Introverted Participation in Class Discussions

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.

Video Lecture: Irish Immigration to Canada (1815 – 1914)

[vimeo 59424512 w=500 h=375]

Irish Immigration to Canada (1815-1914) from Matt Henderson on Vimeo.

UNLV professor Cian MacMahon visited Winnipeg history teacher Matt Henderson‘s senior history class to talk about Irish immigration to Canada between the War of 1812 and the First World War. The 40’ talk may give some interesting background on today/tomorrow’s Social Class & Immigration section of our Confederation discussions, but also delves into the Rebellions of 1837. 

Matt’s class and blog are consistently great reads for Socials classes in Canada, and anywhere.  Hopefully we find our way toward engaging with his upcoming Canadian Oral History project.

Consensus communication, Talking Sticks, silent meetings, and Hawaiian talk-story


I posted this video on my blog sometime last year, but think it might tie in to our recent reflections and conversations about how to go about actualizing the potential of classroom discussions. In the comments of the post, TALONS parent, Tasha, introduces a few ideas that may prove valuable in putting together next week’s Discussion series.

How might this translate to the classroom? Most Canadian students have run across the “talking stick” at some point, in which only the person with the stick (or other object) in hand may speak and where that object must be passed about for discussion to continue. Another approach which can help highlight quiet voices is to follow small group discussion with a larger discussion in which speakers can only represent someone else’s idea, rather than their own (thus putting the big talkers into the position of highlighting the opinions of their less assertive brethren).

Quaker silent meetings and Hawaiian talk-story are quite different approaches. Quaker silent meetings require silence both before and after speech, with the intent that the silence will facilitate thoughtful reflection and will prevent head-on debate or conflict. Talk story, on the other hand, is predicated on the idea of a shared, collaborative narrative, making use of overlapping, participatory speaking. 

It might be interesting to see what result the diverse approaches yield on who participates and how the discussion proceeds and what kind of ideas rise to the fore. Do different people participate? Do different ideas emerge?

Socials Learning

Today, February 5th, the morning class had a discussion about…discussions. It’s been a bit of a dilemma for some time now, where some people speak more during discussions than other people. Today we attempted to try to solve the problem. Before today however we were asked to brainstorm some ideas as to why people didn’t speak and how we can start the discussion (and keep it going).

Starting off we brought our answers to class and shared them with our quads and then our class. Here’s a few reasons of why people don’t participate:

  • shy
  • tired
  • “on the spot”
  • can’t think of anything to contribute
  • uncertainty
  • “someone said my piece”
  • not good enough of an answer
  • the conversation moves too fast
  • aural learning v.s. oral learning
  • lack of understanding
  • judgement
  • big group
  • don’t want to be 1st
  • unprepared
  • “it’s not the right time” (emotions and other stresses get in the way)
  • not passionate/ no personal relevance
  • no obligation 
  • inadequacy

Maybe I lied, there’s more than a few. Anyways, the things that are underlined we found to have some common ground and as you can see, they came up a lot. We discussed a lot of these topics and a point that came up a lot, especially when comparing discussions in the woods v.s. discussions in the classroom, is that most people feel more pressure because they know they are being graded. We ended up having a pretty lengthy conversation.

Next as a class we brainstormed goals for getting over the things that are holding some of us back. Here’s where you should pay attention in this post because these can be put to use in other areas of schooling and life as well. Below are goals that we feel would help us become better learners and speakers.

Personal Goals:

1) make one contribution each day.

2) volunteer to speak for your group.

Moderator Goals:

1) ask individuals what they think.


1) read!!!

2) form an opinion and/or ask a question

3) challenge ourselves to grow

4) discuss with others

5) bring questions to ask

6) blog

7) preview the questions/content we will be discussing

Layout/Set up of Conversation: 

1) clarifying/synthesizing conclusion

2) circle or small groups

3) immediate feedback

So there are some ideas, we collectively, as a class, put together of how to speak more in class. Our hope is that these goals will come to fruition and be used in socials as well as other subject areas. Every ones voice needs to be heard because everyone has an opinion and questions that may lead to the next great discussion in the classroom! Because, despite all of this we do have great discussions; we just need to find a way to get everyone involved. Hopefully we can grow by June and not go through this again throughout the year. We hope these help!

Canadian Confederation resources on TALONS Socials Wiki

The Fathers of Confederation at the London Conference, 1866.

As we wrap up our study of the American Revolution this week, feel free to begin exploring the many Confederation resources that have been built on the TALONS Socials wiki over the past few years, and which we will be adding to throughout the spring.

This month, we will be continuing with an ongoing study of Canadian Confederation, expanding on the resources already available on the wiki site.

Notes & Discussions

Building a Nation – Final Exam Review Notes

The Road to Confederation Discussion Mindmap of Confederation 

Historical Voices – Confederation through primary sources

Fathers of Confederation. Members of the Quebec Conference, October, 1864.

Chapter Sections & TALONS ’10 Blog Posts

Colonial Government in British North America

Grievances against the British in Upper Canada

Grievances against the British in Lower Canada

Rebellions of 1837

The Durham Report