Centering the Periphery: Giving Students’ Voice and Choice, pp. 2 of 4

The results of the research were encouraging. For instance, quantitative and qualitative data revealed that the students were engaged in the discussion of controversial issues. Out of 40 students, 26 conducted independent research before the discussion of issues as evidenced by the notes that they submitted. More than half of the students (26 students) changed their initial stance on an issue, based on their response in the Likert scale on the survey. Delving deeper into the data, I found out that out of these 26 students, 6 students had a complete change of stance after listening to the opinions of others during their discussion.

Based upon the findings, I felt validated that the student-centered structured discussion about complex issues was beneficial and preferable as an approach when introducing controversial issues for primary school students. By making my views known, I also opened myself up to be vulnerable as I welcomed students to challenge my views. I felt this exposure would encourage some of my reserved students to make known their views too. 

The positive experience emboldened me to plan a similar lesson with a different group of Primary Six students this year. I felt that I was opening up my students’ mind towards issues that they would not have otherwise encountered in Social Studies. The use of structured discussion provided students with the opportunity to have a dialogue about the issues in a safe environment yet girded by a framework so that the discussion would not go off tangent. As the teacher who was carrying out the lesson, I had taught the class for the last two years and created what I felt was a sufficiently safe environment where the students could engage in conversation without fear of ridicule and contempt of their ideas from others.

However, upon deeper reflection and with some space and time from the teaching event of last April, I now question some of my assumptions and observations of the class. Admittedly, I had tried to ensure a safe environment to have a dialogue by laying down ground rules to be observed by all students and cultivating a conducive open classroom culture. For instance, everyone should have an equal opportunity to speak and there should be no interruption when someone was giving their opinion. I had hoped that in this way there would not be a monopoly of voices, especially by the boys who outnumbered the girls quite significantly (25 boys to 15 girls). However, notwithstanding my ground rules, I now deliberate on how safe the girls or even anyone in my class really felt in voicing out their opinions. Despite the data and my observation of the liveliness of the discussion, could it be that they, as Ellsworth (1989) suggests, “are not talking in their authentic voice” (p. 313)? There could be a possibility that they might have self-censored their initial opinion or “they were encoded, on the basis of speaker’s conscious and unconscious assessment of the risks and costs of disclosing their understandings of themselves and of others” (Ellsworth, 1989, p. 313). I could not completely discount that notion.

Besides the gender inequality which might have contributed to some students’ editing or modifying their responses, I also did not take into account racial “silencing” that might be present when “Others” place themselves against the archetypal myth of dominant groups in society. Chinese students comprised the dominant race of the class (approximately 78%). Therefore, instead of the myth of the ideal rational person being “European, White, male, middle class, Christian, able-bodied, thin and heterosexual” (Ellsworth, 1989, p.304), the dominant mythical types in my class might very well be Chinese, male and pubertal. 

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

Newsletter Subscription

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay up-to-date with new journal issues!