I loved the article Giving Reluctant Students a Voice. It is something I struggled with while student teaching in 4th grade. The class had an unusually large number of students with anxiety disorders and students who were meek. Some who did participate spoke in such soft voices that I couldn’t hear what they were saying. I would have to walk very close to them, ask them to tell me what they wanted to say, and then repeat it in a loud enough voice for the rest of the class to benefit from the comment! Needless to say, this interrupted the flow of discussions and generally frustrated me.
Some methods that I have used to combat the phenomenon of students being unwilling to participate are: surprising (and sometimes embarrassing) students by calling on them completely unexpectedly, pulling their names randomly from a cup of craft sticks, calling on students in some predictable order, or having students write answers on individual white boards – they hold up their board when they have the answer and the teacher doesn’t go to the next question until everyone has answered. Each of these methods works to a certain extent, but none really supports a student who is anxious, embarrassed, or slower to formulate answers.
Recently, I took a professional development seminar on using Googledocs in the classroom. One use for Googledocs is to set up a class discussion board as a way to give voice to those students who are reluctant to speak up in class. I’m excited to try this in my classroom. The article provides good parameters to use when setting up your discussion board such as using numbers for the students to keep comments anonymous, constructively criticizing an idea but not a person, keeping comments relatively short, and commenting on other people’s posts so it is really a discussion.
One interesting aspect of this is that discussion boards make me, personally, really nervous!! Ironically, I am confident voicing opinions and ideas verbally, but, when faced with a discussion board, I become very anxious that I won’t be able to type fast enough to keep up with the discussion. I also worry that I will have other technical difficulties and won’t get credit for participating! For this reason, I liked that the article suggested using a discussion board in conjunction with traditional, in-class discussions. As educators, we want to provide as many different forums as possible for all types of students to participate comfortably. I think using on-line discussion boards is a great way to reach students who are nervous or apathetic about speaking up in class.