Speaking Up Silently?

I usually try to be gentle in posting about the various articles I read and present. But now this article in the New York Times has really stirred me up. The article presents the case for using social media to have students speak up in class, especially the shy students who wouldn't otherwise speak.Sounds great, right? Wrong! Let's look at the issue more carefully.

One of the students quoted in the article: “When we have class discussions, I don’t really feel the need to speak up or anything,” said one of her students, Justin Lansink, 17. “When you type something down, it’s a lot easier to say what I feel.”

There are already two problems emerging here. The first is that the student doesn't feel the need to speak in class. That is a teacher issue. Teachers who are aware of this issue can easily get students involved in class discussions. It takes time and patience, but we can coax shy students into sharing in class. I have done it for years. The second issue is that the student finds it EASIER to text. Of course, it's easier, but the problem is that there texting does not help a student develop necessary social skills. Is that student going to then text their boss for a raise? Are they going to appeal a traffic ticket via Twitter?

Another quotation: Nicholas Provenzano, an English teacher at Grosse Pointe South High School, outside Detroit, said that in a class of 30, only about 12 usually carried the conversation, but that eight more might pipe up on a backchannel. “Another eight kids entering a discussion is huge,” he noted. There are so many better strategies to get students to participate that I would need a series of blogs just to talk about some of them. This is an EASY way out for the teacher. And again, EASY for the students as well.

A professor cited in the article: Before Hot Seat, “I could never get people to speak up,” Professor Chakravarty said. “Everybody’s intimidated.” This is a lack of skill on the professor's part. Again, there are numerous strategies to get students to speak in class. The fact that they were intimidated to speak is something that must be addressed. But texting instead of human-to-human interaction is NOT the answer.

The article ends with:

“It only takes one individual to change,” another typed. “If you want something to change you have to be willing to be that voice.”

“It really shows the impact one change can make,” a third student wrote.

“I agree with Katie!” someone added. “This class has given us a voice!”

Willing to be that voice? Given us a voice? HARDLY. They weren't willing to speak! They were only willing (and/or able) to text. This is not what we want to be teaching students. We want to REALLY give them a voice. A voice to stand up in front of their peers to present a viewpoint. A voice of confidence. A voice willing to take risks and be wrong.

The article's title is "Speaking Up in Class, Silently, Using Social Media" and the key word there is SILENTLY. How dreadful that the New York Times would paint this idea as a pure positive. Now, I am not against social media or using it in the classroom, but NOT in place of a very needed human skill. Many students already lack important social skills and having them replace their voice with a few Tweets is a pathetic crutch and something that teachers and professors have to be very, very cautious about.


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