I’ve got one class that just doesn’t want to talk. They’re great students and they all focus when I’m talking. I think main reason they don’t want to talk is they don’t want to look like “know-it-alls” in front of each other, and so they won’t answer when they know the answer, and they’re even less likely to answer when they don’t know the answer. Especially during white-boarding sessions, students just don’t want to talk.
My (Failed) Attempts to Fix the Problem
I’ve tried many different things to get them to start talking:
- White-boarding sessions
- The mistake game during white-boarding sessions (I was really excited about this one and it turned out to be a super-flop with this group… worked really well in Precalculus, however!)
- That extra-long awkward silence after asking a question
- The website www.todaysmeet.com–I had them answer and ask questions by all typing into the “chatroom”
- I also had a day where they weren’t allowed to talk: they had to type into http://www.todaysmeet.com
- I’ve had them “think-pair-share” (write something down individually, share in groups/pairs, then share to the whole class)
And yet, it still feels like I’m sitting there waiting for them to discuss and share what I’m pretty sure they know. Maybe they’re just not creative and don’t have any ideas worth sharing (yeah, right!). Or maybe I’m not giving very good leading questions and too often I’m asking the “can you read my mind?” questions (much more likely). But often times I’m asking questions like “what did you notice?” or “what did you find interesting?”.
So recently I decided I would “light a fire” under them and force them to talk. These are all great students who cared about their grades, so I let them do a white-boarding session where they shared the results of a mini-lab where they played around with colliding carts, changing the mass around and using a stopwatch and meter-stick to find velocity. I never once gave them the word “momentum”–I let them figure out that’s what they were finding and observing. They worked on their whiteboards for a whole class period (50 minutes) on Friday. As they were working, I moved from group to group dropping hints and asking directive questions, but never addressing the class as a whole. Many groups were making really good progress, but I knew they could go so much faster if they could share what each individual group discovered to the whole group.
The Fire Under Their… You Know
So when they came back to school the following Monday, we started a white-boarding session, but I told them two things that changed the whole game.
- Each student had to make at least one comment about their board and/or ask a question of another group.
- There was going to be a quiz following the white-boarding session.
I pointed out that the solutions to the quiz could be found throughout everyone’s whiteboards, though through understanding. I.E. The questions were not going to be of the form “what was on Bobby’s whiteboard in the top right corner” but instead would require the students to understand what each axis and variable represented in each of the groups. Here is the quiz to give you an idea of what I had hoped students would learn:
One of the things I found important that I hope is represented in the quiz above is how heavily I relied on their experiences (see #70 and 80). The questions were also very open ended, so students could add more math as they felt necessary.
More recently, I’ve heard a little about this “I notice, I wonder” way of getting students to communicate and open up in class, and so I just recently tried that and was pleasantly surprised by the results when using this collision simulator. Disclaimer: I haven’t read very much about it, so I know very little beyond asking the students to finish the sentence “I notice…” after they’ve seen a phenomenon. However, it does remind me of how important vocabulary is when helping students think divergently (I just had to add that word to the web browser spell-check dictionary?!) or when getting students to do really anything. I did require my students to first write down the “I notice” sentence and share that with the class. Afterwards, they moved on to the “I wonder” and I required them to write something down first, which they then shared in small groups, along with how they attempted to answer the question through the simulator.
And yes, I realize that part of the problem may be that I’m trying to teach a Physics class using Modeling even though I’ve never had a workshop on it (this was strongly discouraged by a few other experienced teacher/modelers… oops). I feel like I’m getting better each new unit I do, and my students are getting better at the same process, but talking in groups is essential for modeling, so I’ve got to figure out a way for them to talk more!
So how do you get your quiet classes to talk? What other strategies or suggestions might you have to help me? I’m really willing to try anything crazy (well, offering candy only goes so far with seniors…).