What students hear
This is just a brief note written in a brief break from reading a not-brief stack of papers. I need to express my astonishment about how much students are taking in when it doesn’t appear they’re listening at all. One day in class a month ago we were talking about the internet and current technological fears. I paused and gave an impromptu overview of literacy revolutions that preceded the internet: writing, printing. I talked about what was at stake in each of these revolutions, both culturally and economically. As I talked, my students took no notes. Their faces were expressionless. I wondered whether they thought I was insane, suddenly talking about these literacy revolutions. I wondered whether they were even following what I was saying. I wondered what they were thinking and whether it had any connection to what I was saying. As I concluded my remarks, they gave me no clues. No questions, nothing. I just assumed that they were waiting for me to get on with the avowed topic of the day, which was a class-based analysis of Nicholas Carr’s and the NEA’s laments about the decline of reading.
And now I read the arguments they made on a different topic. The class collaboratively chose their own topics for this argument paper, deriving their choices from the readings we’d been doing in class. One group chose to explore the question “Is the internet making us smarter?”
I’ve read four of the papers from that group so far, and guess what. Two of the four have brought up the fears from prior literacy revolutions and speak about those revolutions with a fair amount of clarity, accuracy, and authority. There’s no textual evidence that they researched the issue; it appears that they simply were listening to what I was saying, taking it in, remembering it, and thinking it relevant to the course inquiry.
Which puts me in the humbling position of being reminded that my students, even though they may not be performing for me, may be listening to what I’m saying, making meaning of it, and making use of it.