It’s been a while since my last blog post. Welcoming our fourth child into our home has disrupted more than a few of our routines. But I am excited to share this post because you get the chance to listen in on a conversation about what students experience when sitting in our classrooms, waiting to see if the teacher will call on them.
At the opening of spring semester, one of my sophomores wrote an entry in her Writer’s Notebook titled, “The Fear of Being ‘Wrong’.” Shay’s brief 150+ word depiction of what goes through her mind when she shares a wrong answer in a classroom setting was captivating! Shortly after reading it, I asked her if she would let me post it here at Make Them Master It. Not only did she allow me to publish her entry, she also was willing to sit down with me and record a conversation about it.
Below is Shay’s entry straight out of her Writer’s Notebook. Before I say any more about it and influence your interpretation, I invite you to read it for yourself.
When I first read Shay’s words, I was both unsurprised, yet still a bit shocked. Shay wasn’t describing anything uncommon about the classroom experience–many students are nervous about their teacher calling on them, especially if they don’t feel prepared. What stunned me a bit was that Shay herself experienced these nerves.
Shay is an intelligent and driven student who is also very outspoken. She is usually the first to raise her hand when the class is asked to volunteer a response. Around campus she engages in many different social circles, and is well-liked in each. She always appears so sure of herself, radiating confidence.
After reading what she had to say about the fear of being wrong, I found myself changing how I viewed ALL of my students. If Shay feared being wrong, then my perspective on the number of students experiencing this must be wide of the mark. If you were to ask me, “How many of your students regularly experience a heart-pounding fear of answering a question wrong in front of their classmates,” and I had to put a number on it, I would probably have said 30 to40 percent. After talking with Shay, I think it’s much closer to 90 percent.
Upon further reflection, I think I have been telling myself narratives about my “nervous students” that aren’t really true. Things like, “When they get to know me, they will get more comfortable sharing their responses,” or “As they sit in this classroom with these peers, they will get more comfortable with sharing.” You see, I don’t think I have a cohort of “nervous students.” I now think I simply have “students,” developing human beings who are responding naturally to the situation they find themselves in. Now I assume that all of my students wrestle with this, and it is my job to create a space that is academically safe for everyone, one where not only the teacher, but EVERYONE encourages risk-taking, like sharing a response to a teacher-directed question.
So here we are, finally. On the last day of the school year, I was able to have a conversation with Shay about this entry. I asked her to elaborate on what she communicated in her initial short composition.
Here is that conversation:
[If you would prefer to listen to the audio while on your commute, you can access the MP3 on stored on my Google Drive here: Click to Listen]
Over the course of our conversation, Shay and I alluded to a few topics that may be of further interest:
- My students and I take an alternative path to arriving at the letter grade they receive at the close of each grading period. Read more about at my previous post titled “1 Week 170 Conversations: What Students Really Say about Learning, Letter Grades, and Anxiety.”
- I recorded a conversation with another one of my students earlier in the school year, discussing the impact of the summative conferences described in the post linked above. Read more, and listen in, at the post titled “In Her Words.”
- At the end of the recording with Shay, we bring up that Shay is participating in a round table at teachersgoinggradeless.com. (When the link to that is available, I will post it here).
QUESTION: How do you work toward creating a classroom environment where it is safe, even productive, to be ‘wrong’?