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April 1, 2015
Vol. 57
No. 4

Road Tested / The Three No's Students Want to Hear

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Nurturing 21st century skills, such as flexibility and problem solving, can be challenging in a classroom setting that rewards a single answer or limits students' self-expression. But by deliberately responding "no" to three questions, teachers can elicit a resounding "yes" to increased student engagement and critical thinking.
1. "There is NO single correct answer to this question. I want at least four different answers that offer different approaches."
How often do teachers move on after hearing the first correct answer? How often do students, who might have another correct answer in mind, drop out once the first answer has been accepted? It can be difficult to build an interactive, student-run discussion around a topic once one student voices a single correct answer. When learning depends on discussions that involve a variety of viewpoints and respectful give and take, accepting one answer limits students' depth of understanding. To reinforce a shift in your classroom, reiterate often that the first "acceptable" response is not the only response, and then follow up by eliciting multiple student responses and peer reactions. Do not immediately move on to the next question.
2. "There is NO template or desired format for this project. I want to see multiple approaches to meeting the goals/curriculum objectives. I want these to reflect different individuals with unique talents, ways of thinking, and problem-solving skills. I do not want a slew of assignments that look like they were cut from the same stencil."
Many students draw from or even replicate the projects of their older siblings who have been in the same class. When strict project guidelines are set for word count, layout, style, and structure, students who want top grades tend to follow through with little deviation. To truly prepare students for an inquiry-driven workplace, consider teaching multiple ways to present evidence of learning. When students turn in a successful project that reflects the rubric, require that they present the next project in a different way, and so on.
3. "There is NO spoken answer required. I hope many of you want to speak and respond to one another, but feel free to think about the answer in your head. By just thinking about it and then listening to others in class, you are also participating—you are reflecting, inquiring, and arguing. You may write down ideas or take notes. You are the reflective audience for class talk."
Not every student is a natural vocal speaker, and many fear being called on. Still, individuals who are reflective thinkers and analyzers contribute immeasurably. By broadcasting out loud that these students will not be required to speak, the teacher assures them that they can be "heard" through a written report, online presentation, or other assignment. Consider allowing your quieter students to choose a classmate to present their works out loud. Similar to how actors perform the works of playwrights, these designated "speakers" can practice a theater technique called "Plays in Progress," in which valid and authentic feedback is elicited from the audience in a workshop setting.

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Would you like to write for the next "Road Tested" column? Visit www.ascd.org/educationupdate for submission details.

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