A Small Success

In a stack of papers called Instruction.

  • Jan
  • 02
  • 2007

The final period of the day brings challenges no matter the course. Students and teachers are tired; it’s easy to cut that period; the end of the day is looming; the list goes on. My seventh period this year has been a challenge in that the students are quiet. No, not just quiet, on the verge of silent.

Today, during discussion of the daily, two students tripped over themselves to help explain someone else’s point. Also, references to “The Allegory of the Cave,” a text we just finished reading, and Issac Newton came up. Referring to things outside their direct experience during the discussion of a daily makes me feel good.

Fully realizing that today may have been a fluke and that the bulk of the reason it went well today is because the students decided to take it on (I take neither full blame for their failure nor credit for their success), here are some of the things I’m doing to help seventh period.

A Conversation With Roles

“Persons A, it’s your turn to speak.” Groups of 3 read their homework to each other. There’s a person A, person B, and person C. That moderates who should be talking in each group. “Now it’s your turn, persons B. Persons A, we’ve heard enough from you.”

When it’s time for whole-class discussion, I ask Group 1 to share what they were talking about: what ideas came up during your discussion? One person from that group decides to speak up and I mark that person off on my roster. By the end of the week, everyone will talk because if you talked yesterday, you don’t have to talk today.

Sentence Starters

While all this is going on, I have these sentence starters on the board (any other suggestions?):

  • I liked what you said when you said…
  • What do you mean by…?
  • I’m not sure I agree with you point…
  • Did you mean to say…?
  • Why do you think… is true?
  • How does… relate to the assignment?

Picking a random number (let’s say it’s 5), I ask Group 5 to respond to what they just heard by using one of those starters. Then, Group 1 has to reply. Only after that conversation ends do we move on to Group 2 sharing out the ideas they discussed. It’s completely random which group I ask to form a response to what they just heard.

Types Of Examples

My seventh period infrequently refers to other texts, news items, events on campus, songs, TV shows, or anything else in their discussions. I thought that keeping in mind the types of examples might help when trying to explain something.

“There are basically two types of examples. One is the hypothetical example. That’s something that hasn’t happened, something you make up. This helps your audience understand your thinking. It shows what would happen if you are right and does a great job of making your point clear. But it doesn’t prove anything since it hasn’t really happened yet. It just lets people know what your idea is.”

“The other kind of example is the specific example. That’s something real, something you’ve observed going on in the world around you. This helps your audience see that you are right. It’s an example that proves your thinking is correct because it actually occurred.”

“So we’ve got the hypothetical, which is good for explaining the way that you think, and the specific, which is good for proving that your thinking is true.”

Other Things

I put more energy toward calling on people in seventh period. I also push them to talk to each other, not me. “Mortimer, what did you say?” instead of “What did he say?”

We have a 4 step process for making sense out of the dailies. I spend far more time walking seventh period through those steps than my other classes, often at the expense of time to complete the day’s task.

I’ve started writing more things down on the board. Instead of people simply stating their ideas, I list responses in whiteboard ink when I ask, “How was Gregor like a bug before his transformation?” The list then goes into their notes.

That’s all I can think of. How do you encourage your students to engage in conversations in your classroom? Tell me about some of your successes.

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