From the Writing Program’s Spring Symposium — “Beyond Cold Calling: Engaging ‘Quiet’ Students in Discussion”

In January of this year, the Writing Program held a symposium that explored how issues of diversity intersect with the first-year writing classroom. The symposium began with a talk from Professor Haivan Hoang entitled “Why Diversity Matters in FWY?” Our instructors then participated in a series of roundtables that focused on language, teacher identity, access/technology, discussion strategies, and issues of disabilities. As a way to continue the discussions that we started at the symposium, we will bring to you an overview of each roundtable’s discussion. This post features the discussion led by Sarah Stetson and Kate Litterer for the roundtable “Beyond Cold Calling Engaging ‘Quiet’ Students in Discussion.” Please add your own thoughts and questions.

Roundtable: Beyond Cold Calling: Engaging “Quiet” Students in Discussion

Leaders: Sarah Stetson & Kate Litterer
We wanted to structure our roundtable around “quiet” students in our classroom—with emphasis on “quiet” in quotations. We wanted roundtable participants to think about why students are quiet in the first place, whether or not teachers see that as a problem, and why teachers may want lots of students to participate. We discussed how to encourage teachers to think beyond the “cold call,” and we proposed the idea that it is okay if not every single person talks in large groups. We, also, discussed how to get students talking in other situations like pairs, small groups, conferences, and other classroom configurations.
We posed two questions to the teachers at our roundtable – “Why do you think students are quiet?” and “What is one thing you would adapt about a lesson plan to include more students in discussion?” Additionally, teachers shared specific examples from in-class discussions they had facilitated when they felt that their “quiet” students stood out.
Here are some comments we received from teaches about teaching “quiet” students.

Question: Why do you think students are quiet?
• Students are afraid to be tone policed
• Students are self-conscious or have stage fright
• Gender disparity in the classroom
• Students are happy to listen, and may talk a lot in conferences
• Students rely on other talkative students to lead discussions
• Students may not understand questions
• Students may not be paying attention
• The pace of conversation may feel difficult to enter and student is unsure of when to speak
• Students feel comfortable talking in small groups but not in large groups

Question: What is one thing you would adapt about a lesson plan to include more students in discussion?
• Have students comment on low stakes in class reading
• Listen and take notes with names so you can measure participation
• Ask students to lead a discussion and make their own discussion questions, so students can plan ahead
• Write discussion questions on an index card and pass it around
• Ask students to do generative writing before discussions
• Use “rock, paper, scissors” to choose students to speak
• Narrow down the scope of questions you ask students
• Have everyone contribute a little bit to answering a question, so each person says something
• Have students post on Moodle and read before class
• Have students answer a low stakes ice breaker question so they can hear their own voice in the classroom
• Have students play a role on a card you hand out, such as “devil’s advocate”

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