Encouraging risk taking is easier than we think

Teaching a class of 33+ students is incredibly challenging. Ideally, each lesson would be crafted and tailored to each student’s individual needs, interests, and learning style. Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury of doing this everyday, for every lesson. We have to do what we can to create lessons that engage our students and encourage them to participate. So how do we encourage every student to participate when there are so many of them?

Whenever I have a visiting presenter, or a student teacher, my advice is always the same:

  • Get them up
  • Get them moving
  • Don’t talk too much!

If the teacher is doing most of the talking, it is very likely there is not much learning happening. The challenge here is allowing plenty of opportunities for students to speak, but also keeping them on task. The key to keeping kids on task during group or partner conversations is accountability. If I say, “turn and talk” I expect them to discuss the topic I’ve given them. I have taught them how to listen actively, and after 1-2 minutes, I expect them to be able to paraphrase what their partner said. I use the ClassDojo randomizer to select a student, and if they share, they earn a point for participation, or taking a risk. This ensures equity (since I end up calling on all my students), and rewards their hard work, which is difficult to do with something intangible like a conversation.

Some might say that putting students on the spot in this way can make them feel uncomfortable, or even humiliated. This is not the case if you promote a culture of risk taking in your classroom. From the moment my students walk in the door I tell them, “I like mistakes, if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not learning.” This elicits quite a lot of snickering in the beginning of the year. “What kind of teacher LIKES mistakes?!” they ask. “The kind of teacher that wants you to learn,” I answer. From day one, they are encouraged, and even rewarded to step out of their comfort zones and let their voices be heard. Mistakes are rewarded as highly as correct answers, especially if it brings to light a misconception that turns into a teachable moment. Holding students accountable, and rewarding risk taking are integral to inspiring participation in the classroom.

Find more “Ideas for the Classroom” from other teachers!