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Speaking Up

Posted by lpearle on 21 February 2013

A couple of weeks ago, there was a huge uproar about a teacher’s decision to make every student in her class participate, regardless of whether they were an introvert or extrovert. SLJ has a good round-up of the various posts and thoughts. I’d been discussing this (in a way) in my class on instructional design, so I posted the link to see what others in my class thought.  This week, we’re talking about engagement and again, I’m pondering the question of how to ensure engagement across age groups and personality types.

The difference is that my class is focused on online instruction, where engagement and “speaking up” is an entirely different thing.  There’s a lot of evidence that those who don’t speak up during face-to-face classes will often be very engaged in an online situation – a time where they can really think and ponder their responses, choosing the exact words they want, ensuring that their message is not overwhelmed by the more extroverted in the class.

When I was in sixth grade I had a teacher who was, to put it politely, strict about how we responded in class.  She’s ask students a question, like “what’s 2 + 2″ and if we blurted out “4”, her frosty reply was “fools rush in where angels fear to tread” (seriously.  one day I’ll share the fountain pen story).  You’d sit there, desperately re-counting and re-adding, trying to figure out where you’d messed up.  Her goal?  To get us to be thoughtful when we responded, not to just say the first thing that pops into our head.  It took me years to figure that out (I was going with “she’s a witch” for a while there).

It’s not always about being thoughtful, however.  Sometimes it’s knowing when (or how) to respond.  Example?  The REPLY ALL response.  I hate that.  In business, it’s de rigueur to let everyone (and I do mean everyone) know that you’ve seen the e-mail, even if you have nothing intelligent to contribute to the “conversation”.  All it does it clog people’s inbox, it doesn’t mean that the respondee has really even looked at the message.  REPLY ALL should be the last option, ever.  I suspect it’s because we value every contribution, right? In school, I can’t count the times that students have raised their hands to respond, even if it’s just to say “me, too” – and at a younger age, not having a “tell” at least every other day means that you’re not “showing” enough.  This is just wrong!  We should be stressing important contributions, thoughtful additions, true sharing.

In the midst of all this, I read Unlearning Liberty (which I first heard about on BookTV – watch the video, it’s a little frightening).  We’re asking students to participate more, but limiting the ways in which they do so to meet predefined topics, ideals, ideas, etc..  How is this best serving their development??  I’d argue it isn’t.

One of my former students, now a senior at Emory, was one of those who didn’t always contribute appropriately in class when he was in middle school.  He did get better, however, and became at valued member of the class.  He’s now pursuing a journalism degree and has been very vocal about the proposed cuts to their program.  And now he’s reporting on the rather unfortunate word choice that the Emory president used, calling for Pres. Wagner’s resignation.  I compare this to his middle school persona and think – YES!  This is what we hope for, a student who has grown and become unafraid to express opinions in an appropriate manner.

Tying this all together, I wonder how the teacher who requires participation deals with the oversharer, the inappropriate participator.  Does she try to channel that into constructive engagement?  Does she provide ways for those who aren’t as eager to blurt out responses to participate? How do we correct today’s culture of REPLY ALL and oversharing/blurting to encourage real engagement and participation?  And when students do want to engage, particularly in ways that may be political (or not according to some politically correct code), can we allow them to do so in appropriate ways?

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One Response to “Speaking Up”

  1. Very true. It is almost harder to deal with the students who want to share too much. My children (and I) were always a bit reluctant to participate in class, and I always told them to volunteer early when they knew the answer and were in control of the situation– once they showed the teacher that they were participating, they would be left alone, so didn’t have to stress that they would be called on when they didn’t know the answer.

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