Class 8: Teaching with Your Mouth Shut

Wanted for murder her careless talk costs livesDonald Finkel in his book Teaching with Your Mouth Shut, wrote “Our natural, unexamined model for teaching is Telling. The fundamental act of teaching is to carefully and clearly tell students something they did not previously know. Knowledge is transmitted, we imagine, through this act of telling.”

I admit to being guilty of dominating classroom discussion as a rookie social studies teacher. “Class, what were three results of the War of 1812? … Anyone? … Anyone??”

After years of facing this type of discussion, students learn that their comments are of provisional value until “approved” by the teacher. Over time, students stop listening to each other and only focus on what the teacher says or validates – “will that be up on a test?” When students are put in small group discussion, they rapidly get off subject. With no teacher to validate their comments, they naturally gravitate to other subjects where peer comments are valued – “what are you doing this weekend?”

Today’s class will explore strategies and resources for taking the teacher out of the role of information gatekeeper and encouraging productive student-centered dialogue.

We will begin with a peer review of student ideas the DBQ Assignment. Students will form two lines and have 2 minutes to pitch their DBQ design idea to each other and share some feedback. Then one line will shift and we repeated the pitch exchange. In all students will pitch their idea three times.

The goal of this phase is to gather feedback from peers regarding the following:

  1. You have an interesting generative / essential question worth answering.
  2. Your initial appraisal indicates there are suitable documents available.
  3. You have an idea for how students will interpret your documents. “What does it say, how does it say it, what’s it mean to me?”

The peer review will both reinforce the notion of getting the teacher out of the role of information gatekeeper and assist students in their DBQ Design process. Students will process the peer feedback using the Goal Setting Activity. (OETC Staff Development Strategies)

Next we will take part in another student centered discussion using the Fishbowl technique. Students will evaluate the activity as participant observers.

Finally we will explore a variety of student-centered discussion activities at OETC Staff Development Strategies and The Teacher Toolkit


Students will share their progress / reflection on the DBQ assignment as a blog post at EdMethods by Sunday Oct 26th. Here are some suggested approaches to the post.  Use what works for you. This will be a baseline reflection that you will look back on later to measure your progress with the DBQ design process

  • Explain how you intend to address the 3 questions above.
  • Use a sample document (or two) and related scaffolding questions to illustrate what you hope to accomplish.
  • Focus on the “big picture” of developing a DBQ that puts the student in the role of historian.
  • Reflect on the process we’ve used to peer review your ideas – has it been helpful?
  • What are the challenges you’re facing? What are you learning from the process?
  • How does (or doesn’t) this assignment build on the work we did on historical thinking earlier in the semester?

Image credit: Wanted! for murder : her careless talk costs lives ; Her careless talk costs lives

Keppler, Victor, 1904-1987 ; United States. Adjutant-General’s Office ; U.S. G.P.O. ; Distributed by Office of War Information 1944
Northwest University Library

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