Classroom Management

A Strategy for Encouraging Students to Talk in Class

Use this assessment tool to align student participation to Bloom’s Taxonomy in the high school classroom.

April 25, 2024
Bob Vector / iStock

High school teachers—we’ve all been here: about to be observed, driving to our buildings energized. Not only have we designed a great lesson, complete with culturally responsive teaching elements, social and emotional learning components, and differentiation. We’ve timed it just right, so that students will complete exit tickets before the bell rings. There’s no way we won’t get a distinguished rating in all domains. 

But apparently we planned and the universe laughed—because not a single student chimes in (well, except for Andre, who asked to go to the bathroom after the first 10 minutes).   

What do we do? We use the wait time drilled into us in grad school. While waiting, we glance at our Apple Watch and realize that not even a full minute has passed, but our heart rate is 127. We take a deep breath and try to control our emotions. The class is silent today except for the kid in the back rummaging through his book bag and the clacking of keys as our administrator types away. What could she be typing? No one’s saying anything!  

Desperate to get the observation over with, we use our last lifeline, pivoting and diving into teacher-centered instruction, showcasing how much we know about the American Revolution or polynomials and doing checks for understanding while we run through Google Slides—all while thinking, Why didn’t they say anything? I know my lesson wasn’t boring. I mean, I had memes on my slides and even played a YouTube clip! 

Two weeks later, after receiving a “Basic” in the Student Engagement domain, some of us blame our administrator, who expects us to be a magician; some of us chalk it up to Gen-Z not caring about anything other than TikTok; some of us spend the evening scrolling Indeed for a work-from-home gig.

Perhaps there’s another answer: A student-centered learning environment is not only what administrators want to see but is what is best for students. That’s why, way back in 2007, I created an assessment tool and discourse protocol called the Real Talk Method.

Common Obstacles to Participation

In 2007, when I transitioned from an adjunct professor to a high school teacher, I noticed—and continue to notice—that students’ lack of engagement is less about lack of ability or desire to participate and far more about two specific things: a lack of reward for participating and a lack of tools needed to participate. 

Here’s why: Students (who are humans first) want to feel rewarded for participating, especially if they’re not certain whether they’re right. No student (or human) wants to be wrong; it’s not in our nature. 

Many students are grappling with ways to articulate themselves because they may lack the tools needed to participate in a way that makes them feel and look “smart.” I hear it all the time when I speak with my students one-on-one: “I don’t wanna feel stupid, Miss,” and “I mean, I know it, but I’m not tryna be wrong.” 

Introducing: The Real Talk Method

The name Real Talk is inspired by my Bronx upbringing, which was widely influenced by hip-hop. Where I come from, when we wish to engage in serious discussion, want to assure our audience of our honesty, are passionate about something, or just need the floor for a minute, we preface our statement with the assertion, “Real Talk!”  

The method is a riff on both Bloom’s Taxonomy and the Socratic Seminar, two staples I keep tucked in my pedagogical purse.  

My Real Talk method serves four educational purposes: It facilitates academic discourse or accountable talk by encouraging students to use higher-order thinking skills; it assesses oral participation; it does so quantitatively and qualitatively by assigning point values to students’ responses based on their level on Bloom’s Taxonomy; and it motivates students to participate by providing immediate feedback and rewards (grades). 

Applying Real Talk in Practice

I begin the school year by explicitly teaching students about Bloom’s Taxonomy as a classification system for learning. To do this, I use the Pledge of Allegiance as my example, asking students these questions: Can you recite the Pledge of Allegiance? Do you understand what all the words mean? Can you apply the pledge to anything? Have you ever analyzed its meaning? Have you evaluated its value? Can you understand why some people refuse to recite it or stand for it? If you were to create your own pledge, what would you include or exclude? 

I introduce and explain the Real Talk method and rules, which make up my assessment tool that assigns points based on the Bloom level to which students’ responses or contributions correspond.

For example, a green check mark means that a student’s response to a seminar question is on the recall level, which is appropriate but low on Bloom’s, whereas a star means that a student’s response is on the understanding level or higher. The first check mark equates with 65 percent, and each additional check mark adds 5 percent. A star equates with 85 percent, two stars with 90 percent, three stars with 100 percent. After a student receives a star, each check mark equals one point. So, if a student received a check, then a star, then a check, they would have 97 percent.

The goal for each student is to get 100 percent, which is their classwork and participation grade for the seminar.  

During seminars, one student volunteer is appointed scorekeeper and keeps a running tally of students’ points on the board. That way, every student can view their progress in real time.  

Deepening Student Engagement

The Real Talk method brings the enthusiasm that is usually only reserved for sports into the academic space, which is rare and so very needed—because, yes, learning is supposed to spark joy, not anxiety or fear.  

Students’ excitement around this tool is what drives my own excitement, keeping me motivated to continuously develop engaging content through thought-provoking questioning and culturally relevant material.  

The Real Talk method also facilitates healthy competition and excitement about learning while cultivating higher-order thinking skills in real time, and in a real way.  

No magic needed—just good, old-fashioned realness. 

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  • Assessment
  • 9-12 High School

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