Learning in Silence: Why You Don't Have Always Have to Participate in Class Discussions
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Politics and Activism

Learning in Silence: Why You Don't Have Always Have to Participate in Class Discussions

Learning in silence is not my weakness, it is my strength.

Learning in Silence: Why You Don't Have Always Have to Participate in Class Discussions

Going to a small, liberal arts college comes with one guarantee- classes so tiny that there’s no room to hide. Facts have shown time and time again that small classes are the most effective way for students to learn and retain information, but at what cost? Not every student is brightly outgoing, and sometimes being forced to participate in constant class discussion can cause an unprecedented amount of stress. When a large percentage of your class grade is based on active participation, what is an introvert to do?

The first day of classes in a room full of strangers is scary enough. Personally, I like to get a feel for the characters that I’m surrounded by before I jump into a roaring class debate about the current state of the economy. When it comes to politics especially, I’ve learned over the years that it’s much easier to just lay low and stay out of the conversation. When a class of sixteen students erupts into debate, it is simply in my nature to sit and listen rather than speak over everyone else to get my own point across. I feel as though being educated in a large public school system may also contribute to my classroom shyness, as most of my experience with class participation was accompanied by someone stealing my mumbled answers and getting the credit for them. After years of feeling like contributing was a waste of my time and energy, I’ve learned to listen carefully and absorb discussion topics and ignore the urge to speak up. In many cases, I have felt as though class conversation become mind numbingly simple, and the other students’ contributions rarely strike me as original or interesting. Class discussions to me often have a mechanical feel, everyone trying to say exactly what the professor wants to hear or precisely what the textbook read. My thought process often goes beyond these standards, and I fear if I speak of my own interpretation that I’ll ruin the flow of the conversation. Why speak up if it will only make me the class outsider?

Don’t get me wrong, I know the educational value of in- depth class participation. It makes class fun, engaging, and keeps me wide awake. The catch is that I feel as though I learn just as well in silence. People with more introverted personalities have superb listening skills, and I think that it's unfair for professors to underestimate this ability. Some of the most brilliant students I’ve ever met go entire semesters without saying a word or writing a single note yet still pass exams with flying colors. I think it should be standard to embrace all types of learning. Speaking out and rebutting peer comments should not always be the equivalent of being present in class. If listening is my strongest skill, I should be able to use it effectively to be successful and grow.

One of my all time favorite sayings is “Do not speak unless it improves upon silence.” I take this with me in every situation, and I believe in using the art of forming concise words to express my thoughts when the time comes. Though it’s impossible to understand another person’s train of thought, it is wrong to try and force someone into a personality that they simply do not have. Classroom learning objectives are evolving, and I see that the next frontier should be in adapting to all different levels of of the personality spectrum. Though the professor didn’t quite see it, I walked out of that classroom with an extensive amount of knowledge that I didn’t have when I got there. Learning in silence is not my weakness- it is my strength, and I’m not the only one.

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