Educator Stacey Roshan believes that when schools prioritize students who are most vocal and quickest to raise their hand, the perspectives of too many are lost. That’s why she uses edtech tools in the classroom to provide a safe space where she can encourage all types of learners to contribute.
When Roshan was in high school, she feared the moment she might be called on in class. A self-described introvert and perfectionist, she needed time to process and formulate a response before she was ready to share.
Now, as a teacher, Roshan leverages technology to create more equitable and empowering forums for discussion in her classroom—shifting away from a culture that praises the first person to raise their hand to one where every individual has a platform that supports them in making their ideas seen and heard.
Roshan recently shared her ideas about how to use edtech to engage introverted learners in a TED-Ed Educator Talk. You can view her talk on the TED-Ed Educator Talks channel, which is dedicated to celebrating great ideas in education. See a lightly edited version of the transcript here, published with her permission.
Let’s take a trip back to high school. Do you remember what participation felt like? Did you have to raise your hand to answer questions? Were you loud or quiet or somewhere in between?
When I think about high school, I vividly remember my 11th grade math class. There’s a huge whiteboard at the front of the room. As the teacher lectures, I’m scribbling down everything that I see on the board, verbatim, in my notebook. The teacher pauses to ask a question and I feel butterflies in my stomach immediately. My palms are getting sweaty, so I sit on my hands and hope the teacher doesn’t randomly call on me next.
I’m paying attention. I’ve done all my homework. I’m getting an A in the class.
But when it comes to having an answer on the spot, I’m scared, uncertain, anxious. I haven’t had time to process all the notes I’ve scribbled down. What if I give the incorrect answer in front of all of my classmates? I don’t want to be wrong.
My friend raises her hand and answers the question. I’m so relieved. But, I also feel defeated. Clearly, I must not be as smart as her; if I was, I would have been raising my hand. Right?
Here is a fundamental flaw in how many classrooms operate: Students raise their hand to contribute or teachers cold-call on them to respond. Students who regularly speak up earn participation points and receive positive reinforcement for contributing. Teachers might even mistakenly assume they’re having a truly dynamic class because of a robust and lively conversation with a few hand-raisers.
And this doesn’t just happen in school. Even as adults, we often do the same, we just don’t assign a letter grade for contribution. We still assign value, though. We still give weight to the ideas of those who are most vocal and quick to have something to add. What’s more, we consistently miss out on the contributions of so many when we don’t make the space for everyone’s ideas and thoughts to be represented.
Everyone loses when we don’t hear from all voices.
But we can leverage technology to create more equitable and empowering forums for discussion—to shift from a culture that praises the first person to raise their hand, to one where every individual has a platform to make their ideas seen and heard. I’m talking about using simple web apps.
As an introverted perfectionist who needed time to process and formulate a response before I was ready to share, I began to confuse faster with smarter. Because I saw my peers answering more questions than I was in class—and getting praised for it—I struggled to feel like I measured up.
And this took a toll on me. I started to believe that I was not good enough.
And so, as a math teacher, it has become my mission to find ways to spotlight all of the unique voices and personalities in my classroom, and to celebrate the diverse approaches students choose to share, rather than valuing one.
Technology has helped me provide a safe space in which all students can contribute to a conversation. The loudest voice is not the only voice in my classroom. And the last person to respond has the same opportunity for their reply to drive the conversation further as the first.
I want to help educators understand how they can use technology to:
- See what all students are thinking without calling an individual student out;
- Emphasize process over product;
- Celebrate multiple approaches to a problem;
- Provide an environment where all students feel safe and comfortable in sharing so that we’re able to build next-level relationships and trust.
Providing All Students a Space to Share
Let’s start with that first idea—providing all students a space to share their thoughts, whether or not they choose to raise their hand and share. Pear Deck was a game changer in allowing me to help each student feel safe contributing to the conversation. It’s an interactive presentation tool where I can embed questions directly into my Google Slides. Students can reply to each question from their own device, and as students are typing, drawing or selecting their response from a list, I can see what each individual respondent is contributing in real-time.
This tool gives those students who need time to craft a reply from behind a screen the chance to do it. This isn’t to say that tech integration is about students hiding behind their laptops, typing or drawing their thoughts. But we do want to use it to allow every student to actively engage and contribute. For students who are more vocal, their best work might happen when we bring the discussion to the board to talk about the various answers. What we are doing here is providing an opportunity to see all ideas represented, and we can shine the spotlight on contributions that would have gone unheard.
With a tool like Pear Deck, answers are displayed without names attached so that we can discuss mistakes and analyze errors without calling individual students out. Creating that safety is an important factor. So is helping students understand that mistakes are an important element of learning, which leads me to emphasizing process over product.
Emphasizing Process Over Product
How we can leverage educational technology to emphasize process over product? As I strive to help my students see that mistakes are a critical component of learning, I can use tech tools to draw attention to an incorrect answer without the class knowing who submitted that response, helping me build a classroom culture that honors mistakes as part of our collective growth.
In addition, the real-time nature of seeing students work in a tool like Pear Deck provides a snapshot into how students are thinking through a problem. To help, I have a class set of Wacom tablets, which my students simply plug into their laptops so they are able to write out their math with an actual pen.
I use Pear Deck for class warm-ups, offering students an opportunity to show how they were working through each problem. With less of a focus on the final answer, I’m able to see unique approaches that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. And, when I bring these ideas to the board for discussion, more students are suddenly eager to contribute because they see a variety of solution methods highlighted on the projector.
Celebrate Multiple Approaches to a Problem
Celebrating various approaches is also a key element of learning. Providing all students an opportunity to verbalize their thinking process on video has opened up awesome pathways for peer-to-peer learning in my classroom. To give every student a space to talk through their ideas out loud, I use Flipgrid, a threaded video discussion platform that allows students to record and post a video directly to a grid of replies from their laptop or phone.
I have students solve math questions on video with an emphasis on teaching their classmates how to solve the problem they are tackling. This gives me great insight into how students are going about problems. But even better, by posting to the grid, we can celebrate multiple approaches to the same problem and students learn so much from their classmates.
This becomes even more powerful when we extend the activity beyond the walls of our classroom. I have been able to set up collaborations with other schools, where all of our students are posting to the same grid of video replies. In this way, my learners can see how students with a different teacher, in a different district or state, would approach a topic. We’re able to notice similarities and differences, and students can learn new strategies from one another. This is such a simple way to set up powerful peer-to-peer learning moments for everyone involved. Just take a look at some of the engagement numbers we have tracked in Flipgrid. My AP Calculus group has picked up 10,938 views and 366.5 hours of engagement to-date.
It’s been incredible to see some of my quietest students find their voice on video. Some students have the time and space to script a response before recording if that is their style. Others casually talk things out to their webcam. Though students know that their classmates will watch their response once it’s posted, they still have the opportunity to record in the environment that is most comfortable to them. Some students only record at their desk at home, while others record anywhere and everywhere. And there are always one or two students who record on their phone while pacing their room. What’s important here is that students get to choose where to record, how to record and whether they want to re-record before submitting.
Provide an Environment Where All Students Feel Safe and Comfortable in Sharing
Tech tools can be leveraged to provide platforms to help all students find a space where they feel safe and comfortable in sharing so that we’re able to build next-level relationships and trust. Flipgrid’s video moderation feature helps me with this. It allows a student to post a video that is only visible to me. I call these “private Flipgrid check-ins.” Before every assessment, I have students post to a private topic so that they can talk out what’s going well, what they’re nervous about and anything that they want to share. Students have a lot to say when I open up this forum for them to talk.
When I say that giving students a chance to share through video has transformed the relationships I’ve been able to build in my teaching, I am not exaggerating. Take Derek, a student I will never forget. It was October, and I sat down to listen to his private Flipgrid check-in. When the video started, he’s sitting there with a stack of papers laid out in front of him. And he picks one of them up and starts talking to me.
“Hi, Ms. Roshan. OK, so, the first question is what mistakes did I make on the last quiz. So on number 1, I confused the bounds of the integral …”
And then he holds his paper up to the webcam and says, “I don’t know if you can see it, but I highlighted how I should have drawn this problem out. So now, I definitely understand that and will make sure to sketch out the picture next time.”
He continues on, showing me which problems he struggled with originally and why he now feels comfortable solving them. He talks to me about how my corrections have helped him better understand the concepts.
I get this snapshot into how Derek is processing feedback and growing from it. This was a side of Derek that I wasn’t able to see in the classroom. After watching his video, I respond back to his Flipgrid, right inside the platform. So we are able to have this two-way communication channel, and Derek is able to receive private and very personalized feedback from me. He knew I had listened to everything he had to say, in detail, and so he continued to open up more and more on the Flipgrid assignments. I told him how impressed I was by his thoughtful reflection and the time he was taking to look back at prior work. And with this, his confidence grew.
This confidence boost carried over to the public Flipgrid assignments, where students were tasked with recording a solution their classmates could learn from. The videos Derek recorded were so detailed and clear, as if he was a teacher making a tutorial for the class. It’s not easy to make instructional videos but Derek put in the extra time and effort to make sure that his classmates could easily learn from his explanations. I never would have had a chance to see Derek take on this level of leadership if I hadn’t built that trusting relationship early on and then provided the opportunity for him to share on the platform that worked best for him.
And that’s the heart of it. When we give our learners the right forum to express their ideas and integrate tools that allow them to respond in a way that is most comfortable to them, we allow each student’s most powerful voice to shine. We show students that there are a variety of ways for them to contribute their thoughts and make an impact. We allow them to feel safe in sharing and are able to coach them based on what they need, as individuals.