In school, I was one of the kids who, if I was my teacher, I would have loved to have in class. I worked hard; I was not the smartest; I always had ideas and wanted to share them. Even now, when I go to seminars and the speaker asks those questions that seem like they are rhetorical because everyone sits there for so long, I feel the need in my soul to raise my hand and answer. Someone has to answer. As I’ve aged, I realize that, unlike my immature younger self, I don’t think my answer is the best, or, sometimes, even good, but it is an answer, and it is what the speaker needs — even if it’s wrong — it’s a segue into the topic on which the speaker wants to discuss.
And in class, we need those too. We need those kids to raise their hands and answer questions; except when we don’t When we don’t is when we are trying to lead a discussion, or move through a lesson and suddenly, a student becomes more engaged in the activity than he has ever been in his entire life before. His very essence is about continuing the very dialogue in which he and you are currently engaged. Unfortunately, he is tremendously focused on a very minuscule, small, one might even say, minor detail, or on something that is tangentially connected and really not even that relevant to the discussion. And, in your teacher brain, you realize that irreplaceable moments are ticking away, many of the students in the class are beginning to wonder what the last text they received says, and, only that one student who might possible go on to major in the subject which you are currently teaching is paying attention. You realize, in your teacher brain, that if you squelch his involvement, there is a good chance he won’t participate again – ever. Furthermore, you will probably have a phone call from his mother asking you to explain why you wouldn’t listen to her son – “Just like all of the other teachers.” You can’t even mention that his idea isn’t really that important because, once again, you will have lost him.
So, trap him in learning. Encourage his participation, but keep the rest of the class moving forward
Say, “That’s a great idea [point, thought, question – what ever it is, just substitute it here], and I’d love to keep talking to you about it after class. Now let’s get back to…” and you’re back on track. The student is usually surprised by this quick solution, and also a little anxious about his unexpected agreement. On a rare occasion, the student will actually stay after class, which is really positive. In addition, you could remind the student toward the end of the class that you are interested in hearing the rest of his thoughts. And then think about the conversation on the phone, which may never happen: “I heard you kept my son after class today to discuss a particularly poignant idea he was attempting to share…”