Breaking through the I don’t know’s

One of the hardest and most frustrating things for me is the words “I don’t know”. I would say that it is rare that I ask students questions and really want them to get the right answer. Most of the time, I am looking for a guess that will spark discussion or give me something to run with. I am looking for pre requisite knowledge, or to just have a classroom where my students want to talk to me (which I found was harder as the grade level got higher). I found an article through @gcouros that sparked my interest. It is called Wonder, Prediction and Student Engagement.  It discusses the ways in which we can pull curiosity out of our students. It specifically uses the concept, which in science education, is called an engage activity. It is a small thing to spark wonder and get them asking questions. For example the article suggested this question: Why do “choose” and “goose” not rhyme? I found that these activities worked really great in sparking interest but getting students to talk about their guesses was painful and usually ended up in I don’t know’s. The article suggests that you go back and forth with the student searching for any kind of guess, even if it is a wild one!

I think this is a great technique, but it is one that you have to use carefully. First of all, you have to, from day one, create a classroom environment that allows students to be wrong. This can be incredibly difficult because the words you choose can deflate this environment very quickly. I realized during my internship that simply over praising the “right” answer, can discourage students from providing other answers that may be right as well! I caught myself doing this over and over, and I would really have to focus on ways that allowed multiple students to answer the same question (before I commented), so that the answer could be discussed at the end. One of my favorite techniques is to use groups and chart paper, once the groups all have answers written on the paper, they can post them on the wall and then we can discuss them as a group. No one has to be made fun of  for a bad answer then!

A tool that I am kicking myself for not using during internship is Today’s Meet. Students can text comments, answers and questions and a live stream of it can be projected from the internet onto the wall or board, it can be anonymous which might help the shy students. Has anyone tried something like this?

I am always looking for more ways to get students to talk about things in class? Do you have any techniques that work with students to help facilitate discussion? What about the students who are very quiet? How do you get them involved? Remember in Kindergarten when everyone wanted to raise their hand and tell the teacher a story, how do you get grade 12’s to do that?


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