If you’re anything like I was as a student, the idea of raising your hand and contributing something meaningful to class discussion can be fairly terrifying. You have to think of something insightful to say. Something that hasn’t been said yet. If you ask a question, it had better not be one with an obvious answer, or one that’s already been asked. You have to express yourself clearly. You have to keep yourself from rambling. And you have to find the perfect moment in which to insert whatever pearl of wisdom you have to share.
If you’re anything like I was, you’re acutely aware that by raising your hand, you’re inviting everyone in the room to give you their attention. Even in a small class, even in a class full of friends, even with a patient, understanding teacher, that takes some guts.
But as tempting as it may be to remain mute for the duration of class, it’s important to keep raising that hand. Here’s why:
Reason 2 – You’ll learn more
Numerous studies have shown that students who actively participate in class tend to retain more of the material they learn. Students sometimes think of themselves as passive participants in their own learning, just sitting back and allowing the teacher to fill their heads with knowledge, just as they would present their plate to a lunch lady to be piled with mashed potatoes.
It’s not that simple. Learning is a collaboration, and it works best when you are doing something beyond merely listening to someone else talk. As Einstein said, “The only source of knowledge is experience.” When you interact with the teacher and the class, you are having an experience. When you don’t, you’re only watching other people have an experience.
Reason 2 – You’ll enjoy class more
Participating in class is a great antidote for boredom. Think of a class that has you looking at your watch every two minutes. Chances are it just happens to be a class in which you don’t say much. It’s easy to be bored if you’re just sitting there, and harder to be bored if you’re speaking your mind.
Reason 3 – You’ll be paying it forward
When you participate, you make the classroom a better, more interesting place. And even if your peers never thank you for it, you’re helping them learn. You don’t even have to say anything profound. Sometimes a simple question will help clarify a point. And often, your simple question will be on the mind of a peer who’s too shy to ask it.
Reason 4 – Your grade will improve
All teachers want their students to be driven by an innate love of learning. But let’s face it: grades are still a major motivator. That’s ok. You can simultaneously want to learn and want to get a good grade.
Your grade may or may not be directly tied to participation. Even if it isn’t, you’ll often find that the more you participate, they better you’ll do. Sometimes, participation can help reinforce key ideas that will be central to future tests or essays. And often, teachers will give the benefit of the doubt to a kid whom they see is trying hard. For the kid who participates, an 89.4 just might magically round up to an A.
About the Author: A fifteen-year veteran teacher, Alex has spent the last nine years teaching high school English at Boys’ Latin School of Maryland in Baltimore. Over his career he has taught both AP English courses (Literature and Language) as well as several electives including “Modern Short Story” and “Literature of Baltimore.” He holds a BA in English from Kenyon College, an MAT in English Education from Brown University, and an MA in English Literature from Bread Loaf School of English (a graduate program affiliated with Middlebury College). Alex regularly writes for various publications including Boys’ Latin’s own in-house magazine. He lives in Baltimore with his wife Maya and their four-year-old twins (a boy and a girl).