Rules re-visited

Dear Phil,

You are one of the few who has ever asked about rules. Your questions are very important and I wonder why others have not raised the issue.

First, like all terms, out of consciousness and unconsciously or blindly following rules are slippery terms as I and others use them. (Having said others, I have not read any others who in fact discuss these. But if any do, they will be as slippery when others use them as when I use them.

As always, examples can clarify.

Here are a few. But I would like to remind you and others who read the blog that you can explore the meanings as you look at short clips of interactions in your classes, or outside of your classes.

There is no hierarchy in the order of the items–1 is not more important than 2, etc. The numbers just show the sequence.

!. Teachers who teach students in low level classes and high level classes–those who have less ability with language and with more ability–treat them very differently. Teachers tend to wait 2 to 5 times longer between the time they ask a question and call on a student in an upper level class than in a lower level class. Yet the students with less ability need more time rather than less.  Teachers are unaware of the different amounts of time they provide students until they listen to recordings and time the number of seconds between asking the questions and calling on a student to answer the questions.


2. When students do not answer a question the teachers tend to rephrase the question. When the students still do not respond they rephrase the question again. Many students did not understand the first question and some think the subsequent questions are different ones rather than paraphrases. Teachers in most cases are not aware they do this until they record and transcribe their questions.

3. Teachers often say “very good” after students respond. When they listen to student responses they hear that they say “very good” even when the response is incorrect. But during class they are unaware of this.

4. Almost every teacher including myself is constantly surprised at how much we talk when we listen to a recording. Over and over studies show we talk at least two thirds of the time. Student responses are often one or just a few words in contrast to our multiple word statements and questions.

5. When I observe international students in Japan using chopsticks in a cafeteria with Japanese students I often ask them to compare how they each hold chopsticks. Almost all international students hold the chopsticks in the middle while the Japanese students hold them close to the top. Until I ask them to compare how they hold them they are unaware of the difference.

6. Observe a few students in a row in a class as they push their hand through their hair. When one student does it often another student begins to more the hand in the same way, then a third student. When they watch a video they are not only unaware of the fact that they were moving one had through their hair but are astonished that often others move their hands in the same way.

7. Video students’ feet during a lesson. Often many will be tapping one foot even though they are not listening to music. Watching the tape they see the tapping which when asked say they were unaware of as they were doing it during class.

8. While taking attendance some teachers smile after certain students say “here” but do not when others do. Some scowl when some students respond but keep a neutral face when others do.  Again realized only after viewing a video of their faces and the faces of students who they use different expressions with.

9. Often teachers pace back and forth in front of the room as they explain something. Some used to call this “the expectant parent syndrome” as fathers often pace back and forth as their wife is giving birth–more in the days when fathers could not be present in the birthing rom. But as in all the other cases, they realized they were walking only after looking at a video recording. No mention in the lesson plans to pace back and forth.

10. If you look at video 2 in Small changes you will see I comment on how I hold my hand steady as students read aloud. No realization of this until I viewed the video. You will see facial expressions in the video which show I am not engaged also–not part of my plan and out of awareness till after the fact.

11. When I have shown teachers in a video to non teachers a frequent question is “Why is the teacher so patronizing?” We do not mean to be patronizing but some think we are. So it can be useful to ask people in other lines of work to look at our behaviors and we will often see in a new light much of our out of conscious behavior.

12. Many of my students used to call me “Mr. Poker Face” because they thought I did not smile. I say “thought” but in fact I saw when I looked at a video or a photograph that in fact I did not smile very much. A rule I worked to change.

Not all things we do that we are not aware of are necessarily detrimental, but some are. The first step is awareness and the next steps are to alter what we and our students do and see what differences emerge. Giving students longer time to respond has consistently shown that the responses are longer and more complex.

Focus on speed, which I mentioned as not always useful in my last blog, produces less rich language and superficial thinking.

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