“Okay, so how can we describe Kenny’s brother Byron?” the teacher asked. The class had just started reading Christopher Paul Curtis’s amazing novel “The Watsons Go To Birmingham–1963.” They were in the middle of the first chapter, and the teacher paused to probe students’ understanding of the narrator Kenny’s too-cool-for-school brother, Byron.
Confused looks washed across the faces of the class, and students looked hopefully at the teacher. The teacher employed some 30 seconds of “wait time.” Smart. Students need that time to process their thoughts and break through the inevitable shyness that accompanies middle school. The students still remained silent.
Then a student raised his hand. Courageous. “I think he’s funny.”
The teacher frowned. “Hmm. Not really. Anyone else?”
In the middle of a lesson, a teacher, especially a novice teacher, has a thousand thoughts rushing through his or her mind. It’s like the pace of an NFL quarterback as they cycle through the planned play in their mind and the reality of how it’s actually playing out on the field. When a play doesn’t unravel as scripted, quarterbacks often have to scramble around to buy themselves a few extra seconds.
In the classroom, when student understanding breaks down, teachers can also scramble around to buy themselves a few extra seconds. In the above example, the teacher probably wanted the students to say something like, “Byron is a bully. He’s a bit arrogant, and he looks down on his family.”
That’s like asking for a wide-open receiver on every play. Ain’t likely to happen. Often, it’s hard to anticipate all the various responses students might provide. So what to do? Simple: restate every response. Every response.
The simple act of restating (also called “revoicing”) a student’s answer gives the teacher time to think about what to do next. It’s just a few seconds, but those few seconds can be invaluable in figuring out how the teacher will respond.
In the above example, it might have played out like this: “Ok, so you’re saying that Byron is funny. (pause: teacher is remembering that all answers must be backed up with text evidence) Can someone back up that inference with evidence from the text?”
Those extra few seconds can help teachers recall all kinds of great pedagogy: from having other students agree or disagree, to asking follow-up questions to identify the source of the misunderstanding. As an added benefit, they also allow the other students to process what has been said. That’s helpful if the next step is asking other students whether they agree or disagree with the previous response.
This habit is applicable across grades and subjects. Good teaching requires a wealth of these universal habits, from general management techniques to strategies for pushing students’ cognitive abilities. Over the next few weeks, we’ll offer up some simple, effective habits. But let’s start here: restating every response that students give.