The sea of faces I was looking at today were blank, expressionless and if their eyes had not been open--I would have sworn they were fast asleep. It is hard trying to motivate your students and teach them a new skill--when every fiber of their beings is shutdown and passive. It didn't help that our topic was thesis statements. When I see this level of apathy, I jump into cheerleader mode. I am overly animated, talking passionately, speaking louder--really just trying anything to get them to perk up.
I finally had to resort to the dreaded name cards. At the beginning of the school year, I have each of the students write their name on a 3x5 card and I use the cards to call attendance, randomize seating arrangements and groups and I use them to call on students when the room is silent. The students always groan when I pick up the stack, because they know that I will shuffle the cards and randomly pull out a name--and they are praying that the card does not have their name on it.
When I called the unlucky student to the board to brain storm Han China and Roman similarities, he was obviously uncomfortable--but the room started to noticeably perk up. What is it about someone else's pain that makes the rest of us feel so good? I'm pretty sure it is just the relief of knowing that (at least for the moment) we have avoided some kind of discomfort. Once my student was at the board the energy in the room shifted and the rest of the lesson went smoothly. For the most part I felt it was successful--but I will see once I finish the grading, if they were able to apply the skills on the thesis statements they had to write after our lesson.
I do have to say that there was one bright spot through the entire lesson and that was my student aide. She is a former AP student of mine and even though she could have been studying or filing my papers--she was actively listening to what I was talking about. Whenever I needed a little reassurance I would look to her and gauge her reaction. I could tell by the expression on her face that she enjoyed the lesson, plus she told me that at the end of class.
It is so easy to shut down when we don't know something--but it is through embracing that feeling that we really truly learn something new.
How many times have you said "I don't understand" with eagerness?