Vocal Participation Isn’t Everything

Elisabeth Oster, Staff Writer

Elisabeth Oster

Graded participation and cold-calling students is a common tactic teachers use to generate more participation. But is it really beneficial for everyone?
Many students learn in different ways that do not involve the pressure of speaking a certain amount of time or being put on the spot.
When students are required to speak a certain amount of times, more stress is created for the student rather than active learning. Although teachers may mean well by attempting a more active learning environment, this learning can be lost as students feel obligated to say something.
According to a study led by John Waite, a Professor of Media at the University of Colorado Boulder, 70 percent of students reported feeling classroom apprehension on a regular basis to share their ideas. But, if the topic is something they are interested in or knowledgeable about, they are much more likely to contribute to the discussion.
If such a high percentage of students tend to feel anxiety toward vocal participation, this can distract the student from learning throughout the class period. Stress can begin to take away from the more important action of simply listening.
Forcing vocal participation does not give those who are genuinely interested the chance to share their ideas. This can also lead to unintentional and unhealthy competition to receive the points necessary from participation.
According to a study led by the National Training Laboratories Institute, 70 percent of students learn best by doing, and 80 percent learn best by peer teaching. When compared to the statistic that only 50 percent learn best through discussion, it is clear there are more beneficial ways for many students to learn better.
It needs to be recognized that vocal participation between teacher and student is not the only way to actively participate. Some simply need to focus their energy on listening while others need to focus on creating notes.
By cultivating forced participation, many students feel obligated to participate, not to learn, but to get points. This can make the answers received not thought-out or sincere.
In order, to receive meaningful answers from students it is important to allow them to listen and absorb first.
A thoughtful answer is meant to take time and when these type of responses are received, it will benefit the entire class. By utilizing graded participation, teachers are encouraging the level of beneficial conversation to be lessened.
When students know that saying something is part of their grade, they will say meaningless comments just to get points in the gradebook. When a student willingly participates in a no-stake situation, they tend to be more confident in their answer as well.
Grading participation can also lead to singling out people with certain personality types. It becomes a system where those who are extroverted and enjoy talking are rewarded for this personality trait. But the fact is, there are others who contribute to a conversation in a different way by practicing thoughtful listening and learning in their own way.
This not only punishes those who may be introverted but also singles out those who have a language barrier or anxiety towards speaking in public. By losing the points they feel they cannot earn, the amount of value they feel they have in the classroom can quickly dwindle.
The amount of participation that is right for a student is also different for everyone. To one student, two times a semester is all they can manage and this does not affect their learning. Others require constant participation to stay engaged. By setting a set requirement, some students might grow and some student’s engagement will be hurt.
Vocal participation is certainly not everything, there is a copious amount of ways to engage a student. For example, teaching another student, discussion boards, and written check-ins can be just, if not more, beneficial.
I suggest teachers should stop focusing as much on oral participation and focus on how every student can be engaged. After all, a classroom should be a safe, stress-free environment that needs to be maintained for all.