Practicing the art of participation

Theresa Lee, Staff Writer

The teacher surveys the classroom, seeking a student willing to contribute. The same people eagerly raise their hands, plausible solutions scrawled on their notebooks or mentally noted. But there is a twist this time: the teacher wants new hands. I sink further down into my chair, my hands clammy from clutching the edge of my seat. I pretend to jot down something important, averting the teacher’s gaze. No luck, though, since my name has just been called. Shock settles in.

Oh no.

As my classmates turn to face me, my pounding heart threatens to rip through my rib cage, and my face reddens to a shade of ripe strawberries. Swimming in confusion, I blurt out an answer speckled with “like”s and incomplete sentences. Not the correct one, not even close. The teacher calls on another student across from me, who provides an accurate answer in clearly structured sentences.

Why am I so nervous about verbally participating in class? 

Soon enough, my lacking participation grades, muddled understanding of academic concepts and humiliating discussion experiences led me to change my silent habits. Through the advice of teachers and family members, I produced four steps allowing me to inch closer to my goal of active participation. 

Step One: Establish a mode of communication. Email questions to your teacher and schedule meetings, if needed. Practice talking to your teacher one-on-one before facing the overwhelming sensation of having dozens of eyes on you.

Step Two: Ask at least one question during class. If you’re confused, then many other students are probably confused as well. Even though it might make you feel embarrassed, asking questions clears up content for you and your peers while signifying your desire to learn.

Step Three: Share your thoughts by adding on to your peer’s opinion. If thinking on the spot is difficult, type or write down your ideas to refer back to when speaking. If a grade is assigned to the number of times you participate, prepare notes in advance, listing meaningful ideas you can contribute to the class discussion.

Step Four: Speak slowly, and think through your words. Don’t feel rushed to form grammatically perfect sentences in the span of one second — talking fast doesn’t make what you’re saying more important. Given the time to think, omit “like” or “um” from your speech. If you lose your train of thought, pause to collect your ideas before speaking again.

With these steps, I’ve learned to participate more during class, and I linger now and then between steps three and four. I’m yet to become a fully active participant in my classes, but the effort to talk brings me closer to my goal. At times, I still get nervous about sharing, and my cheeks flush uncontrollably when I’m uncomfortable. But who knows? In time, I might be the one dominating the discussion.