Your part in participation

To participate or not to participate. That’s the question many Liberty students ask themselves each day. While teachers see participation points as essential and beneficial, some students see them as unnecessary burdens.

Allie Bowe and Anne Wu

Why teachers need it:

We’ve all been there. The teacher asks, “Does anyone have the answer to number five?” and silence falls across the room. No one wants to speak up in case they don’t have the right answer, but then the teacher, stuck in silence, is forced to call on a random student. It seems that one of the only ways to get almost every student to participate is to make participation a part of the grade.

“Sometimes students feel like they don’t have confidence in their own ideas, and sometimes they may truly be afraid of speaking in front of others,” English teacher Henry Level said.

When it comes to participation points, most students think that they are just a way to make school even harder, and more about the grade than learning. But teachers think differently. According to Level, participation points are a good way to get students engaged in the subject being taught.

“I know some students are not comfortable speaking up, so they tend not to, and they do get a lower participation grade,” Level said. “But that’s a choice, just like a choice to read or not to read, or to do the writing assignment or not.”

Once students graduate and go to college, participating will become vital. Not paying attention in college classes could be detrimental to grades earned. So one of the best ways for teachers to get students participating in class now and creating good habits for the future is by implementing a grade incentive. Teachers need to make sure kids are learning in the best way that they can, and to do this they need students to participate in class.

“One thing students can do is to talk to their teachers about strategies that can help. I’ve seen a lot of students overcome their fear of speaking,” Level said. “If you let the teacher know what the issue is, we can help.”


Why some students hate it:

In America, silence is a taboo. If you spend your free time alone, you’re antisocial; if you’re too quiet, you’re considered unfriendly. If you don’t speak up in class, you get marked down for participation.

In the book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts”, author Susan Cain articulates why introversion is often a valuable and underappreciated trait. Vocal individuals are automatically perceived by their classmates as the most intelligent and leader-like. But a distinction should be made here: a quiet student is not necessarily an unintelligent student, nor is a quiet student a disengaged student. Quietness does not signify the absence of learning. Bit by bit, Cain asserts, this crucial distinction is being lost within society. Some could also argue it is being lost at Liberty.

At Liberty, many teachers fail to understand that silence is an indispensable form of participation. One student’s silence allows other students to speak. Silence allows listening; silence acts as a catalyst for reflection. It is in these moments of quiet that students draw novel connections and fully digest the information given to them.

“In one sense of the word, I participate frequently. When I’m not saying something, I’m jotting down notes and mulling over insightful points,” senior Natalie Clay said. “I’m always considering what other people are saying. Personally, I think that’s good enough participation.”

Beyond the simple reason of students being shy, have teachers ever considered why certain students are so quiet? There are an infinite number of possible reasons, according to Cain. It can stem from a cultural ideal in which silence is associated with respect for the teachers, a mentality especially prevalent within Asian countries. It may reflect the desire to only share quality ideas. And, Cain emphasizes, it could be a person’s armor against the ridicule of others.

“As someone who is not very confident in their speaking skills, it’s difficult for me to speak out among people who are confident and eager to talk,” Clay said. “I compare what I’m going to say with what they say, and inevitably, I’ll question whether or not my answers have as much merit as theirs.”


More: Participation: an overview