Thinking involves work and risk.
Students are more willing to think and share their thinking when they know that
their thinking is respected. Every good teacher respects students as
people. Respecting students' thinking requires something further.
It's easy to respect the student
responses that we anticipated. It's harder to respect an "off the wall" idea.
It's tempting to try to get past such ideas as quickly as possible. After all,
there's a lot of material to cover and the whole class is waiting. But those
unexpected, unclear and just plain odd ideas are usually the first steps in
thinking of students who most need encouragement and respect.
Consider the following
interchanges: Which teacher responses show more genuine respect for the
Student: Do cumulus
clouds have more water in them than cirrus clouds?
Teacher 1: They are both
made of water vapor, right? So that answers your question.
Teacher 2: Yes, you're
quite right! They look much bigger than cirrus clouds.
Teacher 3: Are you
asking that because they look bigger, or for some other reason?
Student: It's weird.
Freedom of religion and of the press and other stuff are all crammed into one
Teacher 1: Yes, the
first amendment covers all of that.
Teacher 2: Right! that's
the first amendment because it is the most important.
Teacher 3: Do you think
they should be in separate amendments?
Student: No one says his
name until Atticus does. Everyone else calls him Boo.
Teacher 1: It's just a
Teacher 2: That is such
a great point. Atticus is much less prejudiced than other people in the town.
Teacher 3: What do you
think about that? Why do you think they do that?
Teacher 1's responses are all
aimed at settling issues and moving on as quickly as possible. These
responses side-step the students' ideas, instead of fully responding to them.
Teacher 2's responses seem
positive, even enthusiastic. But are they genuine? Teacher 2 doesn't know what
the students meant, and has simply substituted his own ideas for the students'.
The students had no opportunity to work out their ideas; the teacher's
ideas were all that mattered.
Teacher 3 tries to understand
what the students are thinking. She responds honestly, not praising ideas
that are still unclear, but inviting the students to give them further
thought. This is real encouragement to think.
ideas will take up class time, and might lead to side issues. But it might
also clear up misconceptions and spark deeper interpretations. In the long
run, it teaches students to value themselves as thinkers about academic
Teachers, too, are rewarded--with
closer rapport with their students, seeing more of their curiosity and original
Still, managing the class and
preserving the learning agenda are real problems.
One solution: Assign students to
offer questions and new ideas as a planned element of a lesson. The teacher has
more control, and less confident students are encouraged to take the risk.
Thinking suggests some ways to do this.