If you participate in the iThink training from the Rotman School of Business, you will learn interesting and practical strategies such as the causal model, pro-pro chart, and the ladder of inference. The sessions are also a stellar example of how to run professional development for teachers- thoughtful, engaging, fun. I use all the strategies from the iThink training in my classroom, but recently two activities have taken a more prominent role in my practice.
Tell Me More…
The first activity is one that has had a significant influence on the way I talk in my classroom. During the training, it was just a “getting to know you activity,” but it helped me be intentional about the way I speak to my students.
In the “tell me more” activity, participants take out three objects they have with them- a picture in your wallet, your favourite pen, the cookie you snuck in your bag and didn’t have time to eat, etc.
In pairs, person A asks person B to “tell them more” about one of the objects. Person B tells person A a short narrative about the object. Here is where the real value comes in: Person B must listen and pick something that their partner said, and ask them again to “tell them more” about an aspect of their narrative. They are NOT allowed to say anything else.
This is an intense exercise in listening. You are not allowed to interject with your connections or stories. You are not allowed to guide the speaker into giving you specific details. The focus is on listening to the speaking and getting to know them by asking for “more.”
Students end up telling stories that can be very personal. A keychain sparks the story of a grandmother’s legacy. A rainbow button reveals the story of an inspiring grade 7 teacher. A water bottle provides the revelation that a student is struggling with balancing sport and school. It is a really beautiful way to begin a course. It is also a beautiful way to talk to students.
“Tell me more about…” allows students to take control of the direction of our conversation:
“Tell me more about why you chose this introduction strategy.”
“Tell me more about why you chose this passage to support your ideas.”
“Tell me more about the challenges you’re facing with this writing assignment.”
This phrase forces me to listen before I dispense feedback and help. Over the past couple of years, I’ve learned that feedback is an art. You have to know when to give it, how much to give, and how to say in a way that will be heard. This simple phrase lets the student explain their thinking which in turn guides my next step.
The Value in a Bad Idea
If your students are struggling to generate ideas, this activity can be a lifesaver. In it, students answer the question – What is the worst idea for a birthday party? Students may be reluctant to tell you the “best” idea, but they respond when you ask them for the “worst.” After you generate a massive list as a class, small groups of students pick one idea and flip it. They must now sell it to the class as the best idea they’ve ever heard. They have to fall in love with the idea.
Not only does this activity build confidence for idea generation, but it is also an exercise in perspective. How might someone who is different then me see this idea? During Wednesday’s class, we were coming up with the worst ideas for schools. A student selected “no sports teams” as the idea that she would flip into a good idea. She took the perspective of a “fierce” mother with a child who was unable to participate in sports. What an exercise in flexible thinking.
My Rotman training was two years ago, but these activities keep coming back and helping me discover more about my students’ thinking.