How I Magnified Students’ Voices by Quieting My Teacher Voice

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.

One comment on “How I Magnified Students’ Voices by Quieting My Teacher Voice

  1. Cathy this is fascinating. It is so interesting that something as seemingly tiny as where your body is, what your body language is communicating, and how loud your voice is can make such a big difference in student participation. I can see from your post how that might change the affect in the room. Your questions of “Who notices something they would be willing to share?”, “What else,” and “Who can explain” in combination with practicing a lot of patience in wait time seems really powerful in inviting participation, even for those students who are typically more quiet. Can’t wait to see where next semester takes you!

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