Monday, May 19, 2014

Shocking Discovery: Students have valuable conversations!!

I realized something about my students not so long ago-their conversations have value. Like actual, real life, important things are being discussed value. Even when the stuff they are discussing doesn't seem real life and important to me. I learned a tip this past year that has really changed how we start class now- and it has made a huge impact on my relationship with my students.

This one will be quick, and I can't take credit for it. I had a professor that used to start class like this, and it left an impact on me.
When I enter the room at the start of class, students are sometimes chatting if they've finished whatever warm-up or class activity was given day. First of all I want to be clear on this- I don't mind students chatting just before class starts. If they have finished their work, I see nothing wrong with engaging in conversation. Usually students have things they need to jump right into- so sometimes this chatting is occurring while they are gathering supplies for the day.  I realize most of these conversations are centered around who broke up with who on Instagram last night (yes, that happens, #sogladimnotinmiddleschool) however you just never know. No one has ever learned anything sitting in silence, so I say why not take the chance they might pick up some random knowledge. I have been continually impressed by some of the meaningful discussions between students totally without facilitation by a teacher.
Anyway, I bring up the conversation because there was a time (back in the dark days before I smiled in October) when I would have entered the classroom, shouted something like, "quiet down" and been frustrated and upset (more frowns) when they did not immediately drop conversation and turn their attention to the all knowing all powerful teacher at the front of the room. Are you  kidding me past Liz? When have adults ever responded to something like this? I'm willing to bet my California Chrome, Kentucky Derby winnings (kidding of course but you get the point) that at your last staff meeting when the principal said, "ok let's get going" people whispered to the person next to them to finish their conversations.
We do it all the time, that's why there are dancing hot dogs at the movie theater to remind us to be quiet during the film (and buy some overpriced Junior Mints from the concession stand). We are social creatures. Why do we some how expect teenagers (the most social of the social creatures) to halt their conversation in silent reverence of us? I'm not suggesting students shouldn't respect us or listen when we are speaking, I'm merely suggesting we rethink our approach.
Ok, ok, so what is it that this professor did? You probably already do this sometimes and don't realize it. She would say, "we are ready to get started, take a minute and finish your conversations." That's it. It doesn't seem like much, in fact it doesn't seem like anything significant. However when you do this, it sends a message to your students. It let's them know that you feel their conversations have value, and that you recognize that they have ideas, thoughts, and concerns of their own. It also gives a chance for them to wrap up their conversation so  that when you do start talking, it is not unrealistic to expect their attention. We have all seen students, so desperate to finish telling their friend something that they can think of nothing else. Why take the chance that they are going to miss important instruction? Give them that precious  minute, let them finish up, show them you respect their conversations, and in turn you should expect them to respect what you are saying. Again, it sets the tone of a classroom that is full of kindness, caring, and mutual respect.