Coming up with something to say

A blank sheet or paper or empty screen can make things worse when someone has a bad case of writer's block. The opportunity to appear before an audience can heighten fears of making a fool of oneself. Whenever Web 2.0 tools contribute to decreased student engagement, it's possible the tools are no help with coming up with something to say and the courage to face the consequences of having said it.

A majority of people rank "public speaking" as their greatest fear. It's likely each has internalized nightmare experiences of getting teased, shot down or embarrassed in front of others. Survivors of abusive relationships are ashamed of exposing their thoughts or feelings. They believe they are mistakes that are not worthy of respect, not one of us humans who make mistakes.

When I've provided a preamble to students about to deliver class presentations, I attempt to de-escalate the adversarial context that fuels their fears. I remind them how school typically penalizes them for making mistakes and how learning to do things better only occurs by making mistakes. I offer them the choice of appearing perfect from the git go or appearing dedicated to further improvements. I suggest they can cling to their past history or let go of it to face the opportunity with less familiarity. I'm deliberately creating a context that supports risk taking, tolerance of imperfections and getting better ideas "for next time" after the presentation.

Web 2.0 tools may be getting offered as course requirements without any supportive context. They may "stare back at the students" like a blank sheet of paper. They may look as bad as standing up on stage in front of a hostile crowd. They may stir up lots of bad memories that inhibit self expression, sharing with others or learning from classmates contributions. In these cases, the "tools for engagement" could easily backfire and yield more disengagement.


  1. Kia ora e Tom!

    I often think of the 'blank sheet of paper' and all that it connotes as reflecting in the mind of the beholder what is in the mind to start with. It is the same with public speaking. If one has nothing to say, of course the idea of speaking public is going to instil fear.

    The same can be said of the canvas of a would-be-artist-painter or the lump of clay of the would-be-sculptor.

    It's not the sheet of paper or the lump of clay or, for that matter, the Web2.0 tool that is to be blamed for instilling fear. It is what is or is not in the mind of the fearer.

    Catchya later

  2. Kei te pēhea koe Ken?
    I agree with your locating the fear in the person, not the tool. I'd add the possibility that people go blank when they have too much to say, thus no way to start putting it into words. That's a more common experience for me than nothing to say.


  3. Kei te pai Tom!

    A skill of a teacher is culling the unnecessary. It can anticipate what's sometimes called the cognitive apprentice theory, and allay the subsequent confusion that a learner may have.

    It's similar with a public audience. The best speakers meet their audience where it is at and leave the rhetoric to the politicians.

    Ka kite anō

  4. Right on Ken!
    Besides the "culling of the unnecessary", I've been thinking that cognitive apprenticeships go much better when the teacher is modeling the desired cognitive behavior. When learners can imitate the thought process, rather than mimic the words, they will then think it through on their own sooner and better.

    Hei konā