Students Shouldn’t Have to Speak in Front of the Class

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Henderson_Family_Day_Arm_2007.jpg, CC-BY-2.0
Image: Wikimedia Commons, Henderson_Family_Day_Arm_2007.jpg, CC-BY-2.0

I’ve been saying this for over 35 years, since the first time my teacher made us all participate in Show and Tell. I hated speaking in front of people then, and I hate doing it now. In between, I hated being called on when my hand wasn’t raised, which some teachers did to try to encourage more participation. But all it succeeded in doing was to make me fear those classes and to be so busy worrying that I wasn’t learning. I hated oral presentations. I hated having to be the spokesperson for group work. I hated anything that caused me to be the center of attention for more than a couple of people at a time.

Katherine Schultz, the author of a not-so-recent (but new to me) article in The Washington Post seems to agree with me, that forcing students to verbally participate in class may not be the best way to teach all students.

I come out of my shell only when I feel comfortable and accepted. Your typical classroom is not a warm and fuzzy place. It is a place where kids are thrown together because their birthdays were within a year of each other. It is a place of disparate interests, abilities, attitudes, and levels of respect. It is a hot bed for the dominant to.. well.. dominate, regardless of deservedness.

I learn best when I can observe for a while, and then try my hand at something in private, without an often-judgmental audience. Forcing me to verbally participate before I am ready not only is fruitless, it is counter productive. It ensures that I’ll never be ready. There are countless others out there like me.

This article from The Washington Post posits that perhaps there are more ways to participate in class than just raising your hand to answer a question. What does it mean to participate? What can count as part of a “participation” grade?

Some people seem to think that later success is somehow tied to speaking up in class. But there are countless jobs and life choices that do not include this kind of interaction. If someone is drawn to other types of work, why continually force them to be someone they are not?

Just because we are not raising our hands and speaking in front of our classmates doesn’t mean we aren’t learning. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Katherine Schultz is also the author of the book Rethinking Classroom Participation: Listening to Silent Voices.

[Ed. Note: Opinions of the author do not necessarily reflect those of the editors or other writers of GeekDad.]

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