How Can We Give All Students a Voice? Let’s Get Students Talking

There are a lot of ways that teachers can involve students in conversations both in and outside of class.  Students sometimes have fear of responding in class.  Sometimes it is the fear of being wrong, there is that fear of speaking in public, and it can also be simply that some students prefer not to speak in class.  But as teachers, we have to make sure that we provide diverse ways for all students to contribute and to do so in a way which is comfortable and can help to build student confidence.  Finding one’s voice and being comfortable in using it, are important in today’s classrooms.

The helpful aspect of technology in this scenario, is that communication, conversations and collaboration can happen and take various formats, because of technology. In my classroom, I can tell when I ask a question, whether it be the lack of students eager to respond, or just by observing the physical reactions to the question being posed, that many students have some aversion to responding in class.  Whether this happens as a result of the hesitancy of speaking out in front of others or the fear of not knowing the right answer or perhaps something else entirely, it’s sometimes difficult to encourage the students to speak and share what they are thinking, feeling and express true opinions. Even as a teacher, at times, answering in front of others, sharing my thoughts or perspective can feel uncomfortable and has made me nervous as well.  Even as a teacher, I sometimes become nervous when I am in a similar situation. There’s that fear having the wrong answer or of saying something that might not be well received, cause a bigger discussion or even create an argument.

But regardless, we need to involve students in class discussions and ask questions, and there are many ways that this can be done.  Using some of the tools out there can help to share ideas, expand learning, and maybe even more importantly, enable the students to feel more comfortable in the classroom.

How can technology help in this area?  Is there a purpose?

Teachers want to know what students are thinking, to understand their learning and needs, we have to ask questions, and it is critical to help them feel more secure in responding both in and outside of class.  One way to do this is by using a digital tool that can offer these securities and provide opportunities for students to really express their thoughts and feelings. In this regard, I believe the technology does truly have a purpose because it can serve to give students a voice and in a comfortable way, where otherwise students may be apprehensive about expressing themselves.

I am not saying that technology should be used as a substitute for having students speak in class or for courses in which public speaking is part of the requirement.  Developing the ability and confidence to stand up and speak out in front of others and to voice one’s opinion are important skills and characteristics that students need to develop in classrooms today, to be prepared for their future. And if use technology to replace this, then we also take away a part of the learning process and the risk taking that is involved in developing these public speaking and independent skills, which leads to us doing a disservice to our students and to ourselves.So maybe offering some alternatives for how students can express themselves would be a good way to start.

Some options

Depending on the type of question or the feedback we want from the students, there are many tools such as SurveyMonkey, Responster, TodaysMeet, Socrative or Riddle. A tool like GoSoapBox can be used for a variety of question.  Even using some game based tools like Quizizz or Kahoot! also provide options for having students respond to questions and reflections.

Teachers can review the answers and then use it as a way to start a new discussion in class. Answers can be shared anonymously, and of course some students will acknowledge that you are reading their answer, but this can also help to boost confidence and create more comfort in the classroom for all students.

Some other options are for using things like Wikis or blogs, or another tool for backchannel discussions, to have students respond and collaborate on different topics.

If students create their own blog, their responses can be kept private and this has been a very beneficial tool in my classroom which helped students to practice their content area skills, in a way that is more comfortable, through which I can give them personalized feedback and also learn more about them in the process. A Wiki can also be a good way to have students collaborate if they are working in small groups.

It all comes down to what type of conversation, the questions or discussion we are hoping to involve the students in. Do we want something that is more open-ended? Do we want students to think about something and then respond later, once class is over? These are some of the reasons why technology can help, and also can enable teachers to offer a more blended or flipped learning experience in the classroom. Just because the bell rings and class is over for the day, our conversations don’t have to end.  We can discuss, ask questions, provide feedback after the class is over. We need student feedback we want learning to be meaningful and students to feel comfortable.  The use of these tools are helpful for students to express their ideas, we can learn more about what they want to do, what they can do and what they need help with.

These are some of the reasons why I think technology has a real purpose. It helps to expedite the process by delivering real live results so that we can give feedback to the students when they need it. We can use these tools to encourage students to share thoughts and answer questions, and to feel more comfortable in doing so.

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