In one form or another, I have been working on student participation as part of my action research investigation with my CPM TRC (Teacher Research Corps) teams for three or four years. Lately I have been thinking a lot about ways to decrease the anxiety for students during whole class discussions. It occurred to me that I often stand near the front or side of the room to facilitate. I decided to try purposefully to make myself less significant. One morning, in my 8th grade class, I projected three graphs and asked the students to respond to a prompt in their composition books, and then talk with their teams to determine which one(s) represented a proportional situation.
I circulated the class and listened to their discussions. Then I brought the class together. I chose to perch/lean against an empty student desk behind most of the students. After getting the attention of the students, I deliberately lowered my voice to a quiet conversational level and asked, “Who notices something they would be willing to share?” Jose responded, “Two of the graphs start at zero.” Chris responded, “At the origin.” I said, “ What else?”, and “Who can explain?” Really – those were about my only questions and I kept repeating them. Many student hands went up. Ava, who wrote at the beginning of the year that she never raises her hand, contributed after about ten others. I just kept going until we had come to the conclusion that one of the graphs went through the origin and was linear, so it was proportional. I asked if either of the others had one of the attributes of a proportional graph? We kept the discussion going until there were no more student ideas shared. I didn’t need to summarize their ideas, because the students had done that. I think that by speaking with a quiet voice and not being at the front of the room, I put myself more on an equal footing with the students in this discussion. I noticed that when I said, “What else?” and just waited, more students responded. Sometimes the wait time pause was pretty long and I think it allowed students time to work up the courage to share. I saw myself as more of a pivot point in this discussion, encouraging students to share and build off of each other’s ideas. So many times in my classroom I make myself big and cheer students on and build them up. Now I see that making myself quiet and small is a great tool to encourage students to voice their ideas.