by Nancy Motley
Doesn’t everyone want to be successful? I know I do! I spend the majority of my time trying to be better…a better parent, a better friend, a better colleague, and certainly a better teacher. In fact, I can honestly say that I have never met anyone who likes to fail. I have, however, encountered many students who, because of their previous school experiences, begin to expect failure. I see it in a defeated look, in the “eye roll” of my most apathetic student, and now in the sea of black boxes where my online students’ faces should be. These students do not like being called on in either a face-to-face (F2F) or virtual class because they don’t know the answer or maybe because they lack confidence. Either way, they expect that they will be wrong. Compounding their uneasiness is the knowledge that all of their peers will be watching them as they fail.
What if instead, every student (especially our most struggling and disengaged) experienced an alternate reaction to being called upon? What if they automatically expected success instead of failure? Can you imagine the transformative effect this could have on our students?
Why does public success matter?
When called upon, every student wants to answer correctly. Think about yourself as a student: if you get called on and answer correctly, you feel good. It makes you feel smart and increases the likelihood that you’ll participate in the future. Simply put, success breeds motivation. Once students experience success, they will undoubtedly want more. I believe one great way each of us can create “avenues for success” in our classrooms is through the type of feedback we offer.
When interacting with students who are in a face-to-face setting (“roomies”) or students who are learning virtually (“zoomies”),the feedback they receive must be intentional and designed to help them feel successful. The idea is to make sure that each time the “spotlight” is shined on a particular student, that student leaves the exchange having experienced success.
Let’s look at an example.
Imagine you are teaching an Economics lesson concurrently to F2F and virtual students. Your students, both “roomies” and “zoomies,” have been learning about the differences among five industries: primary, secondary, tertiary, quaternary, and quinary. To check for understanding you ask, “Based on your notes, which type of industry includes hotels and resorts? And why would they be classified that way?” You give students a few seconds to think about it and then call on Rosa. She is learning remotely and does not have her camera turned on, but you’re pretty sure she is there because she has been completing work throughout the class on a google doc that you can see. You encourage her privately in the chat, but after a few long seconds, her only response is “I don’t know.”
What would you do as her teacher?
Would you tell her, “That’s ok,” and then ask, “Can anyone help Rosa out?” Would you give her the answer, saying, “Rosa, hotels are a tertiary industry because they provide a service to immediate customers.” Would you say, “Come on Rosa. I know you remember this from yesterday.”
In each of the above responses, would Rosa experience success? It seems unlikely; she was unable to respond, passed over (response 1 & 2), and possibly embarrassed (response 3). Odds are, she’s feeling less confident and less safe than she did when class began.
So how do you create an experience of public success for Rosa? What can you do when she is hesitant or unsure of the answer? There are many ways to treat this situation so that Rosa is successful at the end of the interaction. Here are a few ways to ensure her public success (and the success of any other student who is selected to answer a question):
Give a clue, tip, or hint, and re-ask the question.
When Rosa shrugs, you can give her some help and then re-ask the question, offering a sentence stem to reduce her anxiety and increase language production.
“Rosa, I’m going to put our chart back up on my screen. (Point to it using your cursor). Hotels and resorts provide a service to their customers, so which industry does our chart show does that? Here’s how you can answer: ‘The industry that includes hotels and resorts is…’”
Direct all students to a resource that can help, while “checking-in” privately with the first student.
When Rosa shrugs, prompt the class with, “Everyone take a couple of minutes to find your chart from yesterday and reread it. It should be in the first folder. Think about where hotels would fit.” As everyone rereads their notes, you can quickly use the chat feature of your virtual platform to provide her with some one-on-one help. Rather than chatting to everyone, select just Rosa’s name. You can say something like, “I know this is really intimidating, but I’m confident in your ability to answer this question. If you’re really not sure, you can choose to ask a friend for help. In just a moment I’m going to unmute and ask you to either answer or choose someone to offer an idea. After they talk, you’ll need to say you agree or disagree and why. I’m proud of you for trying — I know it’s scary!” (Tip: Copying the text will allow you to quickly send the same message to other students when they feel intimidated or reluctant about sharing their thoughts.)
Give the student an opportunity to collaborate with peers.
Asking all students to be logged into the virtual platform allows you to put students in virtual “break out” rooms even if they are physically in class. In this case, each small group will likely consist of a combination of students who are F2F and virtual. This structure can be very helpful when Rosa shrugs, because you can give her (and the rest of the class) an opportunity to quickly collaborate with peers, by saying, “Everyone, check in with your small group. See if together you guys can agree on which industry includes hotels and resorts.” Like in the previous example, this creates time for you to quickly provide support to Rosa’s breakout group before bringing the entire class back together.
In each of the scenarios above, when you come back to Rosa, she has an answer that she can feel good about. When she responds with the class observing, she will experience public success. This interaction will likely increase her motivation to participate in the future because of the positive emotion attached to her experience.
A few other ways to foster public success:
- Make pronunciation practice and choral response a regular habit in your classroom. English learners are being exposed to huge volumes of new words, and even when they understand the meaning of new vocabulary, our students are often reticent to use it because they aren’t sure how to say it. *Virtual students can stay muted while practicing to further minimize any reluctance.
- During collaborative tasks, ask students to share something they learned from their partner or something their partner did really well. Sharing the ideas of others removes some of the pressure students may feel when sharing their own thinking.
- When monitoring students, share specific things you observe that are positive. Examples might sound like: “When I joined break out room 4, I heard all three members use the sentence stem that I gave you. Excellent job!” or “As I’m walking, I notice that Davis and Mareka both remembered to label the units on their coordinate grid. Attention to details like that is important.” Comments like this indirectly promote the success of all learners because they provide explicit reminders in a positive way.
Finish with a smile.
Whether you try out the techniques above or come up with your own, focusing on public success will benefit all of your students. You will see both confidence and motivation increase, and you might even catch kids like Rosa trading shrugs for smiles.