Monday, February 13, 2012

Shut up and let the kids talk!

I have spent a fair bit of time the last couple of weeks re-reading John Hattie's book Visible Learning and then reading his new book Visible Learning for Teachers.  He talks several different times about teachers talking and how students don't listen.  A few stories about this.

For one, I have a boring monotone voice, and I realize this.  I try to use it to help progress my dry sense of humor, but as far as lecture goes, it just isn't exciting.  Over the years, I have made a huge effort to remove the lecture part from my classes and make class more about students doing the learning.  I always ran into one problem though...going over answers to practice problems.  I always ended up having the students sit down and listen to me spout off the correct response to various questions, or lead a whole class discussion.  So many students simply are not engaged at that time.  Can I blame them?

Awhile ago, I came across Frank Noschese's Orange Pen idea.  This really resonated with me and I gave it a try on my next question set.  The funny thing was that I was telling the students about the idea, and explained that most of them are not listening when I am reviewing these types of questions.  I didn't blame them, I simply stated that was how our brains work.  A few girls giggled in the back.  Upon investigation, they said, "You get it!"  The students then lamented about other teachers who didn't get me 3 days prior!

On the assessment that followed, students had the same achievement that I would have expected they would have had if I had talked at them.  It was nice though because some students didn't need a lot of time to check their answers.  They were on the right track and ready to cruise forward.  Others needed more time.  It freed up my time to work with those who were struggling, it also allowed more students to ask questions about their understanding.  These were students who typically wouldn't have raised their hands in the whole class discussion, or ones were time wouldn't have allowed it.  For now on, student self correction for feedback is a permanent practice.

We are currently working on a large skull activity.  I use mammal skulls to introduce the digestive system as well as introduce ideas about scientific classification and evolution.  It is a great activity.  During the activity, students do not get to know the identity of the skull.  Usually, at the end of the activity, I would have a nice slide show of the pictures of the animals and their common and scientific names.  We would put the skull under the document camera, guess a few times about what it was, then get the answer from the slide show.  Turned out to be quite a show...the Mr. Schaefer show!  I really enjoyed it.  I got to tell stories about where the skulls came from, make scary faces with the different skulls, say how cute some of the animals were.  I, I, I.

Today, I tried the traditional approach for the first two periods of the day.  I had good class participation; there was always a hand up to guess the animal or count teeth.  It was usually the same hands.  Several students were simply following along.  They were not really engaged.  So, I had some time between my 2nd and 3rd class of the day and I quickly revamped the lesson.  I simply printed out the slides, grouped up the skulls, and had the students go from station to station looking at skulls and their correct identities.  The conversation changed entirely.  Students who would have anyway been involved were still involved.  Other students also had a chance to come out of their shell as well.  They were handling the skull, telling stories about what they knew about the animals, and asking questions about dentition, shapes, sizes, and relationships.  A simple change of perspective changed everything.

Earlier today, I was reminding students to not blurt out...turns out I was telling the wrong person to shut up (of course I never used those words!)  Sometimes, it is worth it to be quiet and let the kids talk...and learn.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great reminder to stay flexible, open-minded, and self-improving! Thanks Scott!