Students frequently engage in energetic chatter within the classroom; however, that chatter is often idle. A wise teacher will channel student energy and dialogue in meaningful ways. Authors Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey suggest the following to create a classroom that is “driven by discussion, rather than distraction” (Fisher, D. & Frey, N. (2014). Speaking Volumes. Educational Leadership, 72(3), 18-23):
- Offer meaningful and complex tasks. Students need clarity regarding the task itself and why it is important as it relates to overall learning goals. If students understand these matters, they are more likely to remain on task.
- Model behavioral clues. Nonverbal communication is a valuable part of the communication process. Gestures, body position, eye contact, and nodding invite and foster communication.
- Encourage argumentation, not arguing. Teach students to provide evidence to support and justify their claims. Teach students to question in ways that offer disagreement without being disagreeable. Hold all students accountable for what they bring into the discussion.
- Provide language support. Students often have ideas and struggle to express them. Providing sentence frames, word walls, audio devices, and/or peer support can help.
- Listen, question, prompt, and cue. Thoughtful monitoring provides students with feedback and opportunities for future growth.
Carefully consider these elements as you plan for student dialogue in your classroom. You and your students will be glad you did!
I was very fortunate to have Todd Whitaker as a professor in my principal licensure program and as my university supervisor during my principal intern year. Dr. Whitaker frequently reminded us that great principals and great teachers knew what to ignore or overlook. He explained that great teachers and principals have the ability to ignore trivial disturbances and have the ability to address issues of importance without escalating the situation.
In their book Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom, authors Kristin Souers and Pete Hall discuss these issues in a similar manner, but they encapsulate them in a single word: grace. Grace isn’t a natural response, but it is sometimes the best response. How can we apply grace in a classroom? Souers and Hall provide the following list (p.178):
- Give students a second (or third or fourth) chance
- Engage in some dialogue to determine what the students need
- Offer compassion when students are hurting
- Refuse to be offended
- Listen – truly listen
- Identify student strengths and compliment them
- Thank them for the helpful things they have done
- Spend a few extra minutes asking how they are and offering help
- Model grace so others may follow your lead
Grace doesn’t mean that students are not held accountable for their behaviors. Students are to be held accountable. Grace is the wisdom to know when. Think about your own experience and about the times when you were shown grace. Let those thoughts guide you as you prepare for next week.