Stop structuring classroom discussion via hand raising.
This admonition came from Dr. Kevin Feldman during a February presentation to a group of Nebraska educators. He suggested that discontinuing this practice is one of the first steps a teacher can take to increase student engagement. Many times, students who are already engaged in class discussions are the ones raising their hands to volunteer. Many of the other students do not engage with the discussion for a variety of reasons.
As you may recall from last week’s post, Dr. Feldman would like students to make a concrete response to instruction every 2 to 10 minutes. One reason to stop the practice of hand raising is to provide additional opportunities for ALL students to make concrete responses during classroom instruction.
Another reason to stop the practice of hand raising is to “increase the academic miles on the tongue for EVERY student EVERY day” (Feldman, 2009). The students who are raising their hands are getting many opportunities to use academic language, whereas the other students are receiving very few opportunities.
Academic language is “language used in the learning of academic subject matter in formal schooling context; aspects of language strongly associated with literacy and academic achievement, including specific academic terms or technical language, and speech registers related to each field of study” (TESOL, n.d.). In other words, academic language is the vocabulary of the content area.
Components of academic language are:
- The content specific vocabulary (e.g. magma) and the high use academic terms (e.g. analyze, variable). The difficulty here is prioritizing. What are the key concepts students must have? What are the non-negotiables? State standards can help with these types of decisions.
- The syntax: the way words are arranged in order to form sentences or phrases
- Grammar: the rules according to which the words of a language change their form and are combined into sentences (Feldman, 2009).
What about the possibility of embarrassing students by calling on them for a response they aren’t capable of giving or prepared to give? “Virtually ALL diverse secondary classrooms are comprised of many students unequipped for academic discourse” (Feldman, 2009). We must always scaffold our instruction. A student doesn’t respond in front of the whole group until he or she has been supported to the point of being able to give a proper response.
My next post will share some of Dr. Feldman’s suggestions about scaffolding for academic discourse. Look for it later this week.
Comment on how you encourage “academic miles on the tongue” in your classroom.
Feldman, K. (2009). “Response to intervention and older struggling readers: Special education reform as part of meaningful school improvement.” Educational Service Units Professional Development Organization. Kearney, NE. 18 Feb. 2009.
TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc). (n.d.) ESL standards for pre-k-12 students: Glossary. Retrieved March 15, 2009 from: http://www.tesol.org/s_tesol/sec_document.asp?CID=113&DID=317