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  • Writer's pictureJanis Aston

"That other kid is smarter than me."

Lessons Learned from Little Ones

A couple of years ago, we were riding in the car with our grandchildren, going to a holiday event, when I heard our 4-year-old say, "Jonathan is smarter than me." His 7-year-old sister quickly responded that he certainly was not!

I asked, "What makes you think that?"

He replied, "The teacher always calls on him to answer questions."

I asked, "Do you raise your hand, too?" He said, "Yes. Every time."

"And she has never called on you?" "No."

Well, you know, as a grandmother and retired teacher, my heart just broke. I can just picture my sweet and very bright grandson sitting there patiently with his hand up but never being called on.

And what is he learning? That other children are smarter than he is.

Really?!? Yes. He even said it. In his young, 4-year-old mind, logic says that if the teacher does not ever call on him, he must not be very smart.

WOW!! What a responsibility we have as teachers.

So . . . I've been thinking about how I handled large group situations. Was I fair? Did I call on students equally? Probably not. But I did do some things well. Here are a few tips for teaching children in a large group setting.

Maintain eye contact and smile.

I learned early in my career that children are intimidated when you stand over them. So I sat while teaching. Of course, I was up moving and playing games with them but I tried to stay at eye level with them as much as possible and look them in the eyes. I trained myself to look at each child when telling a story, teaching an activity, and singing a song. And, most importantly, smile at the children. Let them know you are having fun and enjoy being with them.

Establish procedures.

  • Tell students, "I will only call on students who are sitting quietly in their chair (on their sit spot, floor, etc.), raising their hand."

  • Say, "Raise your hand if . . . "

These were the 4 most important words I used for classroom management!
  • If you remember to say those 4 words before you ask any question, your students will not shout out answers. The little ones only hear and can process one thing at a time. So obviously they will all raise their hand as soon as you say that. But, hey, isn't that better than having them all shout out, "I can" when you ask, "Who can tell me . . . ?" Train them early and you will avoid lots of headaches and backtracking!!

Be consistent.

  • Be sure that you do not call on students who are shouting out answers. 

  • Be sure that you give all students a chance to answer. 

  • If you call on a student who is shouting out and/or is standing up to get your attention, all your hard work is lost. Your students will recognize that you really do not mean what you say.

Think time.

Finally, give students "Think Time." I learned this trick about halfway through my career and it made so much sense to me. Children, and adults alike, process questions differently from each other. Some know the answer immediately and those are the ones we tend to call on. However, others need time to think before they can verbalize.

The rule of thumb is to ask a question and then count to 10 before calling on anyone. I've actually heard of teachers who train their students to count to 10 before raising their hands in order to give themselves time to think carefully about their answer. I feel this works better with older children/students. For the little ones, I gave them 3-5 seconds before calling on anyone.

These four strategies helped my group times run smoothly and hopefully, helped every child feel important and valued. It's worth a try!

I originally posted this, December 2017

These are previous comments that I have copied from the original post.

A hundred times yes. I remember one class in high school when I thought the teacher hated me because she never called on me. Then she gave me the "student of the year" award at the end of the year- turns out she was trying to give other students a chance because she knew I knew the answers. So one thing I'll add to this wonderful list that I like to do: if I have the same couple of students raising their hands for everything and others are just sitting back not even trying because they know those students will answer, I will say something like, "I want to give everyone a chance to think about this. (student name), do you know? (repeat question). I know (students raising their hands) know this (knowing wink towards them) because I saw their brains thinking and their eyes light up and they said (answer) for the last question. I bet some of you guys can figure it out too!" etc (you get the idea). This is a great time of year to pause and reflect on how much we're including all our students through little procedures like this. It can make a huge difference!

I think this should be required reading for every new teacher or student teacher. As an extra tall female, it seemed to come naturally to me to get to eye level when speaking with kids. I towered over them otherwise! But some others I had to learn with experience, especially giving them time to think. That's so hard to do when one has such precious little time with students each week, but I agree that it's vital! Thanks for sharing :)

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