Facilitate the classroom: Part Deux

My last post was a about a simple hack to get kids who are normally on the more quiet end of the conversation spectrum to participate more in class. I discovered that it was not that they didn’t have anything to say, it was that they didn’t feel comfortable expressing opinions out loud. By creating a very simple non-verbal solution, I was able to include those quiet kids as well as my more rambunctious ones in a conversation. The pace of class picked up and everyone, more or less, began to enjoy group discussions more.

The space I had created was truly becoming a more inclusive space for my students.

Today I want to talk about a different type of student in class. The “I can’t seem to sit for more than four seconds” student. You know who I’m talking about. She or he is incredibly intelligent, witty, fast on the draw to raise a hand and answer a question. They might not always get the question right but they are motivated, eager, and well,… they just have sooooo much energy that they need to move to think.

In my early years teaching, students like this would often confound me and push my buttons. I just didn’t get it. I made many mistakes in trying to conform those students into a roll that I envisioned, not who they were as learners.

The solution:

A colleague of mine once let me borrow a Middle School Debate dvd as I was preparing my class for an upcoming debate on the future of the Amazon (Thanks SueLo!). I was looking for a way to have a student led debate with minimal intervention from me that was better than what I had been doing n the past. As I watched the video, nothing really jumped out at me as useful. Then when I got to the rebuttal phase, all of a sudden something clicked. I saw a student disagree with a particular statement by standing up and put his palm face-up and wait to be recognized so he could speak. This was a specific protocol indicating that there was an official objection to a claim or statement made by whomever was speaking. The student with the objection either waited to be recognized by the speaker or was told by the speaker ‘not right now’, and was instructed to sit back down.


I took this idea and re-shaped the protocol to fit my needs in class. Now when students have an objection to anything said in class, they are allowed to rise out of their seat with their palm face-up and wait to be recognized. They are invited to object to any statement said by anyone in the room at ay time. This includes myself, another teacher, the principal, or superintendent. I welcome the opportunity to illustrate my mistakes or errors during class and often will mess up on purpose to check if students will catch on….it’s really quite useful.

This simple action of inviting students to get out of their seat, when combined with the sign language sign for “We’re the same/ I agree”, changed my class forever… for the better.

It accomplished three things:

  1. It gave students the opportunity to get up out of their seats without any fear of being chastised by the teacher (me). This built a more relaxed and fun atmosphere where students felt safe and engaged.
  2. It forced students to focus on the conversation of their peers as much or more than they focused on the teacher (me, again). It’s kinda sneaky because the students don’t really pick up on the fact that they are more or less guiding the conversation in class now as a direct result of these protocols.
  3. It sped up the class. When this protocol is used in conjunction with the sign language sign for “I agree”, all the students are now illustrating their understanding of the topic. They are making their thinking visible and vocal, yet all the while not actually being forced into speak. 

Give it a shot and find out what I learned about getting kids to lead the conversation in class.


4 thoughts on “Facilitate the classroom: Part Deux

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