By the time young scholars have reached the intermediate grades, they have been acclimatized to traditional teacher methods of soliciting responses to lesson questions. Early on, they come to understand that when their teacher asks “Who can tell us . . .,” the same confident few will establish eye contact and dart their hands high in hopes of being selected. Many reticent contributors have also figured out that if they simply wait long enough once the “Who knows . . .” question is posed, the teacher will ultimately answer it, permit a spontaneous “blurtathon,” or enlist a solitary reliable volunteer.
When the teacher routinely caters to the “professional participants”—the cadre of students who reliably stay on task, entertain questions, and volunteer—the class discussion becomes far less than representative or engaging. While extroverted, spontaneous processors may command the floor with an immediate response, their hastily crafted contributions often warrant further introspection and quality control. Those who work more slowly and deliberately have their thought processes routinely short-circuited. If class discussions are dominated by a coalition of blurters and instantaneous hand-raisers, more analytical and reserved students in need of additional processing time never get a fighting chance of entering the instructional conversation.
English learners are similarly apt to remain on the conversational sidelines in a passive spectator role when teachers give free rein to a small cadre of confident and talkative classmates. Struggling to interpret discussion prompts in a second language, English learners are greatly disadvantaged by interrupted think time and overwhelmed by a seemingly chaotic volley of comments from their more verbally confident peers.
Teachers at every grade level and in every subject area would be well served to take inventory on the questions they habitually pose to enlist student participation. The list below includes perennial favorites in elementary and secondary classrooms alike that fail to engage an enthusiastic and wide range of contributions.
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