Monday, February 21, 2011


My new focus with my little morning group is what participation looks like. I've noticed that more than a few of my kids tend to zone out on the rug during lessons, call out about things that are unrelated to the topic, or look around the room and try to get their friends' attention. I was chatting with my partner-in-crime about one, very sweet, little boy in particular who just absolutely refuses to participate. At times he even closes his eyes on the rug and almost curls up into a ball. As our discussion went on we realized that maybe he didn't understand that part of his job in school was to participate on the rug. If this was true, then we needed to first teach him that he was expected to participate before we began taking more extreme measures.

Sure enough, when I asked my small group what their job on the rug was they all told me the list of kindergarten rules. "Hands to yourself", "Sit criss-cross applesauce" "Listen to the teacher". No one said anything about participating.

We labeled what participating looks like- listening, raising your hand, thinking hard. Then we've been taking pictures of them participating and talking about each part of participation. Pixie loves this. With her crazy strong verbal skills she immediately picked up on the long word participation. She admitted that she has a hard time wiggling around on the rug (and oh friends, she does), but she also latched on to the fact that she is suppose to raise her hand to ask questions on the rug. (She never had a problem with this before, but knowing it is her job seems to have made her very happy).

My little quiet friend has no problem participating in our small group and seemed to understand the point. Back in his classroom I sat beside him, encouraging him to raise his hand and participating to questions I knew he knew the answer to. (Or even the "what is your favorite color" questions every child in the class was frantically waving their hand to answer.)  He kept glaring at him, clearly disgruntled with my presence and my expectation. On the second day of this he leaned over and in a rather harsh whisper said, "I am NOT raising my hand."

I was immediately taken back to when I was a child and I also absolutely refused to participate. Part of this may have come from my fourth grade teacher who decided I spoke too softly and would call on me and then walk out of the classroom and stand in the hallway. She'd wait for me to speak loud enough for her to hear me before she would come back in, while the whole class giggled and teased me for my quiet voice. It may have been after that when I gave up participating altogether. Even in college I usually refused to participate. On numerous occasions I told my professors that I understood the participation grade could lower me from an A to a B, but regardless, I wasn't going to participate. I learn better, I explained, when I am taking the information in and not worrying about what to say. I'd opt to write papers instead of participating in discussions. I had no problems with presentations or even my thesis defense, but when it came to spontaneous participation, I drew a line in the sand. Absolutely not. (This all changed in my education classes and now people usually can't get me to shut up).

So when this little boy growled that he was not raising his hand I felt his pain. Here I was demanding him to do something he clearly wasn't comfortable with, most likely culturally as well as his own personality. How much do I push?  Anyone whose never had a problem participating believes that we need to break the habit of being quiet on the rug. And I'd certainly like this little one to participate- life will be easier if he is comfortable chiming in during class, but how much can I force him? I know from personal experience that one can still be attending even if one isn't raising their hand. If I force this little one to participate like my fourth grade teacher did to me, am I only making it worse?

I've decided to focus on what he needs to do to show us that he's thinking hard. He may not need to raise his hand, but he needs to be showing us he's listening- no more curling up into a ball. We try to add in lots of whole-class chances for participation (if you think the answer is a but your hand on top of your head, if you think the answer is b, but wiggle your ear, or show me the math answer on your fingers) and I told him his job is to always participate in those polls so we know he is listening. And after I mentioned those to him, he participated in every single one that day- almost a 100 percent improvement over the day before. So maybe my first step is to make whole-group participation safe and then we'll slowly work our way into raising our hand. I'm not going to give up on hoping he'll become comfortable raising his hand, but I'm going to ease into it- baby steps.


Clix said...

You are patient and clever and sweet! I am so glad there are teachers like you. :)

Anonymous said...

I think your new definition of participation sounds perfect. I, too, have found contributing to discussions challenging over the years, while still learning a ton. For me there is definitely a difference between the kid whose mind is on task and the kid whose mind is wandering elsewhere. I vote for sitting up, eyes on the teacher or the book, and participating in the polls.

Jan said...

You are wonderful.

turtlemama said...

Do you know how much information in class I missed out on because I was so focused on whether or not I was going to be called on and forced to participate in class?

I think you're solution is perfect.

magpie said...

As everyone has said so far, it's ditto from me Scout.
You certainly know how to hop into someone elses shoes and walk around in them.
Hoo Roo ☺☺☺

Teri-K said...

What a good idea to broaden the definition of participation. The goal is still being accomplished, but in a way this child can be comfortable with! I'm going to remember this.

Anonymous said...

I actually think that verbal participation is something that makes things easier for the teacher but (sometimes, as people have been pointing out) harder for the children. This is particularly true for children who are "socially promoted." They can start to feel that they are not as likely to come up with a relevant comment. Even more so if they are responding to questions where they're supposed to demonstrate that they understand something.