Individual Seat Work

The first time my principal came in to evaluate me was when my class was busy at work answering questions on a worksheet. I was scurrying from one raised hand to the next doing what I thought all good teachers should do, help their students. Later that day, the one comment my principal had that I still remember was, “You were helping them too much.”

Kids are masters at getting adults to help them. It is our job as educators, though, to bring them slowly to a level of complete independence. The less your students need you to help them with their studies, the better you have done. None of this is to say that you should ignore students having difficulty with the work. Rather, you should help them solve their own problems. Ask them a series of questions that will make them draw on their own resources. If you give a direct answer immediately, you deny them the opportunity to wrestle with the challenge. On the other hand, “Look it up” neither answers the question nor inspires independence. You must guide them to the solution, not cut them adrift.

Your position in the room is a subtle way of controlling the level of discomfort a student will tolerate before asking for help. If you are walking slowly around the room they will be quick to raise their hands. If you are at your desk where they have to come to you, they are more apt to try a bit longer. When you first begin and activity it makes sense to wander through the class just in case some students are unclear as to how they should begin. When you are satisfied that all are off to a good start, return to your desk.

Don’t allow students to blurt out questions when the class is working quietly. If someone raises her hand, simply motion for her come up to your desk. Talk in a whisper so as not to disturb the others or attract their attention. The point is that if you respect the need for quiet, they will too. Nothing should distract the students from their task. If they are working with books they got from the back of the room, tell them beforehand not to take them back until you have told them to do so. Otherwise, those who get done first will be distracting those still working as they shuffle to the back of the room.

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