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A Teaching Approach

November 1, 2013

I sat in on Elizabeth Roach’s English 3 class, discussing Act III of “Hamlet” during a double period this morning.  I noticed a couple of Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 8.41.16 AMintentional directions to her teaching which greatly influenced class discussion.  These are approaches we can all use in our disciplines:

  • Elizabeth began the class asking students for questions they had about the reading.  She made sure they had a question, and she pushed them to identify the significance of their question – “Why is this an important situation?”  Thus she honored her students’ confusion, affirmed their curiosity, and highlighted key areas for the class to consider during the rest of the class.
  • After a student made a comment, Elizabeth would repeat the comment back, asking the student to explore a part of his/her comment further.  She always used the student’s name.  What happened was that Elizabeth kept the student engaged, honored his/her thinking, while pushing him/her further.  Students rarely said something and then were quiet: Elizabeth kept them focused and exploring.
  • Elizabeth “cold-called” on students who were not participating initially – but on a couple of occasions, the student then spoke a second time, as if being called on started the intellectual engine for the student.  Her question to these students was an invitation to join the conversation.
  • There were a couple of times during this double period where Elizabeth moved into the discussion with “So, how does…” as a way to synthesize the discussion; to focus them on a larger significance to the discussion; and to transition to the next point.  It was her signal to the students that now is the time we are going to look for a larger meaning, or put together all the pieces of what we’ve been doing, or pivot to the next moment.

As we all continue to teach vigorously and purposefully, let’s keep in mind how we orchestrate and lead our students through the class period.  We want to keep them all engaged, all performing, all knowing that they are making significant and important contributions.  We also want them to know what is crucial in our discussions.

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