Passing Notes In Class

Yesterday I had a very interesting conversation with a girl in one of my classes.  Her background is Chinese, but she’s been living in Canada for the past three years.  Over the past few days of working as a SWST in her class, I’ve noticed that she’s very quiet.  Her social interactions mostly happen with another Chinese boy in class.  Their conversations are mostly in Mandarin.  

Yesterday the students were writing a quiz, and I took a peek to see how she was doing.  As soon as she got the paper, she got to work.  This hooked me.  She could read and write fluently, fluidly, and under pressure.

She finished the quiz before the end of the period.  Her teacher had told the class to continue working on another assignment quietly so that other students could finish free of distractions.  

I took the opportunity to ask her a few questions by writing them on my iPad and passing it back and forth with her.

First, I asked if she was busy (my first rule when talking with students about their learning in SWST). Then I asked her if she participated in any clubs/teams at school.  She told me “no”.  I then asked her about people that she hung out with.  She told me that she mostly stuck to students that spoke Mandarin or Cantonese (she is from a city that is very close to Hong Kong).  

While thinking through exactly how I was going to word “why” (it’s really not my job to be interfering in her social circles, but I felt that it did have an impact on her learning), I thought instead about a more empathetic/compassionate approach. The next note I passed her on my iPad did not say “why”; it said, “I speak Ukrainian and French too.  When I visit those countries, I can speak, but I have to think more about my speaking.  It makes my head hurt.  It makes me tired. Same for you?”  The look on her face was priceless.  She sighed audibly and smiled.  I had nailed it.

We then passed notes back and forth about how she prefers written communication (reading and writing in all forms) to spoken communication, and I wondered if the asynchronous nature of written communication let her control the pace of conversation and thus reduce cognitive load.

… Which is in complete opposition to our approach to English Language Learners (ELLs) in Ontario.

I pushed out a tweet (Yup! With a typo!) and got a few thoughts from my friends Scott Kemp and Lisa Noble (THANK YOU!).

I also found this passage from a Thinking Collaboratively (which I haven’t read… not an endorsement):


No real answers just yet, just some good starting points.

Is asynchronous communication less cognitively demanding than real-time communication?  What might this mean for the conversations that we have with the students in our classes?

I’m searching.  If you have any leads, please write them in the comment section below, or shoot me a tweet or an email.

Thanks in advance for the help.


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