Excerpt from the "Three Beliefs" Chapter of Sposato's Handbook in Instructional Methods:

Belief 2: My job is no longer to say smart things.  It is to get other people to say smart things.

Many of you were just in college.  Your job was to think and show that you had been thinking by saying or writing smart things.  

You have to leave that behind.  

Now you have to get other people (i.e. students) to think and show they are thinking by saying and writing smart things.

The problem is: doing the thinking yourself is fun for you.  You probably liked school, or at least your subject.  So you’ll be tempted to do a lot of the thinking for your students, and kind of take them along for the ride.

What this looks like: you ask students one very simple question, and then do a soliloquy for them on all the hard stuff:

Let’s take a look at a not-so-strong example from a teacher asking a question about Animal Farm:

Teacher: Who do you think is changing the 7 Commandments?

Student: The pigs.

Teacher: The pigs!  Yes! They’re the only ones who are literate, so they can argue that the Commandments have always been that way.  They’re using their superior knowledge to control the other animals.  Also notice how the 7 Commandments are a powerful tool of propaganda, right?  Like we talked about yesterday?  They are held sacred by the other animals because Major created them, and everyone is loyal to his memory.  So if the pigs claim the 7 Commandments say such-and-such, the other animals don’t question it.

Look at how much thinking the teacher did, as opposed to the students.  One student gave one answer.  And it was an easy answer.  Then the teacher, single-handedly, fleshed out the significance of everything else that happened.  The kids had to do nothing, and as a result, they probably learned nothing.  This is a poor example of the idea of ratio that we introduced earlier.

And it’s so much easier to do this.  It’s easy for you to spout out this stuff and it’s easy for students to just sit back and listen; it’s boring, but easy, and safe.  Because you’re not making students do anything too hard, they won’t push back or get frustrated (at least not initially).  

But it’s useless for kids to have a discussion like this.  

So you have to be vigilant that you’re putting as much thinking as possible, as early as possible, on the students.  Here’s another Animal Farm example of what that might sound like:

Teacher: Who do you think is changing the 7 Commandments?

Student: The pigs.

Teacher: Correct.  There are 3 questions on your paper about this.  Take 5 minutes and answer those questions silently.  Go.  [Notice that all students have to write answers to the questions they’re about to discuss.]

(5 minutes later) 

Teacher: Why are the pigs changing the 7 Commandments?  William.  [cold-calling ensures all students are ready.] 

William: They want the other animals to think they’re doing the right thing. 

Teacher: What do you mean? [The teacher in the last example would have fleshed this out for William.  This teacher is making him explain himself.]

William: If the Commandments say that it’s ok to drink, then the animals will accept it.

Teacher: Interesting.  [The teacher doesn’t say, “right,” or “wrong,” and therefore, students need to keep thinking.]  So why do the animals accept things that are on the commandments when they sound so wrong?  Zalima?

Zalima: Because they’ve been around a long time.

Teacher: I don’t think that’s it.  The farmer was around a long time and the animals rejected him…what was it about the commandments that were so special?  Ray?  [She contradicts the student to make sure the discussion goes in the right direction, but doesn’t give the right answer herself.  Instead she asks a follow-up question.]

Ray: The commandments were written right after the revolution when all the animals were, like, really committed.  And they still think the commandments are special.  

Teacher: Right - they don’t question the commandments.  What’s that word we talked about to describe the animal’s attitude towards them? 

Annalisa: Sacred.

Teacher: Exactly.  So, Tyrone, sum it up – why are the pigs changing the commandments?

Tyrone: They’re changing the commandments to say it’s ok to do what they’re doing because the other animals will accept the commandments without asking questions.  Because the commandments are sacred.  [Making a student sum up what has been said checks to see if everyone has understood the discussion.]

This teacher puts a lot more of the thinking work on students.  First, she makes every student think about the key questions by requiring that they write their responses down first (Chapter 3: Increasing Practice Opportunities Via High Ratio Teaching Moves ). Then she gives feedback on their thinking  and helps to bridge their answers together to keep the conversation flowing, while still having the students do the “heavy lifting” (Chapter 4: Delivering Critical, Aim-Driven Feedback on Thinking Task).  Because she’s cold-calling, the students have to stay on top of the conversation because they don’t know if they’re going to get called on next. Finally, she asks a student to summarize what his classmates said, thus demonstrating her expectation that kids listen to and engage with each other’s ideas (not just the teacher’s ideas, like in the first example). 

The end result is that the students in this example got a lot more out of the conversation than students in the previous example. They had to do a lot more actual thinking than the first group of students. More thinking = more learning.

You need to want to be the second teacher – the one who helps others say smart thing.