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The Two Cardinal Rules of Success:
1.) Never tell everything you know.
6. "You Have to Be Kidding" Department [back to top]
(Courtesy of PEN Newsblast)
"It is interesting that the public has given so much attention to the
failures of corporate CEOs, but they don't hold school leaders to the
----Roberts T. Jones (President and CEO, National Alliance of Business)
You have to be kidding!
Encouraging Many Right Answers
"Who can tell one way the goods could be shipped to market?"
"What's your opinion on why we went to Vietnam?"
"Thanks for sharing that answer. Who has another one that fits the criteria?"
"What's another correct answer?"
Each of the Teacher Talk examples above is a way to encourage many right
answers. This is the opposite of asking questions that insist on "the"
Questions that require one right answer include:
"How many legs are there on a spider?"
"When did John Kennedy die?"
"What is the reason Columbus sailed to the New World?"
"Who knows the definition of 'consensus'?"
Asking questions that allow for different right answers stimulates thinking.
It also promotes creativity and flexibility of thought. When more answers
are offered, more possibilities are considered and more students become
involved. To encourage more expansive, diverse, creative, and fluent thinking
in your classroom, use Teacher Talk that encourages different right answers.
(Adapted from "Teacher Talk: What It Really Means," by Chick Moorman
and Nancy Weber. $12.95 plus $3.75 shipping and handling. Call for quantity
discount prices. Call (toll-free) 877-360-1477.)
Spotted on the back of a car in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Saginaw, MI:
I is a college student
The Best/Worst Class
By Chick Moorman
(Names and places have been changed in the article below for reasons
that will soon become apparent.)
Mary Sutherland teaches science to seventh graders in a large suburban
school district in Michigan. Like many Michigan teachers, Mary had attended
one of my "Teacher Talk" seminars and heard me suggest that they add "act
as if" to their teacher talk repertoire. When students look up from their
desks and whine, "I can't do it" or "I don't get it," I recommend teachers
reply, "Act as if you can," "Pretend like you know how," or "Play like
you are an expert."
While this strategy doesn't work with every student and it doesn't work
every time, it does help many youngsters get off their "I can't" stance
and take action. Acting as if, gets students moving, gets them doing something.
Helpful correction and direction by the teacher follows.
Over the past few years, teachers have shared with me how they have used
this strategy successfully with students who were working on long division,
dividing fractions, and looking up material on the Internet. Educators
have reported success with 6-year olds tying shoes, sophomores demonstrating
neck springs in physical education class, and a middle schooler preparing
to give a demonstration speech. Although the applications of this technique
have been as varied and as personal as the teachers who have used it,
no one has applied "act as if" in quite the same way as Mary Sutherland.
Mary's first-hour science class is her favorite. The students in that
first-hour, homeroom class are challenging and assertive. Mary enjoys
both their energy and their spirit.
Most of Mary's first hour students move on to social studies class during
their second period. Occasionally, her first hour students complain about
second hour and their social studies teacher, saying, "She's boring,"
and "She doesn't seem like she enjoys teaching." One youngster asked,
"Would go talk to her and tell her to make class more interesting?"
During these times, Mary simply listens and reflects the feelings and
content of her student's comments without taking a position one way or
the other. She listens as they vent and attempts neither to encourage
nor discourage the remarks.
Mary has a third-hour planning period, which she often spends in the
teacher's lounge enjoying coffee as she relaxes, plans, or corrects papers.
Also having a third hour planning time is Mrs. Millman, the social studies
teacher about whom her first-hour students frequently complain.
Guess what Mrs. Millman, the social studies teacher, does during her
planning period. That's right. She complains about her second-hour class.
Mrs. Millman does not share the same degree of affection for the students
Mary has first hour and she lets her opinion be known to anyone present
in the teacher's lounge following second hour. "How do you stand them?"
she once asked Mary. "They are so noisy and can't concentrate for any
length of time."
It didn't take Mary long to realize she was caught in a squeeze play.
First hour she often heard from students how awful their second-hour teacher
was and third hour she frequently heard from the teacher how awful her
second-hour students were. After a few days of this cross-venting, Mary
realized she had to do something. She figured she had two choices. She
could work with her students or she could work with the teacher. She chose
"I took a workshop a couple of weeks ago," Mary explained to her first-hour
class the next day. "The presenter told us about a strategy he called,
ACT AS IF. He said that if you ACT AS IF you can, you can actually alter
they way you look at the world and often change certain situations for
the better." Mary gave a few examples and then monitored a lengthy discussion
on the topic.
At the conclusion of the discussion, Mary challenged her students to
use the strategy on Mrs. Millman, second hour. "What do you think would
happen," she asked, "if you all went in there for two weeks and acted
as if her class was the most interesting class you ever attended?
The student responses came quickly.
"We couldn't do that."
"You don't know how boring it is in there."
"She'll never change!"
"It's just two weeks," Mary explained. "Maybe it won't make a difference,
but at least we can check out this technique and see if it would work
in this impossible case. How about doing it for just two weeks?" The students
resisted and Mary persisted. Eventually the students agree to go along
with the plan for two weeks as part of a science experiment. They would
go to their second hour class acting as if they loved it for ten school
days, documenting both their individual and the teacher's reactions and
Before they began, each student described in writing how he presently
viewed the class. Each student detailed the intervention she planned on
making (acting as if she liked the class) and wrote a hypothesis concerning
the experience, predicting the outcome. The acting as if strategy was
discussed and role-played. Students decided that acting as if you liked
a class meant you sat up straight, gave solid eye contact, smiled at the
teacher, asked related questions and participated during discussions.
It also meant doing all homework assigned by the teacher.
At the end of the first week, students reported no change in their views
of the class. The teacher seemed basically the same, and the class was
still boring. Several students did mention though that they did better
on the chapter test because they had been paying closer attention to the
lecture and discussions.
During the second week, Mrs. Millman brought to school Chinese souvenirs
and artifacts from her home. "My second-hour students seem to be behaving
better," she told Mary during their Monday planning time. "I think I'll
take a risk with them and do a couple of special things this week and
see how it goes."
On Wednesday of the second week, Mrs. Millman brought in Chinese finger-food
she had prepared at home and fortune cookies. The class asked related
questions about the food and continued to act as if they were interested.
Mrs. Millman noted the changed behavior and continued to mention it in
the teachers' lounge.
At the end of the two week trial period, students voted to extend the
experiment for another week. "Mrs. Millman seems a lot nicer," one student
offered. Many students agreed that the class was getting more interesting.
The students reported that Mrs. Millman was smiling more in class and
had stopped yelling.
At the end of the third week the students turned in their individual
science reports on ACT AS IF. All reported that the strategy helped change
their social studies teacher's behavior.
In the staff lounge, Mrs. Millman was heard to announce, "I've finally
turned the corner with that second hour class. It took me a while, but
I finally got them where I want them."
To this date, Mary Sutherland has not confessed her efforts with the
science project to her colleague, Mrs. Millman. That's probably just as