A. Grace Martin

Author, Student Teacher, Optimist and Promoter of Self-Empowerment

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Confrontation With �??Otherness�?? Assignment

Posted by agracemartin on January 22, 2015 at 3:45 PM

Too often we take our senses and abilities for granted. Our vision, hearing, and motor skills are often the first abilities to come to mind when talking about physical impairments. What about the ability to speak? Some students have select mutism or are completely mute. How do these people cope with their daily lives? From a less intense perspective, it is interesting to note that some individuals are introverted and choose not to voice their opinions in front of groups of people. What is it like to be one of those students, one who observes and listens to others first?


I spent a school day not talking. I began first thing in the morning, which was fine because my husband and I do not really talk then. I gave him a kiss, went to the door, and turned to call my dog to let him out. I realized that if I were permanently mute, I would have to try re-training my two-year-old dog to respond to clapping and hand signals. Thankfully he heard me walking and arrived at the door shortly. The next obstacle that I faced was while walking to school. I saw two people in my class and wanted to call out to them to say hello. When I realized that I could not, I felt rather lonely and “shoved aside” because neither person noticed me. Upon arriving in the classroom, there was a note on the board to sit with your major, and all tables were full. I sat alone and waited for another science major to arrive. When they did, I waved, but again they did not notice me and tried pulling up chairs to crowded tables. The teacher sent them my way, but I felt very shunned. My instructor tried to find a small whiteboard for me to write on, but apparently they were all being used in another classroom. I ended up writing notes on post-its to communicate, especially during pair-shares.


I found that my mind was more distracted because I could not actively participate. I took the initiative to write things down, but that process was longer than speaking would be, so I needed more time. I noticed that if I did not take that initiative, I could easily use my mutism as an excuse to not be engaged with the content. I always wanted to talk, and caught myself whispering—even just to myself.


Lunch hour did not present much of a challenge because I was not eating socially with friends, but instead attended a professional development lecture in which I sat, listened, and took notes. This structure certainly was not a detriment to my learning, much unlike the discussion-based Education classes.


In Social Context class I felt very lonely and invisible. At break someone asked me a social question, but did not wait for me to get out my computer or a post-it note to write a response. In pairs or small group discussion, others would patiently wait for me to communicate by writing, but it was a timely detriment. During whole class discussions I experienced a very high degree of anxiety. I noticed that I was not even formulating my ideas in the same way because I was not expecting to answer questions orally. I started to fidget and feel a lot of frustration because whenever opposing views to mine were voiced, I felt extremely bottled and disempowered to raise a counter-point.


I was frustrated specifically that no one seemed to understand the underlying imperialistic tones for the English majority-speaking language. Although it is a good point that if an individual is attempting to learn a language, the best way to learn it is to practice it frequently. However, one student said if those students want to speak their native tongue, then they can leave the building. What is it saying if you have to get out of the building to speak your own language? Is there any free choice in students being forced to use the dominant language at all times? I wanted to chime in so badly.


The most difficult moment for me was when another person said that they were not sure if they would want to see society changed, that it was sufficient. I am extremely opposed to this view. While I would not deny that we are arguably a more efficient society than medieval times, I believe that our society is riddled with inequalities that should be brought to light and addressed. I feel that anyone who argues differently has become too comfortable with their privileges and is blind to the social injustices inherent in our current structure. Therefore it was extremely difficult not to express my desire to see educators encouraging students to question the status quo. Even if I had tried to write down my opinion, it would have taken too long and the moment of that discussion quickly passed. Not to mention that I could not seem to formulate my thoughts into words because all I felt was emotional frustration and anxiety in that setting.


Going into this confrontation with differences assignment, I thought that I would gain insight into introverted students, but I did not. I could not seem to get over the fact that I could not cognitively focus and comprehend at my usual level. I felt emotional about being ignored, frustrated that I was distracted from the teacher’s instruction, and annoyed that I could not communicate in a timely manner. I feel that I gained an insight into what a learning disability must feel like, because I apparently process information by engaging with it and formulating responses to it in my own words. Oral participation keeps me accountable to the course content, so I can see how some students with a disability acquire a sense of learned helplessness. I realized that if I had wanted to, I could have skipped the readings and no one would have been the wiser. Class discussions do not hold all students accountable to the information.


This made me think about differential assessment. If not all students can present a triangulation of evidence in the same way, then it is the responsibility of the educator to evaluate that student’s understanding in a way that is fair. In my case, a teacher would not have been able to collect conversational evidence by listening in on my group’s discussions, nor able to collect observational evidence shown by participation. The only evidence that would be accurate for a student who is mute to showcase his or her understanding is through written work. This would be quite a disadvantage for someone who also had writing difficulties. The entire process of assessing such differentiated needs seems to be a very tricky grey area. I think that the inequalities some students face makes it difficult for teachers to provide an equal playing field for all. I think that it takes a lot of determination on the part of the teacher to recognize, come to understand, and propose solutions to these disparities.

Categories: Teaching Blog

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