Classroom Participation: Making Contributions that Count

It has been known through surveys that the population fears public speaking more than death (Croston, 2012).  How do we reconcile this when, in some cases, 15%-40% of your grade can depend on this category called “class participation”? Some classes are now being “flipped” in that the professor facilitates conversation and guides the classroom discussion. This style of instruction is so that students can learn from each other instead of blankly and passively receiving knowledge from a teacher. Here are some simple strategies that may alleviate the reluctance to participate in class.

Before Class:

  1. Be prepared: This means doing the readings, familiarizing yourself with the syllabus and course materials. Each week there usually is a theme or concept being covered in class, so make sure to engage with that topic through the readings and assignments.
  2. Make notes: during the readings or homework, try to explicitly make connections and link the main ideas of the week. Write down anything you found interesting enough to react to, agree with, disagree with, or have questions about.

During Class:

  1. Engage in the Discussion: get involved when someone asks a question, or ask a question yourself, or provide a comment. If you’re really nervous, try to say something at the beginning of class so you don’t get more anxious as time passes.
  2. Make your comments brief and to the point. It’s better to be clear than attempt to sound “smart” by being long-winded.
  3. Direct your comments to the class instead of a particular individual. Democratic discussions aren’t about attacking individuals, but rather collectively interrogating ideas.
  4. Jot down notes during the discussion, that way you can relate to what is being said and organize your thoughts and comments accordingly. You may even use those notes for an exam or paper later in the semester, or even perhaps continue the conversation with the professor or TA in office hours.

Sources: 

Classroom participation tips adapted from K. T. McWhorter (1986) College Reading and Study Skills.

Croston, G. (2012). The thing we fear more than death. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-real-story-risk/201211/the-thing-we-fear-more-death.

Staff Writer: Victoria Gill 

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