When Students Don’t Answer

What do you do when students don’t answer a question in class?

Consider the following excerpt that refers to a study working with inner-city children:  
“If they fail the initial question, the follow-up question should be a simpler one that they can handle.  In general, questions that require them to explain something in detail will be the most difficult.  Progressively simpler demands include factual questions requiring short answers, choice questions requiring them to choose among presented alternatives, and questions that require only a yes or no response.  If the students do not respond to any level of questioning, they can be asked to repeat things or to imitate actions.  Once they begin to respond correctly, the teacher can move to more demanding levels as confidence grows.  Inhibited students need careful treatment when they are not responding.  As long as they appear to be trying to answer the question, the teacher should wait them out.  If they begin to look anxious, as if worrying about being in the spotlight instead of thinking about the question, the teacher should intervene by repeating the question or giving a clue.  He or she should not call on another student or allow others to call out the answer.”  (Good and Brophy 1978, as cited in the Skillfull Teacher, p. 315).

We need to adhere to the “no opt-out” concept where we do not allow students opportunities to “opt-out” of participation. Instead, we should provide the continuum of responses and supports to help them to reach the answer.

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