What Do You Want From Me? Getting students involved in their learning

11 12 2011

It might be true that you believe strongly in involving students in your lessons and try to ask a lot of questions, gather their responses, and use their responses as information to help shape the remainder of your lesson. Those are great ideas but do not always work! The students might want to participate, they just might not know HOW to participate.

Here is a scenario: Imagine you are a participant in a staff development workshop. The presenter has been to your school before and wants to know if any teachers in the building have used any of the ideas that have been presented. The presenter turns to the group and says, “What techniques have you tried in your classrooms and how did they work?”. The presenter got virtually NO response from the group.

Does this mean that none of the teachers got value out of the presentation? Does this mean the presenter did not offer useful ideas?

That may not be the case at all! The problem actually lies in the way the presenter asked the question. There are several issues with the question but this month’s tip is going to highlight just one.

What were the participants supposed to “DO” if they had tried some of the techniques in their classrooms?

Think of what might have been going on in the heads of the participants:

1) Did the presenter give us any techniques last time? 2) Ah, yes…Did I try any? 3) Yes I did…how did they work? 4) Some worked fine and some were not effective… 5) NOW WHAT DO I DO TO RESPOND TO THE QUESTION ASKED BY THE PRESENTER?

After the participants go through all five steps…they still have several options:

a) Write down the response b) Share my response with people around me c) Think of the response quietly to myself d) Shout out the response e) Raise my hand to be acknowledged f) Stand up and identify that I have used some techniques g) And the list goes on…

Many adults and students end up not participating in a lesson because they are not sure exactly what is being asked of them. They do not know HOW to respond. Since many people do not want to be embarrassed in front of their peers, they do not want to risk guessing which response would be appropriate.

In the situation above, the presenter got very little response and may have felt that the faculty did not find the previous workshop valuable.

Imagine the same scenario with the presenter saying the following instead:

“Raise your hand if you tried ANY of the techniques offered in the last workshop.”

This statement is likely to get a much greater response from the participants simply because they knew what to do. The threat of participating was reduced by a great deal.

This technique is known as “Specify the Response”.

Here are some other phrases you could include in your vocabulary to increase participation and reduce threat in the learning environment:

“Give me a thumbs up if you have found the page.” “Stand up if you went on a vacation last summer.” “Clap your hands if you remember yesterday’s secret word” “Nod if can see the screen clearly” “Smile if you are ready to move on.” “If you are finished, turn your paper over.”

These are just a few phrases that could be used. It’s your turn to try! The common “teacherisms” below may not encourage learners to respond because they do not specify the response required of the participant. To practice getting good information and getting the words in your vocabulary, try to alter the examples to include a “Specify the Response” statement:

“Does this make sense?” “Are there any questions?” “Who has their permission slip?” “Does everyone have their book?” “Did you get that?”

In our experience, those are common questions to hear in a classroom. When the students do not respond the way the teacher expected, the teacher may get angry with the class for not answering correctly! It happens to all of us, but there is a pretty easy fix. Next time your students are not participating, look at your language and see if you are making the environment as safe as it can be!

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