Friday, September 14, 2012

Of Straws and Oaks

What’s the positive equivalent of “the straw that broke the camel’s back”? That one small, almost insignificant thing you need to tweak in your classroom. Any one else have one?

For me it was making a plan for calling on each student, assuring that all students speak in class. Last spring I wrote it into a goal after my triennial observation interview. And I failed to do it. This fall, I succeeded. 

It was so simple. On my seating chart (students are in groups of 4-5, reassigned by the unit), I simply make a check mark by the name of the student I call on. 

How does it work? Most days we have at least one small group discussion. At the end of it, each small group must share one question or idea from their discussion with the entire class. I will randomly call on one student from each group. Students do not have to share their own idea--they are free to share the idea of anyone in their group. 

I’ve used the small group to whole group progression for years because more people get more participation in small groups, but everyone still gets to hear each group’s best insight. Before, I’d allowed any group member to volunteer. That put no one on the spot, but it also reinforced the usual pattern of passivity and participation on the whole-class stage.

What works better now?
  1. All students know they need to pay enough attention to the small group discussion to be able to contribute something to the large group when called upon.
  2. I have made explicit that this whole-group sharing is also a low-stakes opportunity to practice presentation skills of voice projection and avoiding verbal filler.
Todays contributions ranged from the exploration Why does Kumalo think despair is a sin? to the connection When they assumed the murderers were natives, it reminded me of when stuff disappeared at my school in Hawaii, and people assumed the thieves were Hawaiians, but it turned out they were white.

“Little strokes fell great oaks.” Was that the aphorism I was looking for?

No comments:

Post a Comment