Many years ago, I was asked to come watch a teacher during her instruction. I was new to coaching, and wasn’t sure what to do, so I just took notes on what the students were doing. I noticed that only the same few students raised their hands, and so they were the only ones talking. I started logging what I saw.
During the debrief, I shared my notes with the teacher. We brainstormed some things to do or try to get all the students involved. She came up with a “secret signal”, and we added some wait time to think, as well as time for partner talk.
She asked me to come back in a few days and watch again. The difference was stunning.
The secret signal was a fist held under their chin. She would tell them to get ready to think and place their fist under their chin. When they had a thought to share, they put their thumb up, keeping it under their chin. When she saw that most of the students had a thumb up, she asked them to tell their talking partner about their thinking. She carefully listened in, and after a minute or so, asked them to share out with the group either their own thinking or what their partner had said.
Every single child was learning!
My thoughts on the benefits of a “secret signal”
- Every student must participate – even quiet or reluctant learners.
- Students who may be confused, or have a fear of their thinking being “wrong” can signal quietly and secretly. The teacher can step in and support their partner talk. If a student has no real ideas of their own, they can share their partners. For example, “My partner said….”
- Students who are learning English and may not be ready to share out to the whole class will benefit, because they get the think time, and the partner sharing time to rehearse speaking their thoughts.
I am really interested in what other teachers have tried to get all their students talking and participating. Leave your ideas in the comments and let’s learn together!