Need a new podcast? Want to learn more about Classical Christian Education? Click to listen to the latest episode of Veritas Vox!

Omnibus | 4 Minutes

3 Questions to Improve Recitations

Written by Ty Fischer
3 Questions to Improve Recitations

Smart students do dumb things. Once upon a time, some smart students created a catechism based on my voice inflection and facial expression that would, they believed, help them ace their recitations. When I learned of this catechism, I upped the ante training myself to give false nonverbal cues. I remember the first time I used them. The first student answered correctly. While he was answering, I shook my head and rubbed my face in mock exasperation. Turning to the second student, one who believed he could answer correctly based on my nonverbal cues. I said, “Tell me what he [the first student] said that was wrong?”

Recitations can be some of the most challenging and most enjoyable sessions in Omnibus. So, what sort of questions should teachers be asking themselves to discern whether their recitations are working well? Here are three.

1. Is it Rooted in Comprehension?

The main objective of a recitation is to access comprehension. Thus, that should be where teachers' assessment of the success of their recitation should begin. Did the recitation provide students an opportunity to show that they understood what they read? If so, then you have the beginnings of a good recitation. If not, then more work needs to be done.

Good teachers learn their students and recitation can help teachers who know their students see the strengths and weaknesses of the instructions that the students have received. I often access my own instruction by way of making sure that I am aware of where all my students struggle and where my best students struggle in comprehension. When all students fail to comprehend something then I have discovered an area of the book that needs extra attention. When my best students fail to understand a concept, especially if it is one that you covered previously in discussion, then whatever I tried to communicate to the class has not been clearly understood.

2. Does it Bear the Fruit of Going Deeper than Comprehension?

Recitations start with comprehension, but they don’t end there. Comprehension should be something like a diving board. You start on the board, but joy is leaping up in the air and delving in the deep water. With my students, I usually start with the questions that are provided in the Omnibus textbook. Often, I am able to move from those questions into deeper questions about how and why. This is often possible if you are doing an oral recitation with the students, but it can be done on a written recitation but you will have to add in the why and how questions in advance.

I would encourage teachers who really want to push students deeper into the why and how level questions to construct a gracious grading standard that recognizes that the deeper you go in a line of questioning, the fewer the number of students who will be able to make the connection. I often ask any given student between 8 and 10 questions in a recitation. The majority of those questions will be comprehension questions. I add in some deeper how and why questions, but I will allow them to miss a question or two and get full or nearly full credit. This graciousness incentivizes risk taking on the harder questions where students are attempting to figure out the why and how.

3. Is it Fun for You and Your Students?

The final question teachers should ask themselves about their recitation is: Was this session enjoyable for the students? The best recitations are. I prefer oral recitations with a small number of students. (Usually, I give the rest of the class a reading assignment and call them out into the hallway 2 or 3 at a time for their recitation.) As I question students, I pick at their answers. I use the answer of the one student to test the knowledge of the next student. Even when I provide misleading nonverbal cues. (We could call this the unreliable recitationer!) The story I started in introduction above ended this way:

The second student gulped. He looked down. He stared at me. He said, “Mr. Fischer, I don’t know what he said wrong. I think he got it right.”

“Correct,” I smiled.

He called my bluff and I knew that both of the students comprehended the work well...and because we had a really good relationship the fun that we started having in the recitation increased.

A lot of success of this sort of method has to do with the attitude of the teacher. If a teacher goes into the recitation, trying to make the students trip up using cryptic or unfair questions, students will hate recitations. If the teacher goes in with an attitude of playfulness, then the student may be coaxed into playing along and a lot of fun will ensue.

Successful Omnibus classes start with understanding, consistently attempt to deepen understanding, and begin and end with enjoyment for both teacher and student. Asking these three questions after recitations will help teachers accomplish the basic level goal of assessing student understanding and dig deeper into the how and why level of understanding with the reward of helping students grow and enjoy the process of learning.

If you have more questions about which Live Online or Self-Paced Omnibus courses would be best for your students, please don't hesitate to contact us for more information.