Students are unique individuals, but can often be grouped by their behavior. One such grouping would involve how vocal students are in class. You likely have two kinds of students: Ones who talk and want to contribute every class, whether they know the answer or not; and those who don’t want to talk no matter what.
During the course of the semester, we often think we’re reaching the ones who are talking. We often judge the success of our sessions in terms of how much discussion was developed. A lot of discussion means you did well and a lack of discussion means it was not a good day. It can cause some frustration among professors as to how to get everyone excited and motivated about every class meeting.
We all were students too
When I was a college student, I was one of those people who sat in the back and seldom said a word. Not because I was bored by my classes or that I was busy working on work for another class. It was simple, I learned without having to ask a lot of questions. I came prepared to every class, never missed a session and never asked for an extension for an assignment. I listened to everything my professors said, soaking up their words and comparing their thoughts to other materials that I had read, and making personal observations. I read their comments on my papers and heeded their advice. I learned not by asking all the questions, but by soaking up the information. As a college professor, I forget that. I still judge my class meetings by the amount of discussion, and that leads to incorrect assumptions.
Whether the students learn by talking in class or not, it is essential that you create a welcoming environment.
Here are some ideas I use to create an environment that values everyone
- First, and foremost, recognize that everyone learns differently. I’m a more visual learner and I need to explore something on my own to fully grasp it. For example, some people can read books on working with computer applications. I can’t. I may open the book, but it is not until I explore the application that I learn it. It is important to understand that with your students, you will have people who learn differently. Some will love to read and read, and absorb every piece of it. Others will learn best through the lecture or a visual representation of the concept. Incorporate several methods in your teaching to allow everyone to learn in their style.
- Look for engagement, don’t listen for it. There is a difference between being quiet, yet fully engaged, and being quiet and using a smartphone. Look for non-verbals. Does it look like students are getting what you’re saying? Do they nod a little bit? On their assignments, are they moving forward? This is also more helpful in smaller classes, where you can better get to know the students and their mannerisms.
- When they do contribute, support their answers, even if they are a little off-track, especially for first-time talkers. Find something in their answer that can be elaborated on or non-threateningly walk them through the process to find the answer. Making their first response positive removes the fear speaking in front of others.
- Try to break into smaller groups. Then their comments aren’t in front of the whole class. It helps to build their self-confidence.
- Ask to see their work before it’s turned in. I have a standing offer in a class that I will review their work before the due date. By seeing their work early, it can be corrected or praised. Often that little meeting helps me to determine if the student is on track or needs further guidance.
- Finally, remember that being quiet is not bad. It doesn’t mean your lecture missed the mark or that you lack skills as an educator. While there may not have been a robust discussion, that doesn’t mean that your words and presentation didn’t affect someone.
As educators, it’s important for us to remember that we change people’s lives. And that each person is unique and has a different approach to learning. As educators, we can foster that uniqueness, paving the way for each of our students to accomplish great things.