aha moment, being a teacher, education reform, Passion, student voice

Want More Student Understanding? Try This.

I don’t know when my classroom first got so quiet, but I remember the moment when I realized that it shouldn’t always be.  I remember looking around at the students, some working through the task at a steady pace, others with their hand up waiting for me, and some staring into space completely lost.  There were no words spoken.  My shushes and teacher looks had effectively taken care of that.  So those kids with their hand up waited until I could get to them while I tried to get those who stared into space started.  The time wasted for all was significant; not much had been gained by the silence other than compliance and loss of learning time, but at least they were silent.

It seems an epidemic of silence has been harming our schools for many years.  That we long for silent hallways, which also mean quiet classrooms, as we tour schools.  That we often equate silence with good learning and noise with bad.  Teachers are evaluated on how quickly they can get students to settle in and listen, not how quickly they can get them talking.  

I knew then that this was not the type of classroom I wanted to be a part of; one where students were so well-trained in being quiet that they didn’t even dare advocate for themselves anymore.  Where students waited patiently at a time when they should have been figuring out how to access the information they needed without the teacher.  The quiet, the shushes, yes they still had a place but it could not be for everything.  It should not be the golden standard with which we held our learning too.

So I changed the way I taught, in fact, it was quite easy to do.  I started to plan for when they students should speak.  Rather than plan for silent engagement at all times, I plan for discussion, for deeper learning to occur because more than one person (IE the teacher) has shared their thoughts, doubts, or wonderment.  When I teach, I seek out moments for students to talk.  They turn and talk or discuss with their groups before we discuss as a whole group.  Even before an assessment, I ask the students to discuss for a few minutes to help them sort through their thoughts, to gain confidence in their beliefs, and to get mentally started with the task ahead.  I can still assess their thinking just fine, in fact, I think theirs has gotten stronger simply by allowing them a few more minutes to process in a different way.

I am not saying that all noise, all the time, is what we should strive for but there should be more.  Students should leave every single classroom having used their voice to further the learning.  Students should feel that their voice mattered, that they were heard, that those questions they carried, those ideas they had were brought into the world and at the very least touched upon.

So as you plan ahead for the week today, ask yourself; when are the students speaking?  When are they a part of the teaching going on?  My students will discuss every single class, every single day this week, much like they have in the weeks past. They will grow their listening skills by speaking.  They will grow their ideas by sharing them.

Our classrooms should not be judged on how quiet they are but instead on the type of noise they create.  Please allow the students to speak, teach them how to use their voices for good, for learning.  Let our classrooms be about the students speaking and not just their listening.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

4 thoughts on “Want More Student Understanding? Try This.”

  1. I have started trying to have at least 10-15 minutes of “talk” time during my classes this semester (and sometimes it goes much longer – the other day, a discussion activity I had designed to last 15-20 minutes lasted almost 45 in one of my classes, but it was engaged discussion for all 45 (not “let’s stall so we don’t have to learn anything” tactics, but honest-to-goodness challenges to one another with thoughtful responses). So, I let it go and although it has put us a bit “behind” in the schedule, I think it put us ahead in the learning.

  2. It has always bothered me that discussion is seen as a lack of “control” of a classroom by some principals instead of thought and comfort in a learning environment. Thank you for respecting your students as indiividuals instead of students to control.

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