dimanche 4 mai 2014

Clothes Pins Monitor Participation

OK, I know this will come as no surprise to anyone in the field, but there is a huge spread between those students who want to dominate in the area of "answering ALL the questions" and those who cringe at the thought of being called on in class. In my years in the classroom, I have heard so many words of wisdom about what to expect of students as far as participation is concerned. There is much controversy surrounding this issue. Some believe in the "tough love" approach, putting students on the spot and toughening them up to better prepare them for a less forgiving world. Others nurture and protect the student to the point of sheltering them from the experience altogether.

Now, neither of these will inspire a student to test the waters in an environment of safety and to develop learning habits which embrace error.

This year, I am faced with two very large groups (30 and 31 students). In each of the groups, I have a wide range of ability, activity and needs.

Each has a core of about 3 students who have their hand up as soon as they take their seats. They are ready to answer any and all questions that arise. They dominate conversations and they bask in the attention they feel they are getting from those who do not get the chance to speak.

The truth, however, is that those who do not speak, often do not bother because they have learned over the years, that there is no point trying to contribute to a discussion. They have experienced being cut off and being beaten to it by those who answer faster.

I saw very early this year that many of my quiet students were pretending to understand things in order to avoid questioning and taking risks in front of the others. It was obvious that the first thing I needed to establish was a safe environment in which they would be willing to take risks. We talked honestly about the importance of being respectful of the different learning styles of others. We defined a community of learners and the behaviours that help us to work well together. But this was not enough...

I needed to find a way to get my strong personalities to stop dominating the discussions and to get the reluctant speakers to find their voice. The idea hit me while in a Dollarama, shopping for birthday party loot bags...

Each student receives 4 wooden clothes pins with their names written on them. These are attached to name cards taped to the side of a bookshelf. Upon arriving for my class, students take their clothes pins from their card and place them on their desks. During lessons or class discussions, they hand one in when they contribute something to the class (be it a question or an opinion). To do this, they simply place it at the corner of the desk and the "used" pins are collected and counted at lunch by student volunteers. In such a large class, it helped me to see who was taking part, and who was merely observing.

What I noticed, was that the quiet students started to ask and answer questions more often and that the more dominant participants started to monitor their contributions. They were more aware when others had not had a chance to be heard and were sure to save their own "turns" for something worthwhile. I started to hear things like, "I'll let others have a go," and "I'll save my last clothes pin for another question."

There are several things to keep in mind here. The first is that students are not put on the spot. They contribute when they are comfortable doing so. They start to speak because others are no longer dominating, which gives them a chance to get a word in edgewise. The clothespins add a visual reminder that they are not participating, prompting them to ask or answer questions without fear of being cut off.

The second is that students who used to dominate become aware of how important it is for others to have the chance to engage in their learning. They become instrumental, not only in their own development, but in helping create a classroom setting where everyone can be engaged in their learning.

The third is that all this has nothing to do with grades. This is simply a visual way of helping students monitor
their level of participation to be aware of the contributions of each student. The tracking is just to show them that the rate of participation is improving. It also gives me some data about students who are reluctant to contribute anything in class. These are the students I can then turn my focus to in order find out if there are other reasons they are not asking or answering questions. This, however, is much easier to do with two or three quiet kids as opposed to 26 who never get the chance to speak.

And finally, the entire thing is monitored by students. Volunteers pick up the "used" clothes pins and record participation. Once counted, they replace these on the name cards. Other students replace the "unused" clothes pins on the name cards for the next class. The conditions for learning become the responsibility of all students after that.

0 commentaires: