Today I was giving my class some instructions and plans for the day. I do this every day. I want my students to know my expectations for the day. Today something just seemed off. My class isn’t that large. I have 12 students in this group, and I after I gave the instructions and expectations I always ask, “does everyone understand what I am saying?” I always look around and about a third of my class shook their heads in the affirmative. The rest looked at me in a way that I am not sure if they understood my directions. After waiting for a few minutes in that awkward silence, I went ahead and sent them all off to do the tasks at hand.
After a little while, probably 10 minutes I began to hear some students talking in their groups about what I had said. They needed some clarification of some kind. Which is alright. I feel like my students are starting to trust each other and work together. But then it hit me. Why did they not speak up when I asked if they had a clear understanding of what I was expecting from them? Those students are in the Silent Majority.
What is a Silent Majority? Basically, it is a majority of a population that doesn’t express what they want to say publicly. All of my students are Gifted. They are smart, talented, and creative students who in their small groups will hold conversations about some of the strangest topics to some controversial topics. Most will join in this small group conversation. (I will allow students to talk off topic as long as they are still working on the project at hand, but I limit the conversation to a few minutes. Then its back to on task conversations.) But, some of these same students will not raise their hands or speak their mind when it comes to having a large class discussion.
I feel that in the current times we live in, and technology that is readily available to us, there shouldn’t be a Silent Majority. I have read where teachers are using Twitter in their classrooms. They put their Twitter feed up on the screen or smart board and use a particular (#) hashtag have students post questions to that feed that they may not be comfortable voicing in public. I have read how some teachers are using Instagram in their classroom. They are posting pictures or short videos of current events, historical pictures, or students doing work with a specific hashtag to help keep conversation going on. Some teachers are using Facebook or Google groups. These groups are where students join in, and keep a conversation going. Sometimes if you want to get an instant response teachers can PollEverywhere. This is a free service where you can get instant feedback from texting.
The aspect that I feel that is important to stress about using technology in the classroom is it should never be a substitute to face to face conversation. The above mentioned technologies should be run in conjunction with a face to face conversation in the classroom. I think that main point of using the websites above is to eliminate as much of the Silent Majority as possible. I know in my urban school district, we are not able to incooperate the websites because of our technology policies, and because some students don’t have the resources to have mobile devices.
I have found there is other low tech ways to help the Silent Majority be heard. I have at times, placed a large poster paper on my side wall, and I place some open-ended questions on it allow students time to answer the questions. They don’t use their names, and its a low anxiety type of activity. I will give students time to write on it. Generally I place it in an area where all students would have to pass so everyone has an opportunity to see it and respond to it. Sometimes students write reactions to answers and a conversation starts to grow. I have also passed out Post-it notes. I will have students write a comment on a Post-it note and place it on the side of their desks. I will walk around the class and collect all of the Post-in notes throughout a lecture or activity. I will read some of the notes outload, or I will incooperate some of the remarks or questions into the learning activity. I collect them because I am afraid that some will not go up to a large poster board to place it. Finally, I have a colleague that in the past used small white-boards for students to write on. They would write a question, or a response on it and the teacher would be able to answer the questions or respond to the written comments as class moved along. It was a great way to see where students are in their understanding of a topic, or how they feel about a topic.
I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that students are afraid to look stupid, or feel embarrassed by what they feel or think. There are many more technology or low tech ways of reaching students. I feel it is my responsibility to reach the Silent Majority in a way possible.
What do you do help the Silent Majority be heard?