Close your eyes and imagine your ideal classroom full of students.
More likely than not, your ideal students resemble Hermione Granger from the early part of the Harry Potter Series. They are knowledgeable, excited to learn, seated with their hands nicely folded, and of course, they love to follow the rules.
As I’ve been teaching at my practicum site this summer, I’ve realized that having a young Hermione Granger in your class is not likely and having a classroom full of them is even less likely. Instead, the students I teach want to learn, but they aren’t perfect. Sometimes they have a hard time staying in their seats, following directions, and staying on task.
Throughout the day, I frequently find myself saying “no” or correcting them in some other way. Saying no and giving corrections is an essential part of teaching. However, I found I was doing it more than I should have. In my mind, I was still expecting a perfect class of “Hermiones.” When they didn’t live up to this high standard, I would correct them.
One day, I had an experience that changed my view. I was working on single-digit addition with two of my students at a table. One student was using manipulatives (in this case, plastic dinosaurs) to help him do the math. My other student didn’t need to use them, but he started to grab some from the big pile too.
My first instinct was to tell him to stop, but I decided not to say anything. I figured that if he was working hard on his math during the next two or three minutes, he could keep using the dinosaurs. If he didn’t, I’d simply have him put them back. What actually happened was quite astonishing to me.
My student lined up the dinosaurs around his paper. As he worked on his worksheet, one of the dinosaurs became the teacher dinosaur and taught all of the other dinosaurs how to do single-digit addition. I was amazed at his creativity. It was also the most engaged I’d ever seen him during a lesson.
From this experience I learned that you don’t always have to say no. Sometimes it’s okay to just let it go.
I don’t have a perfect formula for when to say no vs. letting it go, but here are some factors I now consider before saying no:
- Is it unsafe?
- Does it keep this student from learning/paying attention?
- Does it distract other students/prevent them from learning?
- Does this difference still let them reach the lesson objective?
Though these are not perfect guidelines, I’ve already seen some great outcomes from making a more deliberate choice when I say no. Do you have any other guidelines you follow before you say no?