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Introverted Participation in Class Discussions

February 16, 2013

Confederation Discussions

I wanted to share a few articles I came across on John T. Spencer‘s blog about introverts in class discussions. Having spent the last few weeks thinking about our own participation and facilitation of class discussions, how do you feel about the points made on either side of this debate?

Jessica Lahey argues in the Atlantic that, Introverted Kids Need to Learn to Speak Up at School:

When I asked her why she puts so much effort into her children’s ability to communicate with strangers, she answered, “In order to be effective in this world, you must be able to communicate. If you can’t speak up for yourself, if you can’t muster the courage to tell the person you love that you love them, if you can’t advocate for your own safety, the world will be a very intimidating and frightening place. I don’t want my kids to be intimidated by the world.”

When a parent tells me that his or her child is simply not capable of communicating educational and emotional needs, I see a child even more in need of mastering interpersonal communication. I’m not talking about the value of communication as it relates to grades here; I am talking about the value of communication as it relates to personal health, happiness, and safety. A student who is unwilling to stand up for herself and tell me that she does not understand the difference between an adverb and a verb is also less likely to stand up for herself if she is being harassed or pressured in other areas of her life.

While Valerie Strauss counters in the Washington Post, describing Why introverts shouldn’t be forced to talk in class

I suggest that we redefine what we mean by classroom participation. Teachers often define classroom participation as a verbal response that fits into a routine that the teacher has established. (Typically, the teacher asks a question, the student responds and the teacher affirms the correctness of the answer. Students are then said to participate.)  But can students participate without speaking out loud?  Should teachers consider the times that a student gives silent assent to a question or thoughtfully jots notes for a future essay as participation?  Are these useful forms of participation?  It is important to note that one student’s silence can enable another student to speak.  Do students have a responsibility to contribute to the silence of a classroom so that others can talk, along with a responsibility to contribute verbally to the discussion?  How might silence be re-framed as a “productive” or useful contribution to classroom classrooms?  Finally, how to we create other contexts for participation such as multimedia projects where students “speak” through recorded text.

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