Listening to students

To be able to do any of the above, you need to listen carefully to what students say and give them time to express themselves. Students will only feel confident enough to offer answers if you are sensitive to each student as they speak.

Linked to this building of confidence is the necessity of sensitive handling of wrong or muddled answers. The way that incorrect responses are handled will determine whether pupils continue to respond to the teacher’s questions. ‘That’s wrong’, ‘You are stupid’ or ‘No’, or other humiliation or punishment, often stops pupils volunteering any more answers from fear of further embarrassment or ridicule. Instead, if you can pick out parts of the answers that are correct and ask them in a supportive way to think a bit more about their answer, you may encourage more active participation (Figure 3). This helps your students to learn from their mistakes in a way that negative behaviour towards them does not.

Figure 3 A teacher listening to students as they work.

So listening enables you not just to look for the answer you are expecting, but alerts you to unusual or innovative answers that you may not have expected. Such answers could highlight misconceptions or misunderstandings that need correcting, or they may show a new approach that you had not considered. Your response to these – for example, ‘I hadn’t thought of that. Tell me more why you think that way’ – could be very important in maintaining motivation.

Extending your students’ thinking

3 Using open-ended activities