As a teacher, you aim to encourage regular active learning inside your classroom. This goal applies to a range of subjects, from language arts to sciences and everything in between. But discussions and many other forms of group learning depend on participation. And, as teachers know all too well, there’s no guarantee students will speak up or get involved. Patterns emerge, like certain students raising their hands time and time again while others shy away from the spotlight. Or, students begin to talk over one another, convoluting what should be a clearer process.
So, how can teachers foster participation in the classroom without falling into these common traps? Here are a few strategies for encouraging active listening and sharing for all.
Encourage a Sense of Community
Achieving a baseline sense of community in your classroom will enable students to be comfortable rather than reserved around one another. Help students learn each other’s names. Set ground rules for discussions so they stay productive and polite. Furthermore, it’s useful to ask your students to talk to each other rather than back at you. By addressing comments at each other, students can create a collaborative space for comments and questions rather than bouncing their discourse through the instructor.
Facilitate Anonymous Questions
Providing students, the option of anonymity will boost response rates as well as encourage honesty. For example, a classroom response system will allow students to anonymously answer poll questions as well as submit their own questions for the group at large. All students need to participate is a mobile device or web access, creating an equal playing field for everyone inside the classroom. Everyone has a voice, but nobody is put on the spot. Anonymity simplifies the process of testing for comprehension, as well as tackling tough subjects. Instructors can also use these poll results as a springboard for more focused discussions.
Prepare Talking Points in Advance
Have you ever opened the floor to discussion only to hear only “cricket” noises? Sometimes, students simply need more time to process questions before providing answers—especially introverted pupils. Something as simple as handing out questions ahead of time can help encourage thoughtful responses to kick off a discussion or Q&A session.
Alternately, providing at least the parameters of the discussion will help students know what’s on the table so they can consider the right material. If you’re covering just the most recent chapter in your textbook, make sure students know this fact ahead of time. Then they will not be caught off guard when it’s time for them to participate but rather ready to chime in and follow along.
Consider Your Responses
As the instructor, you shape the nature of classroom discussions and Q&A sessions. As The Teaching Center notes, “The way in which you interact, both verbally and non-verbally, communicates to students your attitude about participation.” Your goal is to create an environment in which many types of learners and personalities feel comfortable actively participating in the activities at hand.
Take some time to consider your own communication habits. How do you respond to student questions and comments that fall “outside the box” of expectation? How do you guide discussions back on course if they start to veer off on a tangent? Which strategies do you utilize to encourage all students to speak up when they feel comfortable doing so? Does your body language convey openness and active listening? Students will take their cues from you, so make sure you’re doing everything you can to set the most conducive tone.
Fostering stronger student participation in the classroom is often a matter of simply tweaking your current practices to allow for more flexibility, anonymity, and community.