The English Equation

Tonight as I stood up at my seemingly desolate host stand, mindlessly chatting away with one of the other girls, I noticed something written on her wrist, the black ink catching my eye. It was an equation that read:  ? + wait time + name = effective inquiry. “What does that mean?”, I asked her with a confused look on my face. She smiled widely at me, excited for the opportunity to share what she had learned about earlier in class today. She told me her professor announced to his future educators that if any of them were going to get a tattoo, it had better be of that equation, since it is something they should always remember, and always implement within their classroom. As the confusion was still apparent on my face, she went on to explain. The main goal of the equation, is to actively engage your students in lecture, without making anyone feel singled out. This is how it works: First you ask a question, (hence this lovely symbol-“?”). Then you scan the room, making eye contact with as many students as you can (what the equation refers to as “wait time”). After a good amount of time has elapsed, you finally call on a particular student for the answer (this would be the “name” component…obviously). Then you arrive at your effective inquiry! This method of questioning in the classroom helps create a much more comfortable environment for students because first of all, it allows them some time to consider the answer to the question before being called upon, and second, it doesn’t make them feel quite as singled out since you have made eye contact with multiple students.

When she had finished explaining the equation to me, I was like Yes! I love that! Because I cannot tell you how many times I have been immediately called on, and then embarrassed for not knowing the answer simply cause I was caught off guard, and too flustered to think of it (one of the many perks of being an introvert). My American Literature professor was especially fond of doing this. He would be lecturing on and on and then suddenly, out of nowhere, (and much to my dread), I’d hear him shout out, “Heather!” and I would sink down in my seat in anticipation of what was to come next. “Define exactly what the author of the Declaration of Independence means when he uses the phrase ‘the pursuit of happiness’”. Ohhhh goody! I absolutely love being asked on-the-spot questions just like this little gem here, since my professor and I both know how good I am at thinking on my feet while the entire classroom’s attention is focused solely on me. As I try to take a moment to collect my thoughts and come up with an answer that sounds educated enough to meet his expectations, the silence is suddenly broken by his voice instead of mine. “How about you come to class next time more prepared, and with something to say.” And then I’d sink a little further down in my seat, unable to think of anything besides the next class meeting where this would undoubtedly happen once again.

It’s because of experiences like these that I have now become a strong proponent of this English Equation (even though I just learned about it a few hours ago). Our job as educators is not to humiliate our students; not to make them feel uncomfortable or under pressure. Our job is to teach them through lecture, text, activities, etc. and to engage them in a way that makes them feel comfortable; proud of themselves; knowledgeable; smart; worth listening to. I know there are many students, probably the majority even, who actually don’t mind being asked on-the-spot questions, and are usually able to yell out the answer right off the top of their head. But, not every student is like that. And I think that is such an important thing to keep in mind. You really have to be aware of all personality types and comfort levels of the students in your classroom, in order to be a great teacher and be effective in reaching all your students. I think there is actually a lot to be learned through the English Equation in regard to properly approaching one’s students, and I know it’s definitely something I will always keep in mind in my own future classroom.


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