Inspiration is found in the quiet corners of the mind. This is what has led to the quiet of this blog this past few months. After the mental stimulus of the ASCD conference and the physical rigors of escorting 90 students to Washington and NYC, my mind and body needed a rest. After the turmoil of a third consecutive school year of upheaval and animosity, my spirit needed a rest as well. More importantly I needed the “think time” to process all the input I had received and emotions I had experienced. The warm days of summer and the joys of a wedding have given me a most welcome respite and I am now back. I have several articles planned, but for now I want to revisit the importance of a basic tool that often is left behind…Think Time…Without this precious commodity much of what we do with our students is degraded or lost. Additionally in this time of tight budgets this tool becomes an efficient vehicle for creating the connections that ensure long term learning. Furthermore think time is the practice field for critical thinking. And yet despite all that we know about think time, so many educators allow but a few seconds to pass before moving on to the next student or calling on the same two or three students who always seem to know the answer. We point to the myriad of standards that be to covered before the state test; the reticence of students to participate; the lack of time we have with students each day as reasons why we need to keep moving…and yet…how far has this approach gotten us?
I decided that this year I would more strategically implement think time. I wanted to allow all students the opportunity to make connections and think critically about the content we were exploring together. I wanted to hear all of my students’ voices. So I started making a plan that would allow me to reach this goal without overburdening me or my students. Here are some strategies I have found to be effective.
1. Intentionally allow for think time and writing before the beginning of a discussion. This could take the form of a quick write or a review of notes or the use of a “think minute”.
2. Allow for practice discussion with a shoulder or table partner. Then there is the silent conversation where students write responses to each other rather than speak them.
3. Let students know that all their voices are import ant. The AVID strategy 1-1-2 Partner Share is a wonderful tool for this. Briefly this strategy has students consider a question (another great place for a quick write) and then take turns listening and repeating back what their partner says before engaging in a two minute pair discussion.
4. Call on all students equitably. For iPhone and iPad users the app Sitck Pick is a powerful tool for ensuring this. It draws on the old popsicle stick idea, but also allows you to differentiate what type of questions you ask each individual student. It even keeps track of the quality of student responses. You can even export this info via e-mail. I find that when I use this app I am also more aware of how long I wait before asking a clarifying question or moving on.
These four simple tools have already improved the quality of discussion in my classroom. They cost nothing, but are priceless. By providing the quiet time to think before a discussion, I am eliminating the quiet that befalls so many classroom “discussions” and allowing my students an opportunity to explore the quiet corners of their mind that I have found so important to my personal exploration and growth.