The Skillful Teacher by Stephen D. Brookfield-Chapter 8

Chapter 8 – Getting Students to Participate

I think anyone who has been in a classroom, can attest that they have seen a class unfold where an instructor has failed to create a discussion. Multiple questions are asked where he or she is left with blank stares and no volunteers to participate.

Why is it so difficult, even though you know the topic is interesting and that students have something to say but are afraid to say it?

Brookfield’s listed reasons are listed below:

  • Crippling Personal Information
  • Fear of Looking Stupid
  • Feeling Unprepared
  • We Don’t Trust You
  • We’re Not Welcome Here
  • We’ve Been Burned
  • Talking Isn’t Cool
  • The Teacher’s Doing All The Talking
  • Talking Isn’t Rewarded

I am sure anybody can look at this list and say “yes”, I did not put up my hand even though I wanted to, because of one or more of the reasons listed above.

I, myself, have had situations where I did not participate because of one of these reasons and most of those situations were in high school. Mainly for the reasons of ‘fear of looking stupid’ as well as ‘talking isn’t cool’. A lot of that stems from insecurities of being judged by my peers.

Within the last 2 years, I’ve had a chance to go back to school due to a decision to change careers. I felt much different being in a classroom setting this time around than in high school, roughly 20 years ago. I felt I had to actively participate and question everything that was being taught to succeed. I was one of the oldest students in the class and I knew I was being judged by my younger peers. I did not care and felt that I needed to do well in the class in order to have this career change succeed. I am sure because my reasons for taking the course was so important to me and my family’s livelihood that I can overlook the typical reasons not to participate. ‘Looking cool’ did not matter to me in that setting. Looking stupid was not an issue because I knew if my opinion of the subject was incorrect that a discussion or a correction from my instructor would lead me to understand the content better, hence learning from your mistakes.

I guess there are many factors that can help promote participation in class. From my experiences, maturity and relevance for personal advancement plays a big part to participate. I also believe interest in the subject helps as well. As for not participating, a large part is due to insecurity, which most of the reasons above touch upon. As the instructor, if you can ease that sense of insecurity and create a safe environment for which the student can trust you and not feel stupid, even though they are incorrect on the subject, than I believe you would have more students participating.





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