Graded class discussions are a great way to get students to do their reading, especially when they know what’s expected of them. I had planned to have my class conduct a class discussion about a book we just started reading called Sidewalk. While planning this course, I created a rubric for the students and me to use (see both attachments to this blog. I handed the student rubric to the students prior to their discussion. I then asked anyone if they had any questions about the rubric. When no one had a question, I proceeded to ask them a few questions about the different skills on the rubric. We then engaged in a conversation about these communication skills and what they look like in a conversation. I wanted to make sure the students knew the expectations for this and future discussions. Throughout my teaching, I have realized the value of being explicit with my expectations. Rubrics help provide the expectations for the students and for me.
When it was time for the discussion to begin, the students weren’t sure how to start the conversation, but one student began with talking about his understanding of the chapter and what he liked about the book. They all seemed really eager to share their thoughts about what they had read. However, there were a few times that the conversation dwindled, and I had to physically restrain myself to keep from talking. While observing the discussion, I wanted to make statements to connect the students’ ideas. I wanted to be included in a student-run discussion. That’s when I realized I needed to step back. This was the most that I had heard from my students all semester. I was giving them “think time” to reflect on what was being shared, what they had read, and/or what they wanted to share. By respecting the silence and allowing the students to initiate the conversation and control its direction, I heard more insights from them regarding this book, than I had from previous discussions.
Upon reflecting on this, I remembered a mentor of mine always saying that silence in a classroom is not a bad thing. In fact, my mentor stressed the importance of not feeling uncomfortable with silence. There are students who need the silence to think or gain courage before speaking. By shifting my thought from dominating every moment, I am allowing my students’ voices to be embraced and heard. I think that my rubric helped set the expectations for my students, but it also reminded me to keep my expectations. If I want the students to share their insights, ideas, and findings, then I need to respect the silence and the rubric.