| LEARNING CONNECTIONS
Giving Reluctant Students a Voice
Ava: Janice, if you have all these good ideas about the topic,
why don’t you say them in class?
Janice: Well, by the time I think of them and figure out how
I want to say them, the discussion is over or has moved on,
and I would look stupid.
All teachers know them—the students who sit in
the back of the room and never make a peep. If
prodded, they may reluctantly offer a comment or
opinion, but they are so obviously uncomfortable about
participating that a teacher may wonder if it’s even worth
trying to engage them.
The dialogue transcribed above was an actual conversation Reynold Redekopp’s daughter had with one of her
university classmates, but it typifies the experiences of
many high school students.
Are they unprepared or just shy? Do they lack ideas or
merely need more time to formulate them? Are they uninterested in the content, or are they afraid their comments
will be scoffed at?
We call them level 2, 3, and 4 discussion participants—
those who will enter a discussion occasionally, seldom, or
not at all. In most classes there are four or five students
who will participate in and dominate most class discussions (level 1). A skillful teacher can sometimes get the
level 2 students (those who occasionally participate) involved, and there is always a group of students who will
join in rarely (level 3). But then there are those who participate only under extreme duress, and with limited offerings (level 4). Small group discussions may garner more
participation, but those conversations tend to get lost and
not shared with the whole class.
We have found that interesting and valuable contributions and discussions can occur with a change of time,
space, anonymity, and voice. Using a teacher blog to post
questions and gather student responses gives students that
time, space, and anonymity so that far more of them add
meaningful contributions. An added bonus is that the
comments are available for the whole group to read, reflect
on, and respond to.
The first class to participate in this process was a 10th
grade Advanced Placement English class. Students participated in blog assignments and in regular class discussions. We then ranked students in the four categories of
By Reynold Redekopp and Elizabeth Bourbonniere
participation based on observations during the regular
discussions. There were six regulars (level 1), five occasionals (level 2), and four each in the rare (level 3) and duress
(level 4) categories. We looked at results of the blog comments in light of these rankings.
To start the process, the teacher created a free blog that
allowed for controlled comments. Students were randomly
assigned a number so they would respond, for instance,
as Student 1 or Student 14 . Students were then given 12
possible questions on the blog about Twelfth Night and To
Kill a Mockingbird and had to respond to at least four. Each
question was a separate blog entry. The teacher also posted
the classroom Online Forum Standards as follows:
• Respect others.
• Constructively criticize ideas and not people.
• Use appropriate language.
• Do not identify yourself or others by name.
• Comment and expand on previous posts you find
• Ensure that your posts are relatively short (under 150
• Keep in mind that the teacher must approve comments
before they are posted for others to read.
We found that many of the students in levels 3 and 4
made interesting and interactive contributions. Here are
some sample questions and (unedited) responses from
some of the reluctant students. The first two are from students who rarely participate in class discussions (level
3). The first one illustrates the length of, and interactivity
from, reluctant participants.