.” By allowing silence, I allow all of the students to process the information without the stress of worrying whether I will call on them or not.

Sometimes I meet with the students who do not like to answer questions out loud and explain to them that I need to assess their understanding. We try to think of ways that I can do this without calling on them to answer questions. Here are some strategies that I use in the classroom:

1. If I ask if you understood something, put thumbs up for yes and thumbs down for no.

2. Use a small white board for each student. When I ask a question, have them write the answer down and I walk around to check the answers. If white boards aren’t available, I used scratch paper for each student.

3. Have the students review what they learned and come up with their own questions and answers. I have them use the words: How, What, When, Where, and Why. After approving the questions and answers, I collect them all. Then I use these questions to guide my questioning. It helps the quiet ones because they know what 5 of the questions will be and the answers.

4. Give “wait time” before calling on students. The students, who know the answer, put a thumb up. I wait until all students have a thumb up. If some students are struggling, I prompt them on where to find the answer.

5. I had small square foam blocks for each student. One side was red and one side was green. They turned the green side (meaning OK) up if they knew the answer and the red side (meaning I need help!) up if they didn’t. I went around and helped everyone find the answer until all blocks were green. The more I did this; soon most of the students were able to turn the blocks to green.

How do you help the students who want to stay “hidden?” Please share.

Image: 'peek-a-boo'

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