Active listening - aka listening in a way that actually engages with the person you're talking to. One reason why I used to hate doing "class discussions" is because the students never actually listened to each other. What was supposed to be a conversation always ended up feeling like a back and forward between individual students and the teacher, rather than a dialogue between everybody in the room. I wanted to explore complicated and important issues with the students, but we couldn't do that if the students weren't benefiting from each other's ideas.
So what would happen if I could somehow break down the elements of a rich conversation into a set of concrete skills that I could teach the students? Turns out, such a structure already exists. It's called active listening and we can learn to be active listeners by practicing these four steps.
4 steps of Active Listening
Step #1: Repeat back what you heard
I used the following sentence starters to help students understand and practice each step of active listening.
First, I modeled for students how the sentence starters can be used in a conversation.
Here's the first conversation we had as a class.
Next, we had individual students take turns to be in the "hot seat" and propose a controversial opinion. Students came up with all sorts of interesting topics......from school lunches, to music, to whether porn was a good thing or not. After the "hot seat" student shared his/her controversial opinion, the audience used their active listening skills to probe the person in the "hot seat" and create a richer conversation. Students had fun with debating about things they care about. They were also excited to actually have an engaging conversation with each other for once!
Finally, we steered our conversations towards topics more relevant to the content we were studying in class. Students worked in small groups to practice the four steps of active listening using scenarios related to gene therapy and bioethics **disclosure these scenarios were not written entirely by me.
This week is the last week of the second quarter, and I'm still trying to figure out how to best use class time during this awkward transition week. It's the end of the quarter and everybody's tired. I don't want to assign any more work this week since I want to devote my time to grading final projects. I want to make class time meaningful while giving everybody a chance to breathe and reflect.
So I thought....why not let the students choose what they want to do? And what did they choose? They chose to play Just Dance, and I was all for it.
For those of you that questioned the yelling and singing from my classroom today (sorry about that!) here are four reasons why we devoted 15 minutes of class time today to the Just Dance Michael Jackson Experience (which by the way....is super good).
So.......why should I let my students dance in class?
1. Playing games in class builds classroom culture
Maybe I'm just jealous that I never got to play Just Dance in class when I was in school, or maybe this is just my Zumba background infiltrating my teaching. The way I see it, in the real world, workplaces encourage team building, group exercise, and activities that build a positive culture. A classroom is no different. There's no reason to feel like we have to work all the time, especially at the end of the quarter. I want to hear your thoughts too! How do you spend the end of the quarter with your classes?
Yep, you read that right. This week my classroom went from having one pet to four.....
Growing up I was always known as that kid with a bajillion animals in her house. At one point, my house was home to a guinea pig, hamsters, a rabbit, a dog, fish, turtles, hermit crabs, a newt, an African clawed frog, and sea monkeys all at once. Yes, it was crazy. Yes, my parents are still caring for some of those pets. Yes, living with a zoo was fun. And without even realizing it, I found myself carrying home three Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches yesterday in a take out container. "The kids are gonna love this", I thought. And the crazy thing is? They actually did! Well...not all of them did....but enough of them to justify writing this blog post!
Why roaches you may ask? Here's why
5 Reasons why Roaches make Great Classroom Pets
Reason #1: They're safe
Reason #2: They move a lot
Reason #3: They eat everything
Reason #4: They're hard to kill
Reason #5: They start conversations about science
I never anticipated that I would one day defend the worthiness of cockroaches but after more than a handful of students took a chance at handling them today, I'm feeling pretty good about keeping these three roaches around for now =O Next time you pass by my class, come say hi to them!