A colleague, appearing to be about as happy as Eeyore, shuffled into my room this afternoon.
It was an Eeyore kind of day for all of us. Today, parents were allowed to visit, in order to "observe" their kids in the classroom. Translation: Parents were allowed to visit, in order to embarrass their 13 year old child into a state of apoplectic mortification.
Eeyore told me that she had a great lesson planned, but the kids were too embarrassed to participate. They completely clammed up. Like Snookie at a spelling bee.
"Did they do that in your class too?"
She looked so dejected that I wanted to say yes. But Momma didn't raise no liar. So I broke the news to her gently.
"How did you get them to participate? You always get them to participate!" she asked and then accused.
I let her in on my tricks.
First off, I started the class by being completely honest with the parents and students alike (remember what I said about Momma?). Basically, I told them that it was okay to be embarrassed. I told them that I was embarrassed for them, and that their parents were not there to look at them, they were there to look at me, to see how I look, and generally judge me like it was a weird Miss Teach America pageant.
Okay, so I said I don't lie, but I didn't say I don't hyperbolize.
Anyway, by making that statement I let the kids and parents off the hook of shame. Everyone laughed. And the kids soon forgot about the unnatural environment.
Trick #1: Always be willing to look like a fool yourself. Then students know that no matter how "off" an answer or idea may be, Ms. D. has said something crazier. This frees the kids to take risks while sharing ideas.
Trick #2: This one is great when you call on a student, but the student gives the wrong answer. Tell them they were wrong, but they can "phone a friend" like on Who Wants to be Millionaire. You should see how their faces light up while they look around to call on another classmate. And I'll be darned, but 99% of the time the second kid knows the answer. Then you have two successful students! The first one has to know the right person to call on. And even if the second student doesn't know the answer, guaranteed the third one will. So that initial "failure" always ends in success. It's a "face saver."
Trick #3 isn't a trick at all. Know your students. Read their body language. As hard as it is for my students to believe when I tell them, I was such a shy kid that I never participated. Ever. I knew the answers, but I was painfully shy and insecure. And the saddest thing is that the teachers never called on me. They probably thought they were being respectful of my needs. But they missed the opportunity to draw me out of my shell.
So I am always aware of quiet students who maintain eye contact when a question is asked. Students who are always engaged. Failing to call on these kids, even when they don't raise their hands, is missing out on a golden opportunity to draw them out.
Those easy tips are the reasons I am able to include the "Valuable contributor to class discussions" comment on almost every student's report card.
I helped Eeyore pin her tail back on, patted her on the shoulder, and sent her on her way with some new tricks up her sleeve. Good thing too. Tomorrow we have another day of parent visitations.
Do you have any tricks for allowing students to save face? Please share! I'd love to know more!