By Teachers, For Teachers
It happens all the time. The teacher is talking, sharing interesting information, and using teaching strategies about a new topic. The students pay attention, scribble notes, nod heads. Then the teacher asks a question. An awkward silence follows, and then the teacher ends up answering her own question and moving on. Even though teachers may want to get more student interaction and participation, it can be difficult to use teaching strategies to facilitate in a group setting. While sharing direct information with students has its benefits, student understanding and retention of that information is enhanced when they have a chance to express their thinking along the way.
There are a variety of reasons why teachers may have “A quiet class.” If teachers had to choose, many of them would prefer a quiet group to a noisy one. There are so many techniques and tips out there on how to quiet down a rambunctious room. Yet classes with quiet dispositions present lost opportunities for learning too.
Here are a few reasons why a class may be less likely to pipe up and interact during a lesson.
Students don’t know one another or the teacher. Sometimes it just comes down to how well students know one another. If you’re in a room full of strangers, it’s likely you’ll be quiet too. The less opportunity there is for students to get to know one another – including getting to know the teacher – the less likely they may be to interact during instructional times.
Students are tired. For whatever reason, you may have a set of students coming into the room who would prefer to still be in bed at the moment. This is especially true in the morning, when students claim they are still “Waking up.” This isn’t just students making a poor excuse; the National Sleep Foundation points to sleep deprivation as a major health concern for teens and advocates for later school start times.
Students are bored. Low engagement leads to low response. Would you jubilantly participate in an activity you saw zero value in? Students are unlikely to wake up excited about what they’re learning that day, but they are more likely to become invested when the lesson is structured in a way to engage them.
Students don’t understand. When a concept is complicated, beyond students’ realm of familiarity, or just too frustrating, students will recoil from participating. They are unlikely to put their thoughts out there into the classroom when they feel they don’t currently have sufficient understanding to even engage openly with the content.
Students are not expected to speak. There are expectations, either explicit or implied, set by the teacher regarding student participation. Even if the teacher wants students to participate, the manner in which class discourse is facilitated can backfire and insufficiently provide the right environment where otherwise willing students feel comfortable sharing.
These are a few reasons I’ve experienced why some classes may tend to be more quiet. I don’t think any of these reasons justifies a quiet room, but it is important to look into some of the causes. What other reasons might you add that contribute to a lack of engagement and response from students?
Blank stares are the enemy of collaboration and learning. The lights may be on, but is anyone home? Here are some basic ideas for helping students get more responsive during instructional times.
Our goal is not merely to “Get students to talk.” Talking, responding, thinking, engaging, collaborating … these are all tools for learning. When we are facilitating large group instruction and want students leverage these tools, we can apply the tips mentioned above. Talking is a sign of learning, and it also helps to broaden the input and lets students know their voices matter to the learning taking place.
No matter the reason for your “Quiet classroom,” there are opportunities to help draw out students’ ideas and responses. Consider what your next steps will be to establish this as an expectation and let students know their perspectives and input matters!
What teaching strategies do you use to help your quiet classes get more responsive? Share your perspectives with your fellow teachers by leaving a comment below!
Jordan Catapano taught English for 12 years in a Chicago suburban high school, where he is now an Assistant Principal. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.