We’ve all had reluctant students, kids who hide in the back and do their best to blend into the crowd so that we don’t call on them or ask them to participate.
Students opt out of classroom activities for a variety of reasons: some sincerely do not know the answers, some are afraid of being wrong, and others—the rare few—simply don’t want to put in the effort.
We’ve been reading Doug Lemov’s book, Teach Like a Champion and came across a strategy that eliminates the possibility of opting out and helps teachers maintain high expectations for every student—even those that don’t have high expectations for themselves.
The next time you ask a student a question and s/he says, “I don’t know” or simply shrugs and looks out the window, give the No Opt Out strategy a shot.
No Opt Out: A Simple, but Effective Teaching Strategy
Lemov describes No Opt Out as a sequence that begins with a student who is unable (or unwilling) to answer a question and ends with that same student giving the right answer as often as possible, even if it is only to repeat the correct behavior.
How No Opt Out might work with a student who refuses to try
Say that you’re reviewing multiplication facts with your fifth graders. You ask Charlie, “What is three times eight?” Charlie looks down and under his breath mutters, “Don’t know.”
Using the No Opt Out strategy, you would turn to another student and ask him or her the same question. Assuming that the other student answered correctly, you would return to Charlie and say, “Charlie, can you tell me now? What is three times eight?”
You’ll notice that there’s no lecture and no stopping. All you are doing is reinforcing that Charlie must participate.
How No Opt Out might work with a student who doesn’t know the answer
Say you want Clifton to identify the subject of the sentence, “My mother was not happy.” Clifton takes a shot at it and says, “The subject is ‘happy.’”
To redirect Clifton, you might ask the class, “When I asked about the subject, what was I looking for?”
One student replies, “You’re looking for what or who the sentence is about.”
You: “That’s right.”
Now you return to Clifton: “Does this help any, Clifton? Could you tell me what the subject is now?”
Clifton now answers correctly: “Oh, yeah. It’s ‘Mother.’”
That’s great, but what if things didn’t go so peachy? What if Clifton still doesn’t get it? Simply ask another student, return to Clifton and say, “Clifton, now you tell me: What’s the subject of the sentence?”
This makes it all but impossible for Clifton to opt out.
There is one very important rule to this strategy
Always make sure that the tone you are using is cheerful and positive. This will make students feel confident and, as Lemov puts it, “cause all students to take the first step, no matter how small.” Not only that, it will remind them that you are confident that they can do it—that they really do know the answer.