Crickets are for the birds.
Letting go of my role as ‘Sage on the Stage’ (or rather ‘Sage behind the Gigantic Podium’) and becoming a ‘Guide on the Side’ is a transition fraught with bumps, detours, and dead ends. One of the first things I learned on my journey is that I despise crickets.
The sound of those chirpy insects triggers nausea-inducing flashbacks. For example – I bound into the classroom, smiling and swigging down coffee. I’m NOT going to lecture. And it’s going to be fantastic. Wondrous!
So brilliant that I’ve devoted the entire class period to a group discussion. Surely everyone read the assigned articles. Of course they did! (insert booming, confident laughter). I pose the first thought provoking question. My enthusiasm knows no bounds. Let’s discuss, I say.
I rub my hands together and wait for the lovely chitter chatter of students as they engage in deep conversations, stimulating new neural connections, metacognition1, and learning. Let it begin!
I shuffle my feet and wait for some students to turn to their neighbors and begin talking.
My fingernails scrape the edge of the table as I wait for any student to say anything. Or at least raise their hand and ask me to repeat the question.
Red alert! Group discussion has gone bye-bye.
I launch into action, prompting, probing, rephrasing, providing context, using examples, asking more questions.
CRICKETS! CRICKETS! CRICKETS!
When the bell rings I slink out of the room, drenched with sweat and reeking like failure.
What is the matter with these students? The second they leave the classroom they grab their phones and ALL start blabbing. Argh!
Is it me? Should I retreat behind my highly detailed lecture notes and gigantic podium? Or pack it up and hit the job boards?
Tips to get them talking.
When you step away from lecturing, student voices must fill the void. But what if they won’t speak? Luckily, there are some tips and tricks to help coax conversation from even the most reluctant students.
When you step away from lecturing, student voices must fill the void.
- Create a chatty class culture. It’s easier to have discussions when you…HAVE DISCUSSIONS. Do you detonate ‘discussion bombs’ out of the blue? Or are discussions are a regular part of your class? Establish expectations early in the semester so students know what’s coming and how to respond.
- Warm up. Launching full force into a group discussion the second everyone sits down may not be the best strategy. Let people adjust to their surroundings. Provide some context. What are you discussing and WHY? What’s in it for the students?
- Provide prep time. I’ve stuttered and choked when someone has unexpectedly asked me my name. My NAME, which I’ve known for, ahem, quite some time now. So, give the students a minute to get their thoughts together. Or better yet, have them write something down on paper. Nothing like a nice crib sheet!
- Be specific. Make sure the students know exactly what you want them to do. This might seem simplistic, but it doesn’t hurt to S-P-E-L-L it out.
- Question your questions. Do they stimulate, or decimate, discussion? Try using questions with no right or wrong answer (i.e., divergent questions). Or start with a few ‘softball’ questions. This can build confidence. (News flash – no one likes looking stupid. Sometimes I even worry about what my dog thinks).
- Think, pair, share. This is when you pose a question, each student thinks about it by themselves for a minute (or jots a few ideas down) and then they share their thoughts with a neighbor(s). This can help limber up those ‘talking muscles’ and mentally prepare to share with a larger group or even the entire class.
- Assign roles. Create small groups and make someone be the ‘reporter.’ They are now responsible for speaking. Don’t forget to assign roles to the other group members (e.g., data recorder, discussion facilitator, etc.), and periodically rotate roles so the burden doesn’t always fall on the same person.
- Get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Silence…………… Learn to love it…………. If you wait (10 seconds or so)……………. you might find…………….. that the students are even more uncomfortable than you………….. and…………. someone…………… might just start talking. Victory!
The NDSU Office of Teaching and Learning also provides useful resources in their READING CORNER – check out the ‘Student Engagement and Inclusion’ section under ‘Theory and Practice Resources’.
These tips can ward off those horrid crickets and prevent discussions from morphing into a bad case of S.T.S., or Sage Talking to Self.
And don’t worry! Keep practicing and those crickets will eventually be replaced by a symphony of students.
The Transformed Teacher
The Transformed Teacher is a faculty member who took a bold step out from behind highly detailed lecture notes and a gigantic podium into the teaching-verse, which is a magical place filled with helpful tips, tools, and teachers.
As I learn more about teaching, I find I’m significantly better than I was before, and a lot less neurotic. In fact, sometimes teaching is downright fun. Imagine that.
1 Metacognition = “thinking about thinking,” or, “the monitoring and control of thought.” Martinez ME. 2006. What is metacognition? Phi Delta Kappan. 87:696-699.
Check out my previous post:
Changing educational pain to pleasure.
Submit a pedagogical question or comment to the Office of Teaching and Learning (email@example.com) for answers in an upcoming blog post.