When I was a young buck in school, the motto was, “Students should be seen and not heard.” School was about receiving information from teachers and then regurgitating that same information on standardized tests. That was it. There was no play, no student talking, and no choices. The teacher’s voice was the only one that should be heard. When I first started teaching, I utilized this same model as this is what I knew. Even though I learned more appropriate strategies for teaching in college, I fell back on my prior experiences. The teacher was in control. That only got me so far. I’m not that interesting or engaging and I certainly don’t have all of the answers. While the students respected me as a teacher and there were no battles between us, they were not engaged and probably learned very little.
And when I started to realize that very little learning was taking place in the classroom, I did some research and learning of my own. How can I best engage students in my classroom? How can I inspire my students to learn? How do students learn best? What is the best model for instruction in the classroom? As I learned more and more about effective teaching, I became a different teacher. I provided the students with options, allowed them to work together to solve problems, and created hands-on projects and activities. I created a student-centered learning environment. I was no longer in charge. I put the learning in the hands of my students. I empowered them, and it made all the difference. Too bad it took me so long to get to this place, but at least I’m here now.
In my Humanities class, we utilize the Reader’s Workshop method of reading instruction so that the students can choose books to read that interest them. This way, they grow as readers and thinkers. Every Monday in Humanities class, we have a chance to meet with our students one-on-one to discuss their reading progress. We find out what books they’re reading, ask comprehension questions, complete fluency checks, and be sure they are making progress. It’s all about allowing the students to talk and run the show.
As today was Monday, we met with the students to discuss their reading. The first student I met with is quite the talker. I checked in with him first because he wanted to go to the library to choose a new book as he had recently finished his last novel. So, I took notes on the books he read and asked comprehension questions to be sure he was reading with a purpose. He then proceeded to tell me every detail about his book. While I usually try to keep me student conferences to five minutes in length, this conference lasted almost 20 minutes. He kept talking and talking about his book. He clearly loves reading and his comprehension is quite amazing. Normally, having students talk is a positive thing. They become much more engaged in the learning process when they have ownership in it. The problem today was that we had a shorter period in which to meet with the students and so I was unable to meet with every student because this conference lasted three times longer than a regular conference. I didn’t want to cut him off as he spoke, but in my head I realized that I was missing opportunities to meet with all of my students.
Should I have cut him off? Should I have asked him to stop talking so that I could meet with other students? Should I have prevented him from sharing his engagement with the books he has read? Would that have been appropriate or respectful? Would he have understood? Although I don’t have an answer to my questions, I do know that I can’t have a 20-minute conference with him on a weekly basis. So, what do I do? Do I use a timer to keep him within the allotted time? Do I cut him off after five minutes? I could always conference with him last so that I have limited time anyway. He is a voracious reader and so I’m not worried about effectively supporting him as a reader. Perhaps next week I will try meeting with him last so that I can meet with the other students first. Maybe this will help. Other than that, I have no clear-cut solution that I like. I want my students to talk and be excited about reading, but I also want to be able to appropriately challenge and support all of my students. Sometimes, cutting off a student who is talking too much or hogging the conversation may be beneficial for the group as a whole.