Monday, July 23, 2007

Students speaking up and out

By Daniel T. Parker

This probably won't work for every class, but I recently rediscovered a solution to a problem I have about not getting questions from my college students.

No matter how many times I ask for questions during a lesson, I rarely receive any questions, even when I can tell that one or several students are puzzled by something. I understand that part of it is shyness concerning asking a question in front of their classmates.

Usually, I hold my classes right up until the "ten-til" mark, but a couple of weeks ago, I finished my prepared lesson about 15 minutes early. Instead of engaging the students in small talk or time-killing, I just said, ah, go on and get out of here, enjoy the extra time.

Wham. I was surrounded by five students wanting to ask questions. Since I hadn't waited until the "ten-til" mark to dismiss, they now had time to ask their questions AND get to their next class.

I remembered this having happened before, so I've tried a little experiment this week. I've been planning to end my classes 15 or 20 minutes early. In my conversation classes, all but one of my classes (and it was the night-time class) saw students coming up not to ask questions, but just to have conversation (hooray!). In both of my composition classes so far this week, I've ended up fielding several questions each time, and actually staying in class longer than I would have if I'd dismissed at my regular time.

Again, it probably won't work for highschool/middleschool classes, or maybe not even with every college class, but it seems to be getting the job done -- now, at least -- for me.


Alex Case said...

Another thing that works almost as well with teenage Japanese students, who have the same problems with shyness, is to set some loud groupwork speaking practice just after the grammar explanation, so that they can pull you aside without the rest of the class hearing or their partners being disrupted.

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Alex Case said...

Not quite as successful, but seems to be having some effect- I've been telling those students who are going to study abroad that you will make your teacher angry by not asking questions and saying you understand when you don't rather than by asking "too many questions". Explaining it as a cultural difference rather than a personality (shyness) problem seems to free some of them up a little.

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