Friday, September 14, 2012

Shutting Up

Seriously, I need to learn to stop talking. I'm finding it amazingly difficult to help the students by giving them leading questions rather than answering their questions directly. So, this week I took a few steps that should encourage me to shut up.

(1) Each day, I had the students in each of the three groups choose a leader for their table. The student leader was responsible for keeping their group focused, for making sure that everyone is participating, and for organizing who goes to the board to do each exercise. The student leader was also responsible for noting who went to the board and who made a meaningful contribution to the conversation about each problem. They didn't need to detail the type of contribution (asking a question, answering a questions, clarifying a remark, etc.)...just note that a substantial contribution was made on the little, easy-to-follow form I created for them.  This has allowed me to slow down and spend longer at each table listening to each of the conversations, which means I can be more patient while the students struggle with a concept. I'm still noting down what I observe at each table, but the "pressure" to get to the other tables more quickly, just in case I miss something, has been relieved.

(2) I outright told the students that I would not be getting involved in the conversations unless (a) they asked me for help directly; or (b) as a group, all ten students came to a conclusion that was incorrect. I was still going around to the three tables, still sitting with the students listening to their conversations, but the expectation that every time I at down at a table the attention was to refocus on me was removed. Honestly, I still find this very difficult. Twnenty-two years of responding to a question, or even a confused glance, with a direct, "here's-how-to-do-it" answer has ingrained a habit that will not go away easily. At least I'm responding to questions with questions rather than with direct answers more often than I used to, and the kids are asking one another first and having a discussion about the difficulties they're experiencing before asking me to participate..so there is something positive to report.

(3) I began to take videos of the class "in action" (yes, I sent out the permission slips to place parts of the videos on the web; no, I don't have them all back yet). Now, I can see and hear how often I interrupt instead of letting the conversation happen, as well as take a more objective view of how well the class is going.

I heard this week from several unsolicited sources (other teachers, parents, friends in the district) that the kids are really enjoying how the class is being run and that they feel they are getting more out of the class because of it. On the other side, one of the students mentioned in his journal this week that he really wants to go back to the "lecture-take notes-regurgitate" way of doing things. Having run the class using Harkness last May, and now for the first few weeks of this year, I have some unfortunate news for him: I'm not going back. Yes, I understand the struggle and frustration involved from his end, and yes, I get that figuring things out rather than being told takes more time and therefore more patience, both on his part and on mine. However, I also get that the end result is better, deeper, more permanent learning. And because of that, I'm not going back.

So, I need to be more patient and I need to shut up. That should be easy enough. (If you can't hear the sarcasm in that statement, you're not paying attention.)

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