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Believing in Students' Words, Thoughts and Actions

Posted by Francis Vigeant on Feb 18, 2017

Believing in students means listening to them, taking their ideas seriously, and making room for discussion in the classroom, and encouraging them to think through both “right” answers as well as “wrong” ones.

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Believing in Students' Words, Thoughts, and Actions. Admittedly, this habit sounds very cliché.

But while believing in students’ words, thoughts and actions might sound trite, in fact it isn’t cliché at all. Consider believing in students’ thoughts. This doesn’t mean some warm, fuzzy, unfulfillable ideal. It means a concrete approach to taking their thoughts seriously, forums such as a Socratic dialogue are a great venue for crating this culture.

That means taking time, after doing an opening reading, to launch into the inquiry component of the lesson, helping students dig deeper into the questions raised by the content. This is beneficial because it encourages those higher order thinking skills: you want to ask students questions that require them to create, evaluate and analyze. These questions begin with “how could,” “why,” “what if” and “why.” Whatever answer a student gives you, you need to take it seriously. That's what we mean by believing. Believe what they tell you, whether or not you know it to be correct. Believe it and then force them to argue, back up and defend what they've said.

That’s the whole purpose of the question. If they've said something, take it seriously. Believe in it. Take their word and then ask them questions about it. As you ask questions, loop in students from other areas of the class who may have opposing ideas – though they may also agree. Whether they’re right or wrong, in agreement or disagreement, ask the students questions and get them to play off of each other. That's what Socratic dialogue is all about.

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Highly effective teachers often use some form of Socratic dialogue or Socratic questioning, looping in students from various parts of the classroom to get each of your students pondering deeper questions and creating connections between content.

It’s important to be very clear that Socratic dialogue is not a lecture. It’s a group of students giving their ideas to other students. The teacher is facilitating or helping moderate that forum. That's it.

Moreover, it’s not just about creating this back and forth dialogue between students. It’s also about believing in their ideas about how they might solve a problem or answer a question so that they're planning for the next step, engaging in the “what.” You have to create the space for them to plan and then, when they come up with a plan, you take what they have planned seriously. You believe in it, you ask questions and you coach them to a place where they can carry out that plan.

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Here you can see students relying on themselves and their lab partners rather than exclusively on their teachers.

By asking questions about their plan, you will start to see students coming to checkpoints where they begin to rely on themselves and on each other, on their lab partners. When you ask a question that the student doesn’t know the answer to, he can look to his partner. His partner will try to clarify and if they can't answer it either, they're going to realize that they had a hole in their thinking. As the teacher, you've just pointed that hole out without telling them. You asked the question, but they are figuring out how to answer it by modifying their plan. That’s how teachers work as coaches. But in order to do so, believing in students is key. It's taking them seriously and it helps to create an authentic environment in the classroom.

Slide 18.png A teacher who takes students’ ideas and plans seriously is highly effective, because they make room for students to adopt identities as scientists and engineers.

One of the biggest differences between highly effective classrooms and those that aren't is how seriously the adult takes the students – specifically, their ideas, actions and thoughts, whether they’re in writing, expressed verbally, or demonstrated through a project of some kind. If you do not take these ideas seriously as adults, you are transmitting to students that their ideas are not worthwhile, and moreover, that they don’t need to take the content seriously either.

One interesting observation researchers have made is that if they give students lab coats and goggles, students begin to behave in an entirely different fashion. The reality is that those goggles are just a symbol that the science they’re engaging in is real, and that you take their efforts as scientists seriously. But the symbol is very powerful indeed, and allows students to actually step into that role and begin to work as scientists and engineers. Once they’re in that role, however, students will quickly discover that most answers don’t come easy. This leads us to our third habit which is setting accurate expectations about efforts and deliberate practice.

Topics: Next Generation Science Standards

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