When I visit teacher candidates in their practicum placements and observe them teaching lessons, I often ask them why they repeat students’ answers. While I do not suggest that a teacher should never repeat students’ answers, I do recommend being aware of the fact that you do it, and asking yourself why.
Sometimes a class discussion proceeds like this.
Teacher: “How do you think the bear feels?”
When asked to reflect on why this happens, teacher candidates suggest that they want to make sure everyone heard the student’s answer, that they want to legitimize the student’s answer, or simply, that they are not sure what else to say.
Making sure student answers are heard
This is important, but if a teacher is routinely repeating what students say in a louder, clearer voice, then students may not have opportunities to learn to speak up loudly and clearly, for themselves. If students get used to a teacher always repeating what their peers say, who will they listen to? They don’t need to listen carefully to the words of their peers, since the teacher is about to repeat it.
Legitimizing student answers
The teacher is in a powerful position in the classroom; if they repeat a student’s answer, that answer is perceived to be correct, acceptable, or valued in some way. Is this necessary, though? Is it enough for a student’s answer to stand on its own without the teacher stepping in to validate it? One of my teachers (so long ago I have forgotten her name, I’m sorry!) felt that repeating a student’s answer is like taking it from them. She described how letting a student say something, and letting those words stand on their own, is a way of respecting students. I suggest that if any teacher is looking for ways to reduce teacher voice in the classroom, and increase student voice, that not repeating students’ answers is one way to move toward this.
Not sure what else to say
Sometimes I brainstorm with teacher candidates, and we make a list of possible ways to respond to students’ answers that don’t involve repeating them. Some of these include: OK, thanks, yes, that’s a good example, let me write that down, does anyone have something to add to what R said? It may be appropriate to respond to a student answer with a head nod or a look, with no words from the teacher needed at all.
Resources for further reading on teacher questioning and student answers
Oliveira, A. W. (2010). Improving teacher questioning in science inquiry discussions through professional development. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 47(4), 422-453.
Scardamalia, M. & Bereiter, C. (1991) Higher levels of agency for children in knowledge building: A challenge for the design of new knowledge media. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 1(1), 37-68.
Sinclair, J. McH., & Coulthard, J. M. (1975). Toward an analysis of discourse: The English used by teachers and pupils. London: Oxford University Press.