Providing “pause mechanisms” in the classroom

During a recent workshop, I got engaged in a very interesting conversation about increasing the perception of the classroom as a safe, mistake-resilient environment.

Crying child by Binu Kumar on Flickr (CC-By)Kristen Hefner (doctoral student and instructor, Sociology and Criminal Justice) exposed her “Ouch/Oops” rule, which I found fascinating. She teaches a topic that touches on current debates in society, and wanted to make sure people could express themselves, but within boundaries. So, when a student expresses something that another student finds offensive, the other student can yell “Ouch”, and the class pauses to allow for the offensive comment to be examined, tweaked, explained, retracted, etc.

I think this kind of process empowers the students to control what happens in the classroom, and increases engagement in debate-based classes. The same kind of process could be applied to knowledge mastery classes, allowing for students to interrupt a lecture to ask for clarifications on new terms or concepts.

The next, less disruptive iteration of this idea would be to allow for a “parking lot” of requests for explanations. That parking lot could be physical (write your question on an index card and pass it to the TA; write the question on a blackboard) or digital (tweet your question, use the discussion board, use a collaborative Google Doc for the class, etc.). For these processes to work, it is important for the instructor to monitor and address the parking lot into the class routine, either as face-to-face or as online loops.

Anyway, just a little teaching nugget I wanted to share!