The classroom is so quiet you could hear a pin drop … this is a situation every student knows well. It is the silence that comes after the teacher asks a question, expecting a response from one of the students but is instead greeted with blank stares and eye contact avoidance.
Somebody knows the answer, yet chooses not to speak. Why? Why not end the awkwardness that every single person in the room obviously feels?
Coming from someone who opts to listen more than speak in class, I understand why students might not want to speak up. I pay attention and understand what is happening, but I’m not one to talk out loud. I see nothing wrong with that. There will always be quiet students, just as there will always be students that love sharing their opinion.
Silence is not necessarily a bad thing. According to a Sept. 5, 2010 Chronicle of Higher Education article, titled, “What’s the Problem with Quiet Students? Anyone? Anyone?” silence fits with some students learning style and possibly their culture. U.S. universities are quick to applaud those students who speak often, but many students may be better visual learners or have learned from their home cultures to value speaking and silence differently.
Many cultures portray silence as a sign of deep respect and is more valued than talking, according to the Feb. 12, 2013 Washington Post article, “Why introverts shouldn’t be forced to talk in class.” I realize that for a professor, students not answering a question in class can be frustrating – but it’s equally as frustrating as a student to not have a teacher realize that they may not feel comfortable speaking in front of their peers.
Personally, I really enjoy the new apps that allow anonymous discussion during class. In previous classes, we’ve downloaded an app that allows us to ask questions through our cell phones or laptops anonymously. I think this allows students who are too afraid to ask questions aloud feel more comfortable and still have their question answered.
Incorporating this new technology in class is a simple way to keep both students and teachers happy. As long as questions are getting asked and answered, who really cares how? This is not to say that we should eliminate speaking in class entirely. Speaking in front of others is good for everyone to have to do at some point in time, but there is a right and wrong way for that to happen. Putting students on the spot is not going to help them in the long run.
Is it fair to have grades on class participation, or lack thereof, in college? A November 2009 American Historical Association article, titled, “Should Class Participation be Graded?” makes a good point. Would you rather have students speaking because they truly understand and want to make a valid point, or because they have to for a certain grade?
Students will speak up in class if and when they feel comfortable doing so. If they feel the environment is relaxed and the people around are accepting, then they’ll have no problem voicing their opinions. Until then, we all have to keep in mind that just because a student is quiet does not mean they are disengaged from learning. In fact, it could mean quite the opposite.
Kelly Soto is a senior in hospitality management.