“Things I’ve learned from my students” could obviously be the title of a very long series of blog posts! Here’s a cool thing I learned from my ninth-graders this week:
We were having a lively class discussion about Jean Kwok’s Girl in Translation, which was their required summer reading. It’s early days in the course, I want as many of them participating as possible, and both of my frosh courses are filled with eager students who want to chime in — hurrah! But we all know how challenging it can be to facilitate a conversation with lots of student hands up in the air. A good problem to have, but still! Am I calling on students equally? Are they listening to one another or just waiting to make their own point? Is the conversation going in circles or heading somewhere? How is the timing working?
During one of the conversational moments yesterday afternoon with lots of hands in the air, I called on a student, who gave a thoughtful answer. And then an unexpected thing happened: The other students who’d had their hands in the air, and who were clearly going to give a similar answer, started jiggling their right hands with their thumbs and pinkies in a Y shape with the other fingers curled down. What on earth?
And so I asked them: What on earth are you doing? What is this sign you’re making?
“Oh, it’s sign language for ‘me too. I agree.'” (Here’s someone demonstrating it.)
What a fabulous way to get students listening to one another! And participating actively even when they’re not speaking! I told the class how exciting I found it to have so many “voices” chiming in even when people weren’t speaking. I said right then and there that I totally loved this and that I want us to keep this signing going in class.
I figured it must have come from one of the middle schoolers, but I asked a group of those teachers at lunch today, and they all agreed that it was fabulous, but no one knew who had started it. But several of them said that when one or more of their students had done it in class in the last couple of years, they too had loved it and had gotten others doing it. So maybe this is something that’s been spreading almost organically in our middle school and has only now filtered up to the middle school (to mix a metaphor)? But I’m not satisfied to leave it as organic; I want to institute this as part of our class conversation habits!
I asked the students what they did when they disagreed. Did they do a thumbs down or something? No, they said, they just didn’t do anything. But I don’t love the idea that you can only chime in soundlessly if you are in agreement. I don’t want to make this too complicated — the simplicity is part of the beauty — but I wonder if it’s worthwhile teaching them the sign for “disagree” as well? (Demonstrated here.)
Have you seen this at your school, and my school is only now catching up? Can you think of other ways we could be incorporating such non-verbal participation into class discussions? I’m so excited by the possibilities! I think I may use it just with my 9th-graders for now, since many of them are already doing it, and then perhaps expand it to my older students.