My students are sooooo quiet sometimes…

I’m still bothered by how quiet my students are in class when I want them to exhibit more energy. I want them to smile, laugh and talk more. Perhaps not all three, but at least one, a smirk and a quick comment. Today, I think I could have gotten more talk out of my technology class in the beginning of the lesson if my stimulus materials were “native” to them. I don’t know. I picked three videos from Youtube that showed different opening sequences for each show. (the reason: My students will be making short films and I wanted to show them examples of the possibilities). First I showed them the opening sequence of the classic 80’s sitcom Charles in Charge (click on the title to watch it on Youtube). It’s a super cheesy opening sequence and before I showed it to my students, I told them how sitcoms no longer begin so simply because it is considered corny and 80’s. As I played and replayed the clip, I tried to get them to answer questions like, “Who do you think is Charles?” “What do you think he does?” “How do you know?” I got responses out of a few students, but they were sooo shy. They answer in whispers and I find myself having to say something like, “Huh? Say that again.” And when they speak up, it’s right on point, like 90% of the time, so I don’t think that they are scared to speak up because they d0n’t know what to say. Next, I showed them a clip of the opening sequence of The Cosby Show, which is completely different than Charles in Charge, and all the other 80’s and 90’s TV show opening sequences (remember Save By the Bell? Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”). Again, after a few questions, my students fell silent and didn’t have much to add on their own about what makes an opening sequence interesting or entertaining. Finally, while inwardly struggling to accept their silence, I showed them what I had previously planned to be the final clip, a brand new opening sequence for the Simpsons, a show all of the students were familiar with. This Simpsons opening sequence uses a popular song by Kesha, called Tik Tok. Two of my young Spanish students smiled and sang along as the opening scene unfolded. But after the video played, the students hesitated giving their opinions with the whole class listening in.

Thinking back on it now, maybe I could have raised their willingness to communicate if I had them do something active before watching the clips. Or I could have chosen clips from famous/popular TV shows from their home cultures, and not American ones (although the Simpsons is pretty international nowadays). Or I could have gotten them to talk in small groups first, before asking them to share their opinions with the 7 other students in the class. Three small groups could have watched one of the videos and filled out a worksheet that got them to focus on the video and soundtrack in order to make a list of qualities or recommendations about what makes opening sequences interesting or entertaining.

Later in the lesson, the students talked more, though in quiet voices and with few laughs, during the group project session. In that part of the lesson, the activity made it necessary for them to talk to each other. They had to finish their second blog posts together, re-organize their “About” sections on their blogs, and brainstorm ideas for their final movie project (they worked with storyboards). I could just get them to work on activities or tasks right at the beginning of the lesson, but as a student, I always enjoyed starting class with a video or story, something less traditionally academic or schooly. (Yes, schooly is a word I just invented, and I bet you know what I mean by it :)).

What do you think? Should I stop complaining about my students’ lack of energy at the beginning of class? Should I start bringing coffee and tea to class? Should we all take shots of RedBull before sitting down?

3 Responses to “My students are sooooo quiet sometimes…”
  1. meltemdc says:

    I know exactly what you are saying. We teachers get so excited because we KNOW we have the perfect intro to the class. And then we get into the classroom and the energy is just not there. No matter how interesting the content is, or what you thought was going to get them going.

    I had something very similar happening in class last week. But when Iasked the students if the content i chose was not right for them, or if they would like to do something different, they said that “nutrition” is very important to them personally and professionally. Go figure the silence in the classroom!? I yet have to come up with a lesson plan that makes them get up and moving aroung. (Sigh!)

    Actually, what i guess could be happening is that they are not used to the innovative ways of teaching and learning here in the US. Could it be that they come from traditional, teacher-centered learning backgrounds? Actually, I like your idea of coffee and snacks to do an ice-breaker. Food always is a great way to get people talking.

  2. ieslmymonterey says:

    Ya, I think I’ll do the food thing…thanks for reading and commenting Meltem!

  3. jgrode says:

    Funny story, now that you mention Red Bull: at my old school, during standardized testing season, when the kids started to fall asleep (those tests are looooooong…), we were instructed to send them down the hall to see the principal. For a shot of Red Bull. (No joke.) If more than five or six students from one classroom showed up, said principal would just walk on down to the offending classroom with shots for everyone and wait while they were downed. I’m not sure this was the most ethical process, but it surely says something about what we’re driven to, doesn’t it? With those school scores looming…

    On a more related note, however, I totally get where you’re coming from, Mike. I have many of the same students you have, and in generally the same time slot, and I have days where I feel like they are just way too quiet, and sometimes even low-energy. Other days I don’t feel that way, so I’ve been looking for a pattern — in my own attitude, in the class format, etc. to no real avail. We should sit down and talk this one out sometime. You can let me know how the food worked out. 🙂

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