Teaching Narrative from Chuck Hyser
Do you share this frustration? When beginning a discussion you ask a great, open-ended question, one that you've carefully crafted, but after you ask it there is SILENCE—a silence that is “loud” in its emptiness. It is a sinking feeling and the room is dead.
What does one do when the well is dry? Prime the pump! That silence is usually a sign of student insecurity, not a lack of knowledge or interest. No one wants to take the risk of making a mistake in front of the whole group. To get the conversation flowing, ask students to first discuss their responses in small groups. This feels much safer and there is usually at least one semi-confident person in each group. As the students are talking, you may find it helpful to travel from group to group to assess the tone and content of the conversation. When the talk begins to ebb or gets off task, it is time to shift the focus back to the entire class and invite a student to share a thought from their small group discussion to begin the whole class sharing of ideas.
What happened? You relieved the pressure and opened the door to constructive discourse. Students are more confident because have had an opportunity to orally rehearse their responses. They can revise and clarify their thinking. This rehearsal makes a huge difference. An additional benefit is that most students actually participate during the initial stage and are therefore more likely to be engaged in the large group dialogue, even if they are still reticent to participate in that setting. And, finally, the class is better equipped to prevent those verbal few from taking over the discussion.
I'd be happy to respond to questions or comments. If you try this tactic, I'd appreciate knowing how it worked for you.
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