Sunday, September 20, 2015

Getting Students to Talk

Recent Friday afternoon traffic caused one of my colleagues to reflect to the point of calling me (I was already home).  This colleague has a few students that are recent arrivals from English-speaking countries, but did not test into the ESOL program.  He was concerned that these students are not participating enough during group work and seemed desperate to turn this situation around.  Here is some of the advice that I gave him:
  • Allow Students to Choose Their Own Seats: While I am a stickler for other minor classroom management details, I allow my students to choose their own seats (but will separate students if they cause major disruptions).  This allows students to work with those who they are comfortable with.  Students often change seats as they begin to meet their classmates or want to avoid normal middle school drama.  
  • If You Assign Seats, Be Strategic: This teacher assigns seats in order to form heterogeneous groups based on reading scores.  I suggested that as he forms relationships with his students, he reconsiders his grouping.  While a range of abilities is nice, it may be beneficial to group his quieter students with encouraging and understanding peers, regardless of their reading scores.
  • Consider Partners Instead of Groups: For some students, speaking in front of a group is intimidating, even if that group only has three or four other students.  Working with only one other familiar classmate may ease the anxiety.
  • Give Students Time to Formulate Answers Before Sharing: Some students are able to process information and immediately formulate oral answers.  Many students do not possess this gift.  Giving students time to formulate answers in writing before holding them accountable for contributing to an oral discussion may encourage more participation.
This colleague seemed eager to implement some of my suggestions, especially the last two.  As the year progresses, it is my hope that these suggestions make a difference in his classroom.  In the meantime, I will continue to lend support as needed.  While answering the phone on a Friday afternoon may not be the most pleasant thing about being a leader, it goes a long way to making the trenches a more positive environment.

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