In my own work, I suggest that we redefine what we mean by classroom participation. Teachers often define classroom participation as a verbal response that fits into a routine that the teacher has established. (Typically, the teacher asks a question, the student responds and the teacher affirms the correctness of the answer. Students are then said to participate.) But can students participate without speaking out loud? Should teachers consider the times that a student gives silent assent to a question or thoughtfully jots notes for a future essay as participation? Are these useful forms of participation? It is important to note that one student’s silence can enable another student to speak. Do students have a responsibility to contribute to the silence of a classroom so that others can talk, along with a responsibility to contribute verbally to the discussion? How might silence be re-framed as a “productive” or useful contribution to classroom classrooms? Finally, how to we create other contexts for participation such as multimedia projects where students “speak” through recorded text.
Lahey claims that she wants to prepare her students for the future where verbal participation is critical for their success. I suggest instead that we rethink how we understand students’ silences. I want us to remain cautious about labeling children as introverts, rather than understanding the larger contexts of how and why they choose to participate in certain ways. Otherwise, the particular contributions these students make to the classroom community may be unheard, unrecognized, and discounted. The absence of talk might lead a teacher to assume the absence of learning. It may be difficult for a student to escape the label of the “silent” student or the “introvert.”
There are potentially grave consequences for students when teachers do not understand their silence as a form of participation. Narrow interpretations of the meanings of silence can lead to false assumptions about student participation in classroom activities. For instance, students who are silent might receive low grades for classroom participation, when in fact they are actively engaged in learning. Rather than working to fix or change “introverts” I suggest we understand the various reasons students choose to participate verbally in classrooms or to refrain from such participation. Shouldn’t our goal as educators be to rethink our classroom as places that support all students to learn?
As someone who graduated from a university where many professors were so huge on class participation (some assigning up to 50-60% of a course grade towards class participation). I totally and completely agree with this author’s stand. First off, I think assigning a grade on how frequently someone speaks up in class, without even taking into account quality and content is extremely simplistic to me. Many times, people will just talk for the sake of talking. There are many ways of “grading” class participation (though I’m not for this idea at all) than simply basing it off just answering a question etc.
Secondly, it also goes to show how many schools/educators etc take a one size fits all approach towards educating students rather than thinking about and adopting different styles in class that would appeal to different types of students and learning orientations.
Third, it also shows how awfully misinformed many people out there when it comes to the concept of introversion/introverts. Lots of people just lump shyness or anti-social behaviour with being introverted and that always irks me. Plus the golden, oft-heard question: Why are you so quiet? The perception might differ culturally, but where I am from, the question often stems from a very judgmental, accusatory place, a you-are-so-quiet-you-arent-doing-something-right conformist attitude that I really dislike and I think needs to change.