Plan for classroom community/management
I taught two sections of the 10th-grade history class, and the two groups' dynamics were diametrically opposed to each other. One group was quiet and reluctant to participate; the other group loved to talk and think out-loud. About a month into my teaching and various unsuccessful attempts at encouraging the quieter group to speak up (pre-write then share; think-pair-share; group work, cold calling; whips-around-the-room; carousels, etc.), I felt the need to change things – I began using consistent methods to inspire more participation.
At first, I made a tally card for each student in the group. I distributed the cards among the students and asked them to keep record of how many times the person, whose name was written on their card, spoke during class. I did this activity for a week, recording the results and anticipating progress. Unfortunately, the class dynamic did not change. The students dutifully recorded their classmates' participation, but the peer pressure of being watched did not create a livelier conversation. Most of the cards I counted at the end of each class had no to two tally marks. I abandoned this strategy.
I then tried the PostIt conversations: every student received three PostIt notes at the beginning of the class and had to use them all by the end of the lesson. Only people with PostIts could speak until all the sticky notes had been used up, then the conversation could flow freely. This plan worked to a small degree. The students felt obligated to participate, but because of this obligation, the conversations were somewhat artificial. Speaking was not fun – it was a chore. I decided to try a different approach.
I brought a jar of pennies in one day. I gave each student three pennies and asked them to use their pennies by the end of the class. Every time they spoke, they paid "a penny for their thoughts," which they had to throw into a box in the center of the room. This activity was a modified version of the PostIt, and the physical aspect of throwing the penny into the box made it a little more engaging. However, it was still a strenuous attempt at creating a genuine conversation, so I decided to use my final tool.
The final assessment for our second unit was an oral exam. The students generated a review guide, drew one question from the review guide during our next class, prepared their responses to the drawn question in writing, stepped out of the classroom and, facing me, without any notes, talked about the question they had drawn. I thought that after facing their teacher tête-a-tête and seeing that I, too, am human, my quieter students would be more confident. My hopes went even higher when I read a reflection on the oral assessment, in which a student wrote that she thought that speaking with a teacher was not scary after all. Unfortunately, not much had changed in our discussion dynamic: it was still difficult to spark conversations.
In the end, I have tried most things in my teaching arsenal to create a classroom where conversations would flow and ideas would be shared. Unfortunately, I cannot claim an overall victory, although I saw small promising changes in several students' participation efforts. I hope that my obvious emphasis on discussions showed the high value I place on speaking in class, and I hope that even though my students did not feel empowered, to share their ideas, someone will be able to break their silence in the future.