As a language teacher, I always understood that it took a certain amount of vulnerability to begin to speak in the classroom: you had to create sounds that you may never had made before and you sounded funny, what would others think? It was an intentional regular practice to establish an environment where it was acceptable that we were all learning, all trying, and consistently working on improving and it was OK to speak. It often helped that I was usually the first to do or say something awkward (most of the time intentional). It was a practice that didn’t end during the first week of school, but one that became an integral component of my planning. Speaking is a natural part of language instruction, so I was creating a pallet where that could happen.
Speaking a different language was a risk, but it’s in taking risks that new skills and problem-solving abilities are developed (“Risk-taking”). It requires letting go of your comfort zone and guiding students into letting go of theirs. It necessitates an environment where it’s OK to fail and it’s understood that failure is a part of learning. Student need to understand “that making mistakes is a necessary part of learning” and “that embracing failure and overcoming fear are both a part of living well and learning even better” (Crockett). It’s the environment that we create which allows this to happen. That positive environment provides a pivotal role in learning, creates a sense of belonging, a community, increased participation and building confidence (Coaty). The result is that “students can learn and flourish in this environment because they feel empowered to take risks by expressing their unique insights and disagreeing with others’ point of view” (Gayle et al).
Here are some suggestions adapted and modified from Starr Sackstein’s article:
- Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Use your as examples.
- Admit when you don’t know something and discover it with your students. Adopt the “Let’s find out together”
- Applaud the risks that students take, successful or unsuccessful. Honor the learning process.
- Explore some tools, digital or other, that allow for a wider student voice.
- Try a backchannel tool for increased student voice.
- Practice your wait time.
- Develop your own classroom parking lot for questions or concerns.
- Review and reinforce classroom practices that promote a positive classroom community and encourage risk.
- How do you help ensure a positive climate in your classroom?
- How do you establish it?
- How do you maintain it?
- What do you do when something or someone violates that?
- How do you encourage risks?
- What do risk look like in your classroom?
- How do students feel supported in your class?
“Kids need to understand that innovation can only happen when we move away from what has already been learned and done and with some creativity and courage, we make really make meaningful change together.” Sackstein
- Coaty, Matt. “Classrooms That Encourage Risk-Taking Strategies.” Educational Aspirations, 30 June 2014, mattcoaty.com/2014/06/29/risk-taking/.
- Crockett, Lee Watanabe. “No-Fear Learning: Creating Classrooms for Taking Safe Learning Risks.” Global Digital Citizen Foundation, 11 May 2017, globaldigitalcitizen.org/no-fear-learning.
- Gayle, Barbara Mae Dr.; Cortez, Derek; and Preiss, Raymond W. (2013) “Safe Spaces, Difficult Dialogues, and Critical Thinking,” International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: Vol. 7: No. 2, Article 5. Available at: https://doi.org/10.20429/ijsotl.2013.070205
- Ingram, Leticia Guzman. “A Classroom Full of Risk Takers.” Edutopia, 14 Sept. 2017, http://www.edutopia.org/article/classroom-full-risk-takers.
- “Risk-Taking: What Does It Mean to You?” News from around the IB Community, International Baccalaureate Organization, 8 July 2015, blogs.ibo.org/blog/2015/07/08/risk-taking-what-does-it-mean-to-you/.
- Sackstein, Starr. “Establish a Safe Place for Risk Taking.” Education Week – Work in Progress, 9 Sept. 2015, blogs.edweek.org/teachers/work_in_progress/2015/09/establish_a_safe_place_for_ris.html.
- Shepherd, Jessica. “Fertile Minds Need Feeding: Interview- Ken Robinson.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 9 Feb. 2009, http://www.theguardian.com/education/2009/feb/10/teaching-sats.
- Smith, Kristi Johnson. “1.6 Creating a Safe Space for Students to Take Academic Risks.” Creating a Safe Space for Students to Take Academic Risks – Starting the Year Right – The First Year, Learn NC, http://www.learnnc.org/lp/editions/firstyear/258.
- Stringer, Kate. “Finding Success in Failure: STEM Educators Say Student Risk-Taking Is Key to Real-World Learning.” The 74 Finding Success in Failure STEM Educators Say Student RiskTaking Is Key to RealWorld Learning Comments, The 74 Million, 12 Dec. 2016, http://www.the74million.org/article/finding-success-in-failure-stem-educators-say-student-risk-taking-is-key-to-real-world-learning/.