1 April, 2016
To avoid turning into that boring teacher, try waiting longer for student responses, teaching “do not call on me” signals, and enjoying these young people for who they are.
Here are 3 Ways to Be Less Boring:
- Use Wait Time Two
We all know what wait time is — ask a question and then give students time to think before calling on someone. If the wait time is increased from one to three seconds, student responses become 400-800 percent longer, speculative and predictive thinking raise by as much as 700 percent, and low achievers contribute up to 37 percent more. Joseph P. Riley II shares his research about this in “The Effects of Teachers’ Wait-Time and Knowledge Comprehension Questioning on Science Achievement.”
If you’re already good at wait time one, try wait time two. Wait time two is the amount of time that you allow after a student’s first answer before speaking or calling on another student. Again, we have good intentions for not giving wait time two. It is wanted to encourage the student who has responded, build on it, and bridge to the next concept or question. However, this stops good thinking that might be going on in the classroom and tacitly communicates that teachers are the purveyors of all knowledge.
- Try “Do Not Call On Me” Signals
Teachers have a Pavlovian response to hand raising. When we see a hand go up, we want to call on that student. Many of us have learned to fight that urge so that we increase wait time or involve other students, but we still struggle with what to do about those students who don’t raise their hands.
An implemented a policy that required students to signal when they don’t want to be called on them. The signal was making eye contact with the teacher and giving a smile. Anything else (e.g., looking out the window, making eye contact with a friend, scratching a head) was a signal to be called on. This put the onus on unready-to-speak-up students to engage with the teacher while reducing their own anxiety about being called on — they were already giving eye contact.
In an era of learning walks, instructional rounds, and unannounced observations, this method has another interesting benefit. A teacher once said that “when my principal would enter the room during any type of whole-class instruction, she would see me asking numerous higher-order questions. Sometimes I overestimated what students would know or be willing to share in these interactions. On two occasions, she complimented my classes for being particularly attentive and engaged because all of them were making eye contact and smiling at me while I asked questions. When she left the room, after a slight delay to ensure that she was out of earshot, my students erupted in laughter because they knew the reason why they looked so engaged — none of them knew the answers to my overzealous questions!”
- Enjoy Your Students
Your enjoyment of teaching is vital to being less boring. A good portion of this past February and March was spent observing in high school classrooms. At least in Midwestern middle and high schools, these months can feel like the educational doldrums. Teaching the same content class after class, year after year, in cold, gray February can be as soul-sucking as a Dementor’s kiss. . .
. . . if our focus is on the what rather than the who.
Students can be an endless source of entertainment for teachers. The way they understand and apply new concepts is what keeps teaching fresh for at whatever grade level is taught. When middle school science students ask, “Doesn’t organic mean plastic?” or “I thought inertia was a disease,” it is fascinating because seeing teaching through students’ clouded eyes. Never lose your sense of humor — it will make you less boring and is probably essential to maintaining your sanity.