At the beginning of this semester I was looking for ways to improve in my teaching practice. I had had a fairly successful experience with my previous class though I hadn't collected much feedback from the class except for at the very end. I was asking a colleague how to know that I was doing a good job throughout the semester. What were some small metrics that I could keep track of that would indicate whether or not I was facilitating a good experience for my students? Among the advice I received then, one nugget of knowledge stood out and I have been thinking about it ever since. They said "Make sure everyone feels like they can be heard."
To address this I set out to try a technique called the "whip around". It's pretty straightforward and will get every student to respond to a question and helps get thoughts moving.
What: Start with a question that can be answered with a brief 1 or 2 word answer. These can be answers on a scale or yes/no responses among others. In this case I asked everyone to rate their sense of preparedness for exhibition, from 1 to 10.
Why: When I learned about this technique it was justified as a way to give everyone space to have their voice heard in the classroom. It's a low stakes, short response, and nobody needs to fight for attention. When I used this I told the group that it was important for everyone to hear the range of answers in how prepared we were so that they wouldn't feel bad about feeling behind, since there are others in the same situation.
How: Set up here is easy. The whole class is present, distractions away, and ready to listen. Give them the prompt and the scale. Before they responded I asked them to turn to the person next to them and discuss what their number would be. This is just another way to help people who might not feel comfortable sharing aloud plan out their response. Once they have a chance to chat for a minute, start going around with everyone just giving their number without a justification or explanation.
The value of this technique for me was in the follow up. Leading a reflective discussion was a great time in both classes, and I noticed a higher participation rate in this discussion than previously. Because they had all discussed their answers previously they seemed to speak up more. I asked the group to estimate the average preparedness based off of everyone's answers. I asked if they were surprised by group's answers or not.
To help everyone feel like they are able to be heard is a challenge. As a teacher or facilitator it isn't enough to ask good questions or keep everyone on time. One needs also to build in places where everyone is given a space to speak and create a culture of inclusivity. Activities like the above are helping me develop in this part of my teaching career. Like other aspects of teaching I've come pretty far and still have a long ways to go.
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Philip Estrada is a teacher at High Tech High Media Arts in San Diego California. He teaches Physics by having kids build things in a woodshop.