Explore potential strategies.
Students’ individual styles or personalities may inhibit their participation.
Students demonstrate different levels of comfort and facility with class participation. This may be a consequence of their individual personality or style. Those who fail to participate may be shy, introverted, anxious, lack confidence to speak during a class discussion, or be less comfortable in spontaneous or fast-paced situations.
If verbal participation is an explicit and important goal of your course, suggest that students prepare by writing comments or discussion points ahead of time. Invite them to share those comments with you so that you can provide feedback to lessen their anxiety and to boost their confidence, which may result in more participation from those students. For students who are shy or introverted, you can use their written comments to provide a more comfortable entry point into the discussion. For example, you can say something like “Joe had an insightful revelation in his summary of today’s reading. Joe, could you share your ideas with the class?” Or, you can provide students with the specific questions that you will ask them during class (this is different from the strategy above in which students generate their own comments). This allows students to prepare in advance and may reduce the anxiety associated with speaking extemporaneously or the pressure of a quick-paced discussion.
Require all students, at some point during the class, to make a contribution. This could be as easy as going around the room to brainstorm a list or as complicated as giving each student a specific number of chips (e.g., three to five per week) that they deposit each time they make a contribution.
Allow students time to work in pairs or groups with the requirement that they rotate the responsibility of reporting back to the class. This strategy gives everyone in the class an opportunity to speak and supports those students who are more confident and less anxious speaking for a group rather than just for themselves.
Use a tone of voice and non-verbal cues that reward student participation, e.g., nod, establish eye contact, smile, walk toward the speaker. Recognize the inherent ambiguity of certain facial expressions; for example, a furrowed brow can be misinterpreted as disappointment rather than concentration.
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