The American obsession with class participation, from a non-American perspective

Jenny Yu blah blah blah e1391994206476 The American obsession with class participation, from a non American perspective

Illustration by Jenny Yu

The American obsession with class participation, from a non-American perspective:

“School in America was easy, assignments sent in by e-mail; classrooms air-conditioned, professors willing to give make-up tests. But she was uncomfortable with what the professors called “participation,” and did not see why it should be part of the final grade; it merely made students talk and talk, class time wasted on obvious words, hollow words, sometimes meaningless words. It had to be that Americans were taught from elementary school, to always say something in class, no matter what. And so she sat stiff-tongued, surrounded by students who were all folded easily on their seats. All flush with knowledge, not of the subject of the classes, but of how to be in the classes…”

~ Chimanda Ngozi Adichie, in her novel Americanah

I’ve heard this observation from people all over the world, but Adichie expresses it especially well. What do YOU think about the practice of grading class participation?

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  1. SaraHope on 12.02.2014 at 12:43 (Reply)

    I do think that regular participation is one way teachers/professors can gauge their students’ understanding of and engagement with the material, but it needn’t be verbal participation (which obviously favors some students over others). I had professors who allowed students to fulfill participation requirements through email-for instance, to send questions or possible discussion points ahead of class. And one thing I will say in favor of verbal participation: in some ways, I feel the requirement for verbal engagement over a lifetime of schooling gave me the freedom to be wrong, to throw the germ of an idea out there without having to fully prepare it. Some cultures (particularly Asian ones) seem to inculcate a horror of speaking without being 100% sure of one’s answer. And yes, if you are going to speak about something from a position of authority (in a talk or academic paper, for instance), you should be pretty confident of your points. But there are also circumstances where it’s important for people not to have to worry about being correct-where creativity and free association are essential, where people can riff off each others’ ideas. It’s easy to throw out bad ideas later, but if you can’t collect any ideas at all because people are too reserved to express themselves, you’ve got a problem.

  2. Amanda on 12.02.2014 at 13:09 (Reply)

    I’ve always hated this. I took a Women’s Studies class in college and participation was 50% of our grade. I’m very shy and always sat in the back, praying I wouldn’t get called on. After a few weeks, my professor emailed me to let me know I’d be failing her class if I didn’t start speaking up during our discussion times.
    Our discussion times consisted of small talk, sort of like on The View. The girls in the class would discuss George Clooney, Oprah, or food. It never had much to do with what we were learning about in class and I always had a strong urge to get up and walk out because I never felt like I was learning anything.

    It was a waste of money. I always did very well on papers and tests, but that 50% participation grade ruined everything for me and I just barely passed the class because of it. I’m still pretty bitter about it! I just don’t think it’s fair.

  3. Kelly O on 12.02.2014 at 13:15 (Reply)

    Recently I was going through old stuff in my parents house and I found a report card from elementary school. I had perfect marks in everything, except class participation. :)

    This subject also reminds me of job interviews. A traditional job interview simply measures how good a person is at being interviewed, not at performing the job. An interview is meaningless at measuring the worth of a candidate, just like class participation proves little about the students’ subject knowledge.

  4. Anh on 12.02.2014 at 13:21 (Reply)

    Unfortunately this is true not only in an academic environment, but also in the industry.
    I had an interview at a tech company, in which the proctors divided us into groups of 3 people, then they gave us a complex problem to solve. The problem had pages of text and figures. As a group, we were supposed to discuss the solution to the problem on the spot without much thinking on our own. One more detail, they put about 10 groups in one room.
    Me being an introvert, you could probably guess what my problem with this interview process was. In order to solve a complicated problem, I need to think about the problem myself first, perhaps even for hours or days depending on the complexity of the problem, and in a quiet environment. None of these conditions were satisfied in this interview process.
    As a result, I could not focus on even reading the problem itself and understanding it without rereading it like a million times because there was constant noise coming from all directions.
    Even though the company stresses collaboration in their day to day work, and the interview process was supposed to reflect this fact, I doubt that this is true. Yes, collaboration is important, but in real world people are given time (days, and perhaps even weeks) to think about the problems and their solutions, on their own. It is only after they have given it a considerable thought do they get together and discuss trade-offs to different solution. My rant ends here :).

  5. Maurice on 12.02.2014 at 13:39 (Reply)

    I always felt like class participation grades were a way to create a manufactured environment in classes that were poorly planned or unengaging. I mean, do you ever see top-rate professors like Michael Sandel or Larry Tribe worrying about grading class participation? That said, grades don’t mean much of anything anymore. But to flip the idea on its head, wouldn’t it be interesting to give a grade for how many times you can hold your tongue in class so you can reflect on an idea more fully?

  6. Lara Montano on 12.02.2014 at 14:16 (Reply)

    class participation? Bane of my daughters existence. Since i have always cared more about what my kids are actually learning and less about a letter, often inaccurate on a report card, i havent really thought about it. Yes we know it gives teachers an idea if you are engaged, aware “getting it” but grading it discounts the feelings and abilities of so many students. sometimes you strike gold. when your childs teacher(s) are sensitive, knows your kid has a lot to say without actually saying it ~ and cares how it makes them feel. gives them a place that feels safe enough to actually participate out in the atmosphere a bit and at their comfort level. felt like a lot of years coming and their grading on participation is generous. taking in to account silent participation ~ being engaged without being out loud. felt like a long time coming for my sweet introvert and not all her teachers are like that but we are so grateful for the ones that are. it shows it is possible for a teacher to be fine tuned in to students even in classes of 30 to 45 kids. i have been with parents at school board meetings passionate about an issue who will not fill out the blue card to go up and speak because they were traumatized by forced participation in grade schools. there is your litmus test for participation success. desensitizing kids from the fear of participation does not always work. i used to be petrified in elementary to the point of vomiting at participation ~ until years on one teacher told me dont you worry child. one day you will find your outloud voice. for now, just whisper it to me.

  7. Aizpea on 12.02.2014 at 14:40 (Reply)

    In almost every class at my school class discussions are held almost daily. We are not really allowed to raise our hands, we have to “jump in” which frustrates me because I don’t want to interrupt others. What makes me even more angry is that I pay to learn from my teacher, not the students. The teachers are the ones that have PhDs, so why do we consistently have to participate in class discussions? I’m very shy and introverted and while sharing ideas with others is good and teaches teamwork why does this have to be all the time? I’m tired of not getting a good enough grade because of my class participation. While I realize that I have to work at speaking in groups it seems that discussions dominate instead of writing, an equally important skill. I think that classes have to maintain a balance between the two in order to be getting the most out of students.

  8. Brandon Smith on 12.02.2014 at 15:25 (Reply)

    I’ll give you a slightly different twist on this subject. As a professor in graduate MBA programs (my students range between 25-45yrs of age), I routinely teach 700 students a year. On top of that, my courses all fall inside the realm of Management and Leadership Communication. On the first day of class each semester, I tell all of my students the following: “I am not like your other professors. I will not cold-call on you in class for an answer. Life is not about being cold-called. If you can’t find a way for your voice to get heard, it won’t. Sitting in your cubicle, doing good work and waiting to be discovered is not a strategy. The responsibility to get noticed is yours, not mine.” I go on to tell them that if they are uncomfortable speaking in class, they can send me an e-mail. They can find me after class. But if the semester comes and goes and I still have no idea who they are, that is a problem that will likely continue for them beyond the classroom and will limit them in their careers.

    1. Lara Montano on 12.02.2014 at 17:57 (Reply)

      that is fantastic! its great to give the option of seeking you out or emailing i wish more would follow your example! i think by college years a faction of students have learned to navigate extrovert academia. adolescence is a mine field though. participation when you are only one of a handful already hitting puberty standing up with your D bra and pimples or crackling voice and gangly appendages while your comrades still look like kindergarteners is, well painful. children can be very cruel. we have experienced quite a number of children from the local chidrens home who would just assume blend in with the woodwork until their situations are sorted as well. options and compassion in the early years mean so much in how they deal down the road. years ago i approached my daughters 5th grade asking if she could give her report to the teacher and a smaller group of children to help ease the way in. she was in no way receptive, it was very unpleasant. always nice to have a kind principal who lets you bring a couple friends in to do your report. there are probably so many students thankful that you are approachable behind the scenes!

  9. hchurch on 12.02.2014 at 16:17 (Reply)

    I once lost a letter grade in a college course because the professor made class participation a portion of the total grade. I spent the entire semester tongue-tied with fear of class participation and felt penalized due to something over which I felt I had no control. In the 25 years since I hope that professor has relaxed her stance on the subject. I’m not sure I could pull it off even now, and I’ve had considerably more experience in group participation since then.

  10. Paris Tuzun on 12.02.2014 at 16:43 (Reply)

    I’m Turkish who happens to be an introvert and I went to college in the States. Class participation made up about 15-20% of the total grade in some classes. I find grading class participation just ridiculous. Unless I feel like I’m 98% knowledgeable about the subject I don’t talk I just listen. I remember one professor told me I was too quiet right after he entered the classroom and it was the very first day of the class! That wasn’t a good start for me. I felt like he was going to watch me all semester long and force me to participate. He was a very outgoing guy and he encouraged everyone to participate by picking on them and making light jokes but sometimes it got irritating. Maybe they’re trying to imitate the American working environment by forcing people to speak up in college classrooms but it is wrong for three reasons: There may be people like me whose first language is not English. Secondly in some cultures talking all the time is not considered a good thing and enforces the idea that talking is always better than listening even if you have no idea what you’re talking about. Having said that if I’m talking about my passions or subjects I have extensive knowledge on I’m like Winston Churchill delivering wartime speeches but that is due to the experience I acquired with age and the time I spent learning things which made me a little cocky.

    P.S. I realized I spent about 18 minutes crafting this post, reading and re-reading it again. This is how careful I can get when I participate in a discussion.

  11. Karen on 12.02.2014 at 16:47 (Reply)

    I too have always felt squeamish about class participation and worked a lot on my confidence in public speaking to improve my participation. However, I don’t think class discussion is always implemented correctly or is necessary for all subjects. I remember in high school and elementary school that class discussion often led the class and teacher off track, making us fall behind. I never understand how teachers didn’t understand why they always fell behind-it was always obvious to me. I do think that class participation teaches people how to think on their feet, which is a rare skill, even with the American education system as it is. I think the key to successful class participation is in the teacher’s ability to maintain class _focus_. If there’s any problem our nation and school system has, it’s an ability to focus, an ability to apply self-discipline and the awareness needed to do so.

    On a meta note, as I read this excerpt and in remembering that most teachers are extroverts, I wondered if extroverted teachers need the class participation to get a form of social acceptance of their teaching. As in, extroverted teachers are just like teachers-they need feedback via constant conversation. Maybe this is where people found the “need” for class participation arose.

  12. Robin on 12.02.2014 at 17:10 (Reply)

    Exactly - when will teachers ever understand? They pat themselves on the back for trying so hard to turn introverts into extroverts. The same teachers that would be appalled if someone suggest trying to turning a gay student straight. Yet they do not hesitate to punish (with lower grades for poor “participation”) the shy or introverted student simply for being themselves.

    The system that “educates” our teachers is in serious need of repair.

    1. HEHink on 15.02.2014 at 21:53 (Reply)

      I am a teacher and I am an introvert, so, yes, I DO understand! I have never tried to turn an introvert into an extrovert, or vice versa, and certainly would never pat myself on the back for it. My job is to help children learn. I do that by observing their strengths, and building an environment that allows them to use those strengths both to learn, and to show me what they have learned. If they display a weakness in some area, I do try to help them strengthen that area, but mainly by building on the ways they are already strong. There are many ways for students to participate in class. Even when speaking is a requirement, it can be done with small groups instead of in front of the whole class, or it can be done with advance preparation, such as being given time to write a response before speaking. Do more teachers need to be educated in how to do this? Given the comments here, probably. But please stop assuming that we are all insensitive, inflexible dictators who don’t care about our students’ needs.

      1. on 16.02.2014 at 22:13 (Reply)

        thank you ~ teachers like you who teach with compassion and insight are amazing and i am very grateful! i know with all the interruptions, IEPs, curriculum and varied student levels etc it must be a challenge but fortunately when teachers like you come along it means the world to a student like my daughter. she has a couple wonderful teachers this year that have really brought the joy of learning back. wish we could clone you!

  13. realitytherapywest on 12.02.2014 at 21:59 (Reply)

    It seems to me you either got the material or you did not get the material. Talking about it only gives the blabber mouths the opportunity to kill time before they are tested and found lacking.

  14. Prudence Debtfree on 12.02.2014 at 23:27 (Reply)

    I have had to grade class participation, but as an introvert, I cheated a bit. I would give a mark balanced between verbal contributions made and respectful, attentive listening. In that way, an introverted student would not have to say much to earn a good participation grade, and an extroverted student would have to make an effort to pay attention to the comments of other classmates. My extroverted department head decided to take on this way of marking when I explained it to him.

  15. kl on 12.02.2014 at 23:57 (Reply)

    This is very interesting to me, as I am a high school English teacher. As a high school student myself, I never spoke, ever. I hated class discussion. Once I got to college though, I was assigned discussion sections and in order to pass, you had to participate. I realized I had to just get over my fears and participate if I wanted to pass. So, I did. I genuinely believe this changed my whole life. It was easier to speak to friends, to classmates, to strangers. It made class more enjoyable. I find that being able to communicate clearly and confidently improves daily experiences and I can’t even imagine being able to participate in the work place effectively had I not changed my ways. As a teacher, I at first struggled with making quiet kids participate in discussion because I remembered what it was like. But now, there are the national common core standards which include specific sections dedicated specifically to speaking and listening. However, I now think this creates a fair curriculum for every student. I see a wide range of students, some can only express ideas in writing and some can only express ideas through speaking. I still need to assign essays to students who don’t excel at writing just as I have to include students wo don’t excel at speaking in discussions. While some people argue that all the ideas discussed are meaningless or that they should be learning from the teacher and not students, they fail to see the value in just being able to speak in front of a group of people. This can be extremely scary, but just being able to practice is value enough. As a teacher, I’ve also been able to learn from kids during discussions. They give insight to ideas that neither the other students nor I have thought of. While these may be few and far between, kids still need to practice if they’re ever going to get there. So, yes, it is absolutely necessary to count participation. It may feel uncomfortable, but it will eventually benefit all students in either their personal lives or at least in the workplace where these skills will be needed on a daily basis. And the ultimate purpose of school is to fully prepare them for these situations!

    1. Lara Montano on 13.02.2014 at 11:31 (Reply)

      you are very lucky, to be able to “get over your fears” for some it makes it worse.having the maturity to buck up and get on with it in college is a world away from young children navigating through being an introvert in an extrovert world. forcing it will always work for some ~ will traumatize others.

    2. Martina on 14.02.2014 at 09:09 (Reply)

      I had never really thought about it this way, but that is a very good point. As far as kids being “traumatized” by it, I would consider that comparable to kids who are “traumatized” by math or any other subject (they exist!). It should be within the teacher’s responsibilities to try to help the student get over any fears and create a comfortable classroom environment.

  16. Jacob on 13.02.2014 at 09:08 (Reply)

    In linguistics, we determine 2 major classes of language use: competence and performance. The former is how well we process language (how much we know about it), the latter is how well we use it. Both of these are important aspects to language learning. I relate to this because I’m an English teacher so, that’s the lens I view this issue.
    I still don’t believe participation should be a large part of the final grade, but it is rather necessary in language…in fact, it is part of the midterm and final. People learn from performing, or applying, a discipline; I don’t see why it should be devalued as a venue for learning simply because some people prefer not to do it.
    Like it or not, life requires a bit of performance sometimes, and it doesn’t hurt to learn how to do so in the culture you are in.

  17. Sandy on 13.02.2014 at 09:55 (Reply)

    I don’t know if it’s because I was in an engineering department for most of college, but I never really ran into this. I can tell you that medical schools are going more and more toward what most of them call PBL (problem based learning). When this is done correctly, it’s all about participation, but it’s not all that bad for introverts. It’s small groups (8ish people), and each group is moderated by a faculty member. In one meeting, they’re assigned a case and the group discusses what questions they need to answer and splits up which questions each of them is going to research before the next meeting. At that next meeting, each student presents their findings, and they all learn everything that all of them researched and come to a group consensus about the case. In addition to teaching the medicine the students are there to learn, students ideally also learn teamwork and research skills and presentation skills that will help them immensely in their careers.

    So, it CAN be done well, but I think it’s much more difficult in large classes (except when email/office hours/attentive listening count toward “participation”).

    1. Martina on 14.02.2014 at 09:20 (Reply)

      I also did an engineering degree. I think there is just so much material to cover in each course (in Canada it’s standardized across the country) that professors can’t be bothered to think about participation. I think developing and using these skills DOES happen in a more organic way though. We had to do many design projects (at lease one a year) in groups, which typically involved presentations. I feel like this is a better representation of what happens in the real world. You need to be able to speak up in a group of 3-6, and give occasional presentations to larger groups. I don’t see how trying to have a regular conversation with 20-30 people is necessary.

  18. Suzanne on 13.02.2014 at 18:01 (Reply)

    I am so thankful someone is finally bringing this topic to light. The push for participation in the classroom setting (and in corporate America) has always frustrated me. In my opinion, it’s more often an unnecessary distraction, a time-waster, and a way for people to avoid real productivity (which typically requires a fair amount of non-group time). Rather than promoting classroom learning or workplace progress, group participation often ends up being just an opportunity for people to gain favoritism among their superiors (along with better grades and work promotions), or worse, it’s sometimes just a chance for spotlight-lovers to run amok while the rest of us fake interest.
    While I uncomfortably “survived” being an introvert during my school years, I’ve found the struggle to be much greater in the working world. Surprisingly for an introvert, I chose (and recently left) a career in pharmaceutical sales, which is without a doubt an extrovert’s profession. However, it allowed me to make a great income while working autonomously (with the exception of a few meetings and the dreaded field rides with my manager). In place of a gregarious personality and love for gab, my other strengths-analytical/strategic thinking and ability to build trust with customers through listening, empathy, and good follow-up-brought me much success in the field. In spite of this, I realized more and more the negative impact that introversion had on my ability to “move up” in the organization and be recognized for my work and contributions. While I worked hard and achieved my sales goals, my managers included conference call participation, group presentations at meetings, and being a “visible district leader” on their list of requirements. The motto was, it’s “not just sales that wins awards and gets you promoted.”
    Over time, these additional “requirements” and field rides with management became increasingly more difficult for me. I just wasn’t able to shine like my extroverted colleagues in these scenarios. At every year-end performance review, I was told I needed to work on participation and leadership as my goals for the next year (*eye roll*). During one review in particular, my manager asked me why I seemed so “disengaged” with my job. What??!! I wanted to scream, but held my composure well enough to explain why I wasn’t one of his employees who was readily gabbing at meetings and jumping up and down with excitement 24-7. Nonetheless, that performance review suffered due to supposed disengagement, in spite of my sales ability and high performance (which was the key task I was hired to do and I dare say, far more critical to the company’s bottom line than an hour spent telling “success” stories on a district conference call). To that point, I hope the Quiet revolution charges forward to educate schools and corporate America (and my former boss!) on exactly what they’re missing.

  19. Paula Puryear Martin on 13.02.2014 at 20:42 (Reply)

    As someone who cherishes deep, meaningful conversation and who loved college (and Constitutional Law and a few select seminars in law school) precisely because of the opportunity it provided for a depth and breadth of conversation that I now realize is quite rare in human life, I find graded class participation particularly specious. If our goal is to raise people who can think deeply — and that should be our goal if we want great leaders and great citizens in all areas and walks of life — then we must come to value quality of commentary over quantity. And quality comes from people cultivating their ability to think deeply and analytically, and to only speak when they actually have something of value to say.

  20. Paritosh on 14.02.2014 at 11:27 (Reply)

    I have experienced it first hand, I was in the army for fourteen years and our courses had DS (call Instructor/Professor) impression marks for class participation. I always got the rough end of the stick. I was hardly noticed up until the written tests, projects or assignments were assessed (at the cost of modesty I’ll mention that did pretty well despite my HANDICAP)

    Participation in a class should be genuine and should lead to clarification of doubts or value additions but more often than not leads to wastage of time and effort by spotlight-lovers (phrase copied from Suzzane’s comment on 13.02.2014 at 18:01)
    Class participation is to be assessed, it should give negative marks to people participating for participating.

  21. Victura on 15.02.2014 at 02:58 (Reply)

    Whether class discussion/participation is helpful or valuable also depends a bit on the type of class it is. As an introvert, I actually find it relatively easy to participate in classes in which there is a fairly clear line between a right or wrong answer and wouldn’t necessarily hesitate in asking or answering questions. When it comes to discussions where opinions are needed, that is where I feel uncomfortable. Plus, those types of discussions have more instances of people speaking for the sake of speaking and don’t actually contribute much to learning the subject.

  22. Alexandrine on 15.02.2014 at 17:02 (Reply)

    I am French and when I was in school, the participation in class was not graded, which was very good for me. I think that is a cultural thing. I don’t know if it has changed, but at that time, raising your hand to express your opinion was perceived as showing off your knowledge, which was not positive. My kids were born in the United States and it always amazes me when my two children tell me how they “dare” to participate in class. I am 44 years old and since I left France 13 years ago, I feel more and more introvert because of the language barrier. I have just decided to do a MBA online, and I told myself that it would be a challenge because the last time I went to school was 20 years ago in France, but that I could succeed because my computer would be between me and the class. Then, I discovered the participation part which is graded of course. I will not lie, it increased my anxiety but this time, it was not the participation part that worried because I would not have a whole class looking at me, but the language.
    I think that even if you are an introvert, the way they teach you in the United States how to raise your hand at an early age, can ease the discomfort you can feel when you are an introvert. My kids are like me, “quiet”, but they are used to participate in class and it is really good because later in their life they will be able to speak for themselves and will not be afraid to take risk. Today, I learn from them that is why I am going back to school.

  23. panda3011 on 16.02.2014 at 09:47 (Reply)

    i’m an introvert. I want to participate in the class by some practice such as:
    the teacher gives the students contents which they will discuss in the next session. So i can prepare carefully with many ideas, questions… .
    when the session occurs, the teacher divides the class to small teams which makes sure that introverts are in together and extroverts too. they will debate in their ways therefrom writing out the sheets of paper and giving them for the teacher who will feedback, access…
    this is my idea which I haven’t ever practised.

  24. Emily on 16.02.2014 at 15:18 (Reply)

    I’m an American doing my Master’s degree in Finland. I’m extremely introverted, and also an above average student. In high school (I attended a relatively prestigious boarding school for three years), I invariably turned in essays that teachers would later get my permission to keep and use as “good examples” for future students, but many these same teachers would lower my grade by half a letter or more because I did not participate in class vocally enough. The same issues followed me to college, where I self-defeatingly chose a music therapy as my major. Although a good student and more competent musician than many therapists, I nearly failed my clinical internship because of my inability to be “loud” and “silly” enough for the kids (and my moral issues with tricking or forcing kids to be loud and silly who were introverted). Now I study music psychology research in Finland in an International Master’s Programme, and I feel as though I’ve actually died and gone to heaven. Finns have a reputation for being quite introverted, and I’ve found the whole academic culture here to be one where quietly knowing what you’re talking about is far more valued than loudly showing off a few disjointed pieces of knowledge. Though some classes are discussion-oriented, there has never been any suggestion that a student *must* participate, and I’ve never had a grade lowered because I prefer to be quiet. For our Master’s theses, supervision has been minimal-we are allowed and even expected to come up with ideas, work out problems and learn necessary skills on our own, although help is there when we need it. Classes are more focused on imparting information than they are on putting on a show; Finnish academics just aren’t interested in showing off the way Americans are. The presence of a guest lecturer from the US this semester has highlighted this for me undeniably; he shifts constantly to irrelevant topics to show off the breadth of his knowledge, speaks loudly and with condescending humor, waste class time hounding students to answer inane questions the answer to which not only rarely need to be said aloud (we all, for example, know that a metronome must be turned on before it will work); and of course, he has assigned group work and group presentations.
    The thought of pursuing full-time eduction in an environment like that ever again frankly fills me with horror. I will absolutely be hoping to pursue my PhD in Finland.

    1. HEHink on 17.02.2014 at 16:08 (Reply)

      I have heard many wonderful things about Finland’s education system as a whole. Your experiences sound refreshing, and I would love to have the opportunity to visit there myself one day. One of your comments struck me - “we are allowed and even expected to come up with ideas, work out problems and learn necessary skills on our own, although help is there when we need it.” This made me wonder if our American emphasis on verbal participation is in some way related to -or helps perpetuate? - the “learned helplessness” seen in some students, who, when given a task, have trouble even getting their name on their paper without asking for help, and want to be talked through the whole thing. There are ways of scaffolding students out of this behavior, but I wonder if it would be less prevalent in a culture where thoughtful listening is valued as much or more than speaking.

  25. Bee on 23.02.2014 at 06:18 (Reply)

    I went to school in Denmark where class participation is (almost) everything, both raising your hand in class and working in smaller groups. Personally, I think the “participation ideal” has gone overboard. I completely understand and agree that learning to participate in group discussions and speaking up in larger gatherings is an essential skill to have, and that it’s important both to get teach introverts to be comfortable with participating and to teach extroverts to be comfortable with more “introverted” ways of working. However, I think the way some (in my experience, most) teaches go about getting everyone to participate is often counterproductive and even damaging.
    I am very introverted and as a child, I was also extremely shy, so when I was in school it took me longer to gather my thoughts and formulate a response, and on top of that I was “fearful” when I had to say something, even in small groups (heart racing, shaky/soft voice, etc.). I was described by teachers as “very quiet” and was told “need to speak up more”. I was in the top of my class in several subjects, but my self-esteem suffered from always hearing “does excellent work, but is very quiet/needs to participate more”. It made me feel I wasn’t good enough because being quiet is just part of my personality, but I was taught that that trait was undesirable. In some subjects, I was also given a lower grade than I deserved to “encourage me to speak more.” It was also discouraging when students who were average or even slightly below average academically but were excellent “performers” got grades above average mainly for just participating. I think this teaches students to participate just for participation’s sake rather than focusing on making genuine contributions.
    I really tried to participate more, but it was difficult and it was almost never enough. Even when my teachers noticed, they said it was good I was working on it but I needed to do more. It was like there was a baseline for participation so even when students participate enough for the teacher to get a better idea of what they know, if they’re not participating as much as the teacher would like, it’s not good enough.
    By the time I went to university I had resigned myself to always being quiet and lacking in the extroversion aspect. What really changed everything for me was when I graduated and got a job. In my profession, there are a lot of introverts, and nobody commented on me being quiet. A lot of my colleagues are quiet themselves, and I realized it was perfectly fine to be more quiet than the average person. Paradoxically, this had the effect of drawing me out my shell. I felt much less pressure to be something I’m not, and I was allowed to get comfortable in my new environment without feeling judged for being introverted and not sociable enough. I started enjoying being with other people although I still don’t speak a lot and still need time alone also. I still get a bit nervous when I have to speak to a large group, but it doesn’t hold me back at all like it did before. I also learnt that if you do good work, you don’t necessarily need to be extroverted to show other people. Your results will often speak for themselves, and somehow word gets around anyway.
    Wow, I guess it’s true what they say about introverts going on and on about a subject they’re passionate about! Thank you for reading this far. What I’ve tried to explain is that I think children need to be taught a bit of both worlds and not to be made to feel there is something wrong with them, no matter what way they work and learn best because that can seriously hold them back for years.

  26. thedude on 06.03.2014 at 20:24 (Reply)

    I lost out on a writing job recently because they wanted a Skype interview. I don’t even have a webcam but I found the whole idea uncomfortable anyway. They suggested a phone interview and I agreed but they never bothered getting back in touch.
    I found the whole thing baffling given my resume and a writing sample I’d provided (which took me nearly an hour, with no recompense) was clearly of sufficient quality so what the hell the necessity was for a Skype interview for a work-at-home writing job is beyond me. I’m convinced that it’s just people wanting to hear themselves talk.

  27. Diana on 08.03.2014 at 12:19 (Reply)

    I’m a high school senior and I completely relate to this post. For some reason, my teachers seem to think that if I don’t say something in class, I’m not thinking anything either.
    I’m currently taking an advanced placement microeconomics class and my teacher is an extrovert. Almost every day, he makes us stand up and answer questions/ have a class discussion and you are not allowed to sit back down until you have commented. I hate this!!!!! There are always the same five or six of us left standing at the end when he runs out of questions or the discussion dies off. It makes me feel like the other students think we are stupid even though we have the best test scores in the class.
    In my literature class, our teacher makes us have discussions about the book we are currently reading. We are divided into groups and each group has a seminar on a different day. Everyone who is not participating in the discussion that day is required to bring in open ended questions about the book that the leaders are supposed to discuss. We are graded on the number of comments we make using textual evidence. This is my worst nightmare. I can’t plan anything out and I have to fight people to get my grade. My discussion date is going to be this week and I am seriously considering skipping and writing the four page make-up assignment instead because I know I will get a better grade that way. It’s not right that I should have to skip school to be able to work in an environment that will get me a better grade. I love being there for the class discussions, I just don’t like speaking in them.
    The best tip I have discovered for dealing with class discussions though is in my science class. I really love my teacher and for some odd reason or another, I ended up choosing the seat closest to him when he lectures. I am literally sitting 4 feet away from him. I actually find this helpful because even though there are 30 other people in the room, I don’t see any of them, so I feel like I am just talking to my teacher, which I am now comfortable with doing because I started going up to him after class and spending some of my lunch time just having conversations, so in that class I feel as though I’m just having a discussion with a friend. Sitting by the teacher has really helped me.

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Quiet: The Book

- Wall Street Journal

Bill Gates names "The Power of Introverts" one of his all-time favorite TED Talks.

Best Nonfiction Book of 2012

QUIET has been voted the best nonfiction book of 2012


1. There’s a word for “people who are in their heads too much”: thinkers.

2. Our culture rightly admires risk-takers, but we need our “heed-takers” more than ever.

3. Solitude is a catalyst for innovation.

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