Inaction as Teaching Tool

When Helping Students Means Doing Nothing

The trouble with working with a whole class of students is knowing what’s needed and when. It’s easiest to keep tabs on the most vocal students, but silence does not always indicate confusion or apathy. A silent student may not be in need of intervention. Even a student who is visibly struggling might not be in need of our help. When I watch my own child struggle with a problem, my instinct is to aid him. But that often robs him of the opportunity to push through the difficulty and succeed. As he gets older, he’s learned to tell me to back off — “no no Mom! I want to do it myself.” Thank goodness he’s got attitude and will stand up for himself or I might just end up being one of those parents who does everything for her child. So how do we know when to act?

If we had super powers, our x-ray, student-empathy vision would help us home in on those students who need us most when they need us most. We would be able to see which students are struggling productively and which ones are spiraling out and could use some support.

But we don’t.

One of the best tools we have sometimes is observation and inaction. A teacher’s day is hectic, which can lead to “busyness” in the classroom. In other words, we can get so caught up in rushing around to get everything done that it’s hard to slow down when we’re with our students. When class sizes are big, we can feel the pressure to keep things moving and to help every student even more acutely.

Instead, and sometimes counter-intuitively, we can slow down and watch our students as they work. As we silence our own busyness, we start to notice things we hadn’t seen before. We can start to learn the subtle differences in Marco’s face when he’s thinking hard and when he’s totally stuck. Now we have the power to intervene when it’s really needed; our inaction leads to precise, efficient action.

Ease Into Inaction

But doing “nothing” is hard. It feels like we aren’t doing our jobs if we are still and silent. If that sounds like you, I recommend using a couple Pear Deck tools to help you ease into it.

For example, while your students are working in Student-Paced Mode and you want to know how they are doing, the Teacher Dashboard can help surface possible areas of needed attention.

Who’s Where?

The slide thumbnails will show you how many students are working on a particular slide. This could help you see when one student is getting stuck while the rest of the class is moving ahead.

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Who’s Done?

Similarly, the progress bars at the bottom of each slide give you an indication of what percentage of students have entered a response.

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Who Hasn’t Responded?

When you are looking at a particular slide, you can click “Sort By Student” to list student’s in alphabetical order. You will see blank placeholders for any student who hasn’t begun responding yet. This might be an indication that the student is totally stuck on that problem and doesn’t know how to begin.

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While the Pear Deck tools can’t give you perfect knowledge of what each student needs at just the right time, they can help you surface possible student needs. What’s more, you can use these tools to practice being still and observing your students. As you hone your skills, you might find that busyness slipping off your shoulders as you settle into acting without effort.