Can You Hear Me Now?
Educators always encourage students to talk, to be vocal, and to speak their mind. We like to engage with our students in a lively intellectual discussion about learning and recent events. Students carry on vibrant conversations all day long, but once in the classroom, it becomes a challenge for them to talk or to express their feelings. It is like the silent code has descended.
What can we do, as educators, to promote scholarly conversations in our classrooms?
Early in the semester, ask students to present a brief introduction to a topic that you will cover in class. You can start by making this voluntary but when the first batch of students completes their presentations, it is time to start calling upon the quite ones. Score the presentations and critique them, even if the score was a small fraction of the total grade. Students need to receive a feedback for their work. There are means other than grades to encourage and reward participation: verbal praise of good points, acknowledgment of valued contributions, or even written notes to students who have added significantly to the discussion.
Prepare questions and objectives and have them available for the students in advance. Students will become more focused and they will retain more. Limit your own comments. Avoid the temptation to respond to every student's contribution. Instead, allow students to develop their ideas and respond to one another. Tactfully correct mistakes by saying something positive about those comments and pointing out those aspects that are off base.
Establish rules for the discussion, otherwise, you can have a disaster on hand. Institute a firm time limit for each presentation.
Arrive early to class and allow time to socialize with the students. Another option is to open class with a few minutes of conversation about relevant current events, campus activities, or administrative matters. You can also use e-mails or posts on a learning management system to start a discussion.
Create a friendly environment among students. Promote discussion and participation by arranging seating, if possible. Having the students set in a circle or semicircle so that they can see each other. Do not allow the students to set in the same place all the time. Research showed that people tend to talk to the person sitting opposite them. People sitting next to each other tend not to talk to one another.
Do it more than once, make it a routine thing in your class. Students will learn to face their peers and, shortly, blushing, flustering and staring in space will subside. Students can transform your classroom into a lively discussion room where you do not have to do all the prep work. They can assume, for a short period of time, the role of a teacher and they would value your work more and will spark their interest in the topics they cover.
Before you expect students to pay attention to the presentations, you must be sincere as well. Students will not talk if you don’t want to listen.