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6 Law Tchr. 1 (1998-1999)

handle is hein.journals/lawteaer6 and id is 1 raw text is: TUE LAW


Institute for Law School Teaching

Fall 1998

The quiet classroom
Devise a useful strategy to break the student code of silence

By Mark Wojcik
t times, students are reluctant to speak in class. They  until the student got it right.
may not volunteer comments. They may sit silently rephrase the question, he hop
when a teacher asks a question. They may save their  skills that will be useful befo
own questions about the material and assignments until after  pressure situations.
class, when they can ask the professor privately. Some
students may not ask questions because they feel isolated Do Something Positive.
and unwelcome in the
classroom for any number of
reasons, including race, gender,  A teacher can create a positive learning
sexual orientation, or their   et
national origin. This essay
deals not with factors that        encouraging after a student asks a
might affect individual
students but with factors
affecting the entire class.
Although all classes are
quiet from time to time, some classes can develop a Code of
Silence that continues for several sessions or even several  Minimize Competition.
weeks. In response to this situation, a number of colleagues
have had to devise useful ways to stimulate discussion in  Some students will ask qu
classes. The ideas presented here are by no means       they are competitive. They d
comprehensive. They may, however, offer useful suggestions  to enjoy the benefits of the te
to those who find themselves standing in front of a quiet  behavior in two ways. First, i
classroom.                                               will write down that questior

Minimize Fear.
Students undoubtedly feel a great deal of anxiety in their
law classes. Some students are afraid to ask questions that
might make them look foolish in front of classmates. They will
not ask teachers to explain words they do not understand;
they will not ask follow-up questions when they do not
understand an answer to another student s question. I find
that students will take more risks when I treat each question
with respect, just as I treat each student with respect.
Sometimes I will rephrase a question before answering it,
such as by saying, if I understand what is behind your
question, what you really want to know is ....
I find that this approach is often appropriate for smaller
classes. One colleague strongly disagrees with this approach,
however. He would not rephrase the question but would
instead keep asking the student to rephrase the question

By forcing the student to
es to help the student develop
re judges and in other high-

A teacher can create a
positive learning environment
simply by saying something
encouraging after a student
asks a question. Professor
Jan Levine suggests that the
responses can range from a
nod and a smile to saying,
Yes, that s a great question!

testions only after class because
o not want their fellow students
acher s answers. I thwart this
if I answer a question after class I
n and repeat it at the start of the

next class meeting. I might introduce the question by saying
someone asked me an interesting question yesterday ... or
you might be wondering whether .... By asking the
question openly, no student obtains an advantage over
Second, if a particularly competitive student will ask
questions only after class, I tell that student to ask the
question at the start of the next class. By doing this once or
Continued on page 2

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