Strategies to make sure learners are all heard

21 Jan
From: (Creative Commons License)

First of all, let’s not think of learners as simply the little (or big) kids in our classes. Let’s consider colleagues, family, and community members as well. Now, to ensure that all learners and peers feel they are seen, valued, and heard in whatever learning environment, we should work through a multi-pronged approach:


Back-channels can be as simple as having a learning talk to another educator or learning assistant while larger group conversations are taking place. But they can also be employed digitally. The quiet, shy, and those for whom are more articulate with typing can be saying their piece through chats, through, shared documents, through systematic Tweets, and through comments on websites or documents. Don’t forget to allow as many means to comment as well. For example, multimedia and audio comments should be enabled along with typed comments to enact the ability of less academic or more artistic to express themselves.


Ensure that student are not being called upon in class by raising their hands to answer. Almost always there will be a small minority who dominate the conversation, a few who will contribute sporadically, and a possibly a large majority who will never contribute at all. If raising hands to answer questions is standard practice in a classroom, it’s time to change. Use random selection: popsicle sticks, Random name picker websites, Wheel of names, or some other method.


Talk with the community members with whom you are working in order to get to know them on a one-to-one basis.  In crafting conversations, use “yes + and” rather than “yes + but” dialogue to enable synergistic and growing ideas.  The “yes + and” means that you are adding to the conversation and ideas rather than shutting down or disregarding thoughts that the other person may hold dear to themselves.


Try to paraphrase and clarify intent and understanding from those with whom you are working.  It is one thing to agree, to say, “I understand”, or to ask for feedback – but rephrasing someone else’s words to ask them if they have said or intended what you have reworded is the best way to: A) get clarification that the process forward you have described is what they intended, and B) remember it for yourself as you have now built your own mental schema by paraphrasing for understanding.


Document and reflect while using quantitative, qualitative, and anecdotal data to co-create and set up mentorship and paths of learning.  Quantitative data can be attained from online programs – for example: RAZ Reading Records, Mathletics, Prodigy, Kahoot, Edpuzzle, or Seesaw – or from diagnostic and formative assessments like Common Writing Assessments, WIDA, or JAM Math assessments. Qualitative data is the written, the non-numerical, the info that embellishes the quantitative. Anecdotal is the everything in between that “tells the story”, is “heard on the way”, and is often the information that you didn’t realize was the “diamonds in the rough”. Through conversations with others, however, you recognize it is the most important piece of the puzzle.


Educators need to sculpt time into their week where they focus on the learners, where they bring the data together and the anecdotes to talk about the students with needs, the accelerated students — but most importantly — the average, middle student. Our middle learners are the students who get left behind in teaching and learning because their behaviour is on-track and they are always on-task doing what they need to do. If special attention is not given to them where teachers talk about their needs, interests, academic standings, friend groups, and next steps, the educators as a whole might realize they do not really even know these students at the end of the year.

To correct this – Set aside a meeting per week, decide who will be talked about. Try to limit each meeting to three to four students per one hour. Invite ALL teachers and people who work with them to the meetings. You will be surprised how much you learn and know about the students. More importantly, you will find out what gaps you have about the students and where you need to invest time in getting to know them better. For each student, develop a “next steps” section where you have a plan for how you are going to support them on their journey forward. Share these notes with the teachers who get them the following year. My assertion is that these are the most important meetings you will have each week.


At meetings, start them with a recap of what you talked about last time and what is unfinished business. All too often I have seen people continue on with next agenda item, forgoing what they were meant to do before. Also, follow-up with the conversations and needs from these meetings. Work alongside colleagues leading, supporting, or building in-class push-ins.  All of these types of support should be reviewed and talked about through formal or informal means. 


Adhere to the philosophy that ‘there is no rush’ and have the expectations that teachers and community members are on a journey where you try to meet them pragmatically and compassionately.  Realize that with everything people will be understanding each other differently – culturally, systematically, with differing prior experiences, knowledge, and alternative world-views and understandings.

We’ve heard of the Diffusion of Innovation Curve:

Developed from Rogers (1971)

Each of us will fall onto this curve for anything new – tech, ideas, products, or processes. And the enthusiasts/innovators and early adopters/visionaries need to listen to the skeptics/laggards the most. They will learn from them. It may take weeks, months, even years, but there are messages to be learned.

Known also that the enthusiasts and early adopters might be on the near left (read: mount stupid) of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

(Creative Commons License)

These people with something new to present or try may be excited but may have no idea for how the new idea can actually be implemented, made, or used. It is wise for them to listen to the laggards and the late majority because of their trepidation and because they are cautious, waiting, and testing. Again, lots to learn.


Finally, meet one-on-one, have small cohort meetings, meet above and below grade levels to talk, and bolster an online presence both in-house and for the greater community. Be a part of organizing and facilitating learning groups meant to help disseminate knowledge and develop professional critiques.  In all instances of support, check-ins, feedback about iterative progress, and celebration of goals and failures are crucial to success.


Posted by on January 21, 2022 in Technology


2 responses to “Strategies to make sure learners are all heard

  1. Karen Stovell

    January 22, 2022 at 3:24 am

    This article is fascinating. Well worth the read. Also spent some time with ‘Who is Thomas Johnson’. Most informative.



    On Fri, Jan 21, 2022 at 1:15 AM education | technology | design wrote:

    > | Tom Johnson posted: ” From: > > (Creative Commons License) First of all, let’s not think of learners as > simply the little (or big) kids in our classes. Let’s consider colleagues, > family” >

    • | Tom Johnson

      January 23, 2022 at 10:43 am

      So happy that you found this interesting. I think this is the first time that you have commented on my blog. Any other feedback is always welcome.


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