Thursday, June 4, 2015

Everyone Should Speak

There is an almost perfect formula for classroom dynamics found in Doctrine and Covenants 88:122. If you have ever wondered about how much you speak as a teacher and how much time should be allotted to students to speak, this passage should be of great help to you.

The passage begins by saying that a teacher needs to be appointed. The appointment can come from different places depending on the teaching venue. It could be the school board for public school teachers and it could be a local priesthood leader for a church teaching assignment. Someone makes a decision that this person will teach the class and do all that is inherent in that assignment. One of the duties not necessary to the assignment (and indeed hazardous to the assignment) is that the teacher do all of the talking

Everyone in the class has the assignment to speak and all have the assignment to listen. That sounds so simple but think about it for a minute. If you are a teacher, picture the students in your class and ask yourself if you trust them to say something useful in the class, something that will add to the flow of what happens during the class period. Do you? Do you trust them enough to allow them to speak and stumble through to a useful idea? I was teaching a class recently and a young man raised his hand with something to say. I acknowledged him and he paused for a second and then said, "I have something in my mind to share but the thoughts are still jumbled and unclear. Maybe you should come back to me." I told him that he could think out loud with us and we would all see if something did come clear. He started to talk and was able to formulate his thought and it added to the discussion. Would you have trusted him that he would come up with something useful?

If you are like so many teachers I have observed, the answer to that question is "no." It is a very difficult thing for a teacher to remain silent. We worry. We are concerned that nothing is happening. It took me a long time to learn to stop talking and listen, but once I learned to be quiet in a classroom, my experience became a very different one. I came to understand that students were thinking and formulating a response and if I kept talking they would never be allowed to express themselves. I came to know that they would respond in a rough, fragmentary way because of inexperience and a lack of confidence. Even outwardly confident students would hesitate to speak their thoughts. They rarely came out in fully constructed sentences. They were a jumble and often incoherent. But it was a starting place.

The commandment says "let one speak at a time and let all listen unto his sayings." We expect that when the teacher speaks all will listen. We should also hold the same expectation that when a student is allowed to speak (which should be often) we will all listen, including the teacher. And the teacher should listen intently, without thinking of his next thing to say, but rather listening with the idea of actually hearing what the student has to say. The promise is that all will be edified of all.

What I say as a teacher may be more refined, more directly to the point and easier to understand but it is not more important than what a student says. If we want our students to learn how to speak better they need to have an arena in which to practice. Our classroom can be the place. Even rough and unpolished statements from students can be of immense value to all of us.


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