Creating a Culture of Sharing Ideas

So we are starting our final push for AP review in both my courses now. I teach two sections each day of AP Stats and two sections each day of AP Calculus BC. Yesterday we had our last Stats test for the text and today I gave them a complete released multiple choice section. I thought it would be more helpful to them (and to me!) if I sat quietly and listened and worked while they worked on these questions. It’s probably helpful to know that I have my class set up in two large tables that seat ten students each. They are elbow to elbow and they can all face their peers directly. They don’t need to stare at the back of people’s heads.  I encouraged them to scour their own brains. to pick the brains of their neighbors, to prowl through their books and notes, and to air out their ideas and questions. Now, when I was a senior our AP Calculus teacher, the great Barry Felps, rarely ever spoke for more than 15 minutes a day. He’d field a question, maybe two, from the most recent homework, he’d introduce a new idea or work an example to lead us on our path. Some days he’d really work the boards but most days he said very little. He told us he had work to do and so did we. We’d huddle up in groups and work. I LOVED it and I keep thinking that my students will love that freedom as  well. Well, it doesn’t seem to always work this way. I just read a great post earlier today called Can You Just Tell me What to Do? and, although he is addressing a different classroom environmental concern, I feel that some of my students probably want to say something like this to me. I know it’s late in the year and I probably cannot make major strides in changing this, but I REALLY want to be more helpful in establishing a classroom structure where we are comfortable exchanging ideas with each other. As I have written before, one of my Calculus classes tends to be terrific at this. One of them is very quiet by nature. I get that, and it’s a small group so I don’t push a great deal on them. However, my two stats classes are each big (by our standards) and I just have not been able to create a space where they seem comfortable having the kinds of rich conversations that I would love to hear. When I am guiding the conversation, I sometimes can get some really great chatter going. Those are fun days and I long for more of them. However, when I sit down and shut up, so do they. I’ll hear a few pockets of chatter among neighbors but nothing like the heated exchange of ideas and opinions that I dream of. So, my question to my dear readers is this – What strategies have you found to be effective in helping to create a culture where the students see it as their job to share ideas?

I’m looking forward to adding to my bag of tricks.

4 thoughts on “Creating a Culture of Sharing Ideas”

  1. I want to have this in my classroom. Other kids, I mean. Since I teach nearly entirely one-on-one, my students can’t bounce ideas off each other because no one else is in the room except me. It’s really hard to sit and not say anything (for me and the students), and they often don’t know where to turn when they hit mental brick walls.

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