Class Participation: Be Loud and Be Proud
by Eliza Scharfstein on Friday, February 21st, 2014
Remember that kid in middle school, who waved her hand, practically jumping out of her seat at every question the teacher asked? The one who always had an answer and got annoyed when she wasn’t called on? Well, I was that kid. This description is a bit exaggerated, but nevertheless, we are all familiar with this kind of student. Most seem to find the typical “know-it-all” annoying, competitive, and obnoxious. When I entered high school, I realized that my peers might judge me for my forward approach. Here at Milton, where we attend multiple discussion-based classes, we are encouraged, if not incentivized (e.g. participation grade), to speak up in conversations. However, while we tirelessly pour our energy into essays, tests and projects, so many of us—including myself—often fail to participate.
Of course, laziness is a factor in students’ lack of participation. Maybe we are bored, tired, or even forget we’re in class at all. However, often, we are zoning out because we are not taking part in the conversation. Why are we near silent in class? We work hard, care about our grades, and aspire to succeed, but our lack of effort on the participation front doesn’t add up.
Our aspirations in most cases aren’t limited to the classroom. Besides doing well in school, we want to be popular or perhaps just socially accepted. At Milton, in general, being intellectual is admirable, not weird. But even here, where it’s the norm to be hardworking, I still find that my peers judge each other for speaking “too much” in class. Beyond fearing that we might appear like a “know it all,” we are often also afraid that we will say something unintelligent. Instead of risking sounding “stupid,” we choose to refrain from speaking at all.
During a recent dinner table conversation, my family and I were discussing how to deal this very issue. One cousin brought up the idea that we must find a balance between being too eager and not speaking at all. I agreed that the ideal student knows how to navigate both the social and academic politics of the classroom. He is silent the majority of the time, but makes intelligent remarks every once in a while.
After almost a week of contemplation of this topic, though, I refute this description. Instead, I believe that, despite the possible judgments from peers, speaking up in class—to answer one question or twenty—is both important and admirable. By asking questions, arguing with others, and reiterating ideas, we contribute to the overall classroom learning experience. And as annoying as this behavior may seem in class, beyond the confines of the Harkness table, we don’t choose our friends by whether they are a “know-it-all” or not. A student’s desire to learn should be celebrated, not rejected.
We are graded on our class participation for a reason: the ability to engage in conversation and think on the spot are both difficult yet essential tasks. Some might argue that if we perform well on tests and write good essays we should automatically earn an A. But although written ideas are important, if we cannot debate with our peers, ask intelligent questions, and articulate ourselves gracefully, we fail to master an important skill, one that will serve us far beyond the classroom.
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