Embracing “What Makes you Say That?”

Moving from the “sage on the stage” to the “guide on the side” is a large, and at times uncomfortable, proposition.  I don’t think any teacher would argue, however, that the best learning takes place when students are at the center of the classroom taking an active, rather than a passive, role.

So how can a teacher begin the process of creating a student-centered classroom?  I would propose that the first shift happens within.  It is about being curious and maintaining a sense of wonder as an educator.  It is about asking questions when one does not already know the answer (as teachers so often do- myself included).

So many times in a classroom conversation, the teacher already knows what the “outcome” of every question “needs” to be.  When a student gives an “incorrect” answer, it is not explored.  When a student pauses to think, the teacher often fills in the holes.

Silence is uncomfortable.  Ambiguity is confusing- to everyone.  Not just in classrooms, but in life.

I am proposing a shift, however.  What would happen if every time a student gave an unexpected or interesting answer (or even any answer at all) they were asked the question, “What makes you say that?” and someone really listened to and cared about the answer?  Not because he or she wanted to see how it was wrong, but because they were curious and wondered what was happening in the mind of that student.  What would happen if everyone became a little more comfortable with silence?  How much knowledge could be gained about the ways students think?  About new perspectives?  How much more valued might students feel?

Note: “What makes you say that?” is a primary focus of Harvard Project Zero’s Visible Thinking research.

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