Less Teacher Talk, More Class Discussion

 Do you ever feel like whacking yourself on the side of the head and saying, “Why didn’t I think of this before?”

Reading Aloud

While sitting on a chair reading aloud to the class one day with all the students traditionally huddled on the floor at my feet I noticed something. All the interesting  exchanges were happening between a student and me, the teacher. It was like a game of ping pong and I was always hitting the ball.

Teacher-student-teacher-student-teacher-student-teacher, etc.

I was having a great book discussion! But what were most of the students doing when they weren’t talking to me? They were picking at their shoes, trying to get a friend’s attention, staring blankly ahead. No engagement. They were waiting patiently for us to finish our conversation.

More than just Reading Aloud

From that day on we decided to sit in a circle when I read aloud. Reactions to the story, comments, questions, and discussions are now directed at each other not at me. Of course, I can’t help but jump in occasionally when I feel like I can’t resist!

Now our ‘ping-pong exchange’ sounds more like this:

student-student-student-teacher-student-student-student-student

What have I noticed?

  • students are expected to listen to and respond to each other, and they do
  • students answer each other’s questions, disagree with each other, build upon each other’s predictions
  • students work cooperatively to construct meaning from the story
  • students govern themselves, reminding each other to be respectful
  • students feel like they have an equitable learning community where the voices of the students and  teachers are equal
  • students take ownership and drive the discussions, allowing them to practice critical and creative thinking skills.

Very much like a Socratic Circle.

More Than Just Reading Aloud

Provocative Questions or boring teacher questions?

The other day our PYP programme coordinator, Derek Pinchbeck, shared, what I perceived as a revolutionary new idea (sparked by Lynn Erikson) : why not turn our teacher questions into provocative questions. It’s one of those things that you just want to slap your head and say, “Of course! How could we not have done that before? It’s so obvious.”

For example, if the line of inquiry is: Making personal choices about our health. Here is what I would have done in the past:

Teacher question: What choices do we have? (Boring.  Ask a child this and you will get a list: eat healthy food, exercise, sleep, etc.)

Here is an example of what we might do now:

Teacher question: Do healthy choices differ between cultures? (Ask a child this and you will get questions, comparisons, thoughtful thinking, and debates)

Don’t you feel more engaged  emotionally by the second question? Don’t you want to start talking about it immediately, asking questions and sharing personal experience and beliefs? I do.

Read more here: Derek’s blog.

Passionate Oasis Time

A while back I wrote about teacher’s needing feedback too. And I got it! And I am so glad I did. While I thought things were going very well, they only got better.

The students and I have developed an even deeper respect for each other. I have heard them, I have listened to them and I have changed. And so have they.

I was reading Seth Godin’s book Tribes and in it he asks, “How was your day?” He suggests that answers like, “fine” or “okay” imply a passionless job. My answer to that question is almost always, “Great!” It most likely would be expanded with, “It was so busy.” or “It was fun!” or “I am exhausted.” or “I learned a lot today.” But never “fine.”

So, I know I have found my passion. Now, how to help my students find theirs?

Last year I read a book about Google and their 80-20 time. Since then I have read many blog posts and articles about the same. Some call it Oasis Time, or Free Inquiry Time or Genius Time. I am completely sold on the idea.

Last year, our Grade 3 team (two classes) started out by giving our students one period a week of Free Inquiry time and asked them to relate their inquiries to the unit we were working on (at that time it was a Forces unit so it was easy to link inquiries that way).

It has since evolved into an open inquiry time. Anything goes, as long as the question has been passed through me. It has been really interesting. The students LOVE it.

The other day some girls decided to make a seismograph (we are studying earthquakes) while another three boys went outside to test which ball could be kicked the furthest. Hmm. They needed a little guidance in that investigation (like how to make sure there is only one variable, how to judge what qualifies as a ‘good kick,’ etc.) but I know we will get there. Sometimes just playing around leads to a good question.

These kids are serious about their learning but not solemn about it. They like having fun. The passion and excitement I see in the Oasis Time is enough for me to realize we are on to something here. One boy went around and taught others how to draw an airplane. He is an incredible artist but not such a good English speaker so this was a huge confidence booster for him as he was getting so much positive feedback from his peers.

Two other girls have decided to write letters to the PTA to convince them to change the style of water bottle they have chosen. There are a few kids that wander around observing their classmates. And that is okay too. Sometimes we need to wait for inspiration. When observing they usually become involved by giving suggestions, offering feedback or helping out.

What I haven’t done yet but am planning to do next week is introduce the accountability factor into the inquiry. The students will explain their questions and their research to each other. I think this will refocus some students as well as start discussions and sharing amongst them.

These students are learning how to ask a good question, how to research it, how to fail, how to start again, how to go deeper, how to self-manage, how to self-assess and most importantly, they are learning how to be passionate about learning!