By Dinorah Prevost
When I read my class syllabi every semester, the professor’s grade breakdown is the first section I look over. Not because I’m worried about the final or midterm exams — instead, I’m sweating over the class participation grade.
For most students, participating is the easiest part of class. But for the quieter ones, like me, the idea of raising our hands and drawing attention to ourselves is unnerving, especially when there’s no opportunity to reflect and carefully craft answers.
I feel a crippling sense of pressure when I have the expectant eyes of the class focused on me. Drawing attention is a top no-no for introverts.
Yet some professors believe those fast-paced class discussions are a beneficial learning style that should be forced on all their students. Over the summer, I took a class in which the professor declared, on the first day, that participating in class discussions were necessary to understand the material.
Alarm bells immediately went off in my head.
That’s because introverts generally need more time to reflect and process what is going on around them before they can formulate an answer.
Sure enough, those discussions moved at a mind-boggling pace with tons of opinions every few seconds, flying like bullets across the class. That was a nightmare and caused me to give up my opinion. Often, by the time I thought of a response, the conversation drifted in another direction, making my response useless.
I never shared my opinion in that class.
But my professor knew I was engaged because of my overt facial reactions and intense concentration on other students as they spoke.
Another professor this semester acknowledged that habit of mine, saying “I can see you are glued to the class.”
Yes, I am. And that dedication should be appreciated.
In a 2015 article “Engaging the Quiet Kids,” Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking” and Emily Klein, an associate professor of secondary and special education at Montclair State University, highlighted teachers at a pre-K through K-12 school in Connecticut, who changed their classroom policy from “class participation” to “class engagement” to better suit their quiet students.
They wrote that “class engagement” grades the many ways a student participates in class, not only their frequency of speaking.
But for some teachers, silent participation is not good enough in the classroom, or in real life.
In 2013, Jessica Lahey, English teacher and author, wrote about her policy of enforcing class participation in her Atlantic article “Introverted Kids Need to Learn to Speak up at School.”
Lahey, a self-proclaimed extrovert, alluded to class participation as the first step for introverted children who need to learn to advocate for themselves in the real world later on.
“As a teacher, it is my job to teach grammar, vocabulary and literature, but I must also teach my students how to succeed in the world we live in — a world where most people won’t stop talking,” she wrote. “If anything, I feel even more strongly that my introverted students must learn how to self-advocate by communicating with parents, educators and the world at large.”
I’ve had my share of teachers repeating the same lecture to me growing up. And I did learn to “self-advocate,” just not during an over-stimulating class discussion. I instead went to teachers before or after class at my own pace.
Not all students learn from interacting in a loud classroom and professors should understand that. The “one size fits all” idea of class participation should be changed.
When asking questions, give five to ten seconds of reflective time so everyone, not just the fast thinkers, can thoroughly think of an answer.
I appreciate professors who call on me when they see that I’m eager to speak. That way I don’t have to warily break into a hectic discussion on my own.
Quiet students have a lot to share. We just need enough space to butt in, time to think and the patience of our professors.
Pictured Above: In a world full of extroverts it can be hard for introverts to break through the constant talking to share their ideas.