So, I’m continuing to think about encouraging all voices in student discussions. I’ve been working very consciously on student only discussions. I’ve written about my initial strategy and my revisions.
With round 1, I was working on building the stamina, community, and capacity for student led discussion where I do not participate at all until the very end where I wrap it up just so that we don’t end with the very teen “um, so , yeah.” In round 2, the goal was to go beyond sharing and to add more interaction, building off each other’s ideas, and overall depth to the discussion. In many ways both of these were successful. However, I still had a handful of students who were not participating as much as I, and they, would like. This brings me to round 3.
For round 3, I had two discussions. Same topic, different students.
In one group were all the big talkers. No need to encourage this group to participate. My specific directions to them were to ground their thoughts in the text and to balance their big picture thinking with specifics. They did exactly as I asked. It was so hard not to join in the conversation. I wanted to participate with these colleagues so badly. A time or two I asked a clarifying question. Then, having broken my silence, I tried joining in a bit. Mistake. Even though these are confident participants and I am not a domineering teacher, I could feel a difference in the conversation. I will just have to bite my tongue. If my goal is for students to lead, I have to keep out all together. There are other times that are for me to participate.
In group two were the quieter students. Between absences and a few students who had work that needed finishing, it was a very small group, and I could see the relief on a few faces when they saw the group. What a difference. One student who has come to the previous discussions with notes at the ready yet has had a really hard time getting in the conversation, jumped in right away. He began the discussion with a specific reference to the text and got us going in a good direction. Another student who is often distracted had tons to say, responded to classmates, agreeing, disagreeing, 100% engaged, which represents massive improvement. A third quieter person also had a lot to add. Looking around as the students talked (I learned my lesson with the first group and did not join in), I could see an obvious change in their body language. These students now sat, leaned in, looked comfortable in the ways that the more talkative students do in a big or small group. If an observer did not know that these students represented many who are not usually major contributors, he or she would be surprised to learn that fact. After this second in-depth, vibrant conversation, I commented on what a good job they were doing and asked if this felt better. Smiles and nods all around. (They really are just big 5th graders who want to do a good job.)
Obviously, the quieter students have to be able to participate in a bigger setting, and they can and do. At the same time, I believe that as the teacher who is planning learning experiences, it is my job to scaffold activities that support students in growing their skills across a variety of areas. So, if I have a small cohort who needs to build participation skills, I need to meet them where they are to move them forward. For my quieter students, a smaller group is a good starting place.