"Could You Do a Sample?"

This is a phrase I taught my students to use because, for the most part, students don't know how to ask for help. This is especially true when you're in the middle of a lesson and one of your students is confused about something.

Confused Student
I don't get it!

I've heard this quite a bit over the years, and I always responded in the same, predictable Old School way. (It was a response my own teachers had used and, as a consequence, had become a part of my classroom lexicon.)

Mr. Morris
What don't you get?

Confused Student
More confused than ever and now thinking:
.....Is he asking me to explain what I don't get? Hey, if I could explain it, I'd understand it.....
Spoken aloud with a touch of frustration:

When I eventually realized that "What don't you get?" was an ineffective response, I came up with a better way to go.

I taught my students to ask for a sample.

After explaining when to use the phrase and exactly what it means, it still takes about a month or so for them to develop the habit of using it. To help them along, I'll take the lead.

Mr. Morris
Seeing that some of my students are looking at their neighbors for clarification about what I had just said to everyone:
If you'd like a sample, just ask.

Confused Student
Could you do a sample, please?

What student is really saying is:

Hey, Mr. Morris. Stop talking. Your words are doing me no good.

Could you model what you're talking about.

Could you draw what you're talking about.

If it's a written assignment you're asking us to do, could you show me what
it's supposed to look like?

Could you have students demonstrate what you're talking about?

Because if you just repeat what you already said, I'm still going to be confused.

Here's the beauty of "Could you do a sample, please?" It's safe language. It doesn't mean the student is stupid. It doesn't mean he wasn't paying attention. It doesn't mean he wasn't trying hard. It just means that he would like the information to be presented in a different way than it had already been presented.

Mr. Morris
Happy to do a sample. Thanks for asking.

This will, of course, cause you to have to stretch a bit as a teacher. You'll have to learn how to present information in more than one way. But that's okay. The more you do it, the better you'll get. And the better you get at teaching, the more your students will get out of your lessons and the less they'll ask for a sample. It's the classroom version of the circle of life.

Note: This phrase is one of the Top Ten Things I say as described in the book, Eight Great Ideas. And although it's not actually something I say, I thought the language was important enough to include in the Top Ten.

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