The Challenge of Getting Students to Talk
There are a variety of reasons why students do not participate in class. By being mindful of them, an instructor can take steps to overcome those barriers and make classes more enjoyable for all.
Why Students do not speak up in Class
The first step in getting to know the students in your class is to understand why some of them do not speak up in class. This is not rocket science. You know most, if not all, of this. Put together your own list. Then see if the reasons fall into the following four categories I came up with:
- Fear of speaking in a group
- Lack of understanding of material
- Lack of interest in the subject
- Dislike for the instructor
How to Get Your Students to Talk
Let me make some suggestions relative to these four issues:
- Since some students are not comfortable speaking in class, begin addressing this during the first class session with an icebreaker. Also, periodically break students into pairs or small groups to discuss a topic. And don’t let a few students monopolize class discussion.
- You do the best you can to help your students learn, but you don’t always succeed. You may be able to get students to speak up if you ask questions that relate to their opinions and their personal experiences. For example, assume you are teaching a world history class and discussing President Truman’s decision to bomb of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Ask your students what the most difficult decision they have had to make. Or ask them if they ever made a decision that completely and irrevocably changed their future. Or ask what would be a decision they hope they never have to make.
- Students are required to take certain courses for their degrees, and they don’t always like those courses. There is no way around that. There are two things an instructor can do. First, make the course relevant to the students. Link material to what your students know and what they like. Second, make the class itself fun. If you run a fun class, students will be more likely to come, loosen up, and participate.
- There is no way around the fact that a student or two won’t like you, or is there? Some students may dislike the way you look. I don’t advise plastic surgery, liposuction, or changes to skin pigment. I think you pretty much leave the looks thing alone. Some may dislike aspects of your personality. The personality thing is also difficult to change. If you display a sarcastic nature out of class, changes are that will carry over into class. Don’t be afraid to apologize if you blurt out something comes out wrong. Some may dislike what they know about you – your likes, dislikes, beliefs, morals, prejudices, etc. Do a little soul searching. Is there anything you tend to say in class that is controversial? If there is, quit saying it. Now, wasn’t that simple. 😉
Still not confident you can get those “back row sitters” to join in? Maybe some of my other articles will help:
Why Should You Care if Students Don’t Participate?
You know why. It makes for a more pleasant learning environment. Students who participate are at ease. Students who are at ease are more open to learning. It’s as simple as that!
© 2010 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.
Posted July 2, 2010