What Your Doubt is Doing to Your Students

My “What to do With ‘I Don’t Get it’” blog series walked us through the Sombrero Time Stages of Teaching and Learning: to comprehend, to recognize, to recall, and to generate.  As I was explaining each of the stages, I included “how you know students are ready to go to the next stage.”  One of the biggest factors in allowing your students to grow in their language is: YOU!

One of my favorite metaphors to use is that of holding hands across a bridge:

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When we are at the first stage, we are showing our students what to say, how to say it, and we leave them no room for error. As they are ready to progress, we have to be willing to let them fall!  

We must let go of the negative perception of failure. If we don’t let our students work independently, we will never really know what they know.

As we cross the bridge, we hold tightly to the hands of our students. Eventually, however, we must let go of their hands so that they can get across.  Some students have an effortless journey! Others have to come back to the beginning of the bridge with you. Still others may stumble here and there as they cross the bridge, but they make it across with your support.

I recently challenged my students with an independent oral presentation. I told them that they were going to speak on 9 topics for 3 straight minutes.  They were not allowed to use posters, Power Point, or any props of any kind.  The only prompts they had were from me; I held up a flashcard with a picture that showed a theme and switched the flashcard when I wanted them to move on to the next topic.  Their goal would be fluid sustained speech.

At first, they couldn’t believe it.  “We can’t use notes?! We can’t look at any pictures?! What can we use?!”

I let them react, and then told them my expectation again. Over the next two weeks we brainstormed, took notes, practiced, and gave each other feedback.  When the first day came to present, I had 7 volunteers to go first!  

As in any endeavor, there were students that failed.  Some froze up, some used the wrong vocabulary, and others simply chose to sit down.  What about those students? I gave them honest feedback about what to improve and they did it again the next day.  Students that did well came to the aid of their classmates that needed more time and  everyone passed at their own pace. They exceeded my expectations and felt both relief and pride!

At the beginning of this process, we all had our doubts.  We worked hard, problem solved, and eventually prevailed.  

We all want our students to do well and we all want to see them succeed, but we need to start letting go of their hands across the bridge! Don’t let your doubt continue to hinder them.  If they fail, look back at the stages of learning and decide what you need to do to support their growth. Let’s end the school year strong!