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Forced class participation doesn’t benefit all students

I am a very nervous person. I feel worried most of the time about lots of little things, even when I know there is no reason to worry. And for at least the past semester, I have been worried for no apparent reason.

I think this is the case for a number of students toward the end of the academic year as the stress of final projects, exams, summer jobs, graduation and normal human activities give us butterflies in our stomachs and prickly pins in our fingers.

Whether or not this is true, everyone has their own baggage and personality quirks, and as a 21-year-old woman, I’ve learned to deal with mine.

I know how to push my boundaries in a way that won’t cause an hours-long mental breakdown. I know how to succeed in the workplace with my shortcomings.

And, related to higher education, I know how I learn best.

I study hard and have enjoyed a fairly high GPA, but if you tell me I will lose points in class by not talking to the room at least three times per session my GPA will belly flop into a pool of Cs-get-degrees mentality.

This is not about stubbornness, laziness or lack of understanding the material.

Verbal-participation grading benefits certain personality types. If you are outgoing in the classroom and learn best by contributing to a discussion and asking numerous questions, then this type of participation works in your favor.

On the other hand, I will spend minutes before speaking formulating a response and minutes after stressing about what I just said — and this is precious time I should be paying attention, but honest-to-God cannot.

My anxiety in the classroom is just one instance on the wide spectrum of why various students don’t do well with forced verbal participation. From peer bullying to cruelty from authority figures, some individuals have complex histories that make them uncomfortable speaking.

I’m not saying all participation-based grades are wrong. I understand they can be motivating, but there are many ways to judge class involvement other than looking to see which hands are in the air.

From when I first received my pink Motorola RAZR in 2007 up to being glued to my shiny iPhone in 2016, instructors have told me if I text in class, they will know. If professors boast of being omniscient forces in the schoolroom, then why is it so wrong that not only talking, but also silent note-taking count for participation? If the teacher notices when I “search for a pen” (text my Scout peeps about editorial ideas), then they should also notice me paying attention and silently participating in the lecture.

Obviously, there are classes that require this verbal participation. For instance, I took a Spanish conversation course, realized I would need to participate to actually learn something, and left the class successful. But many courses I’ve taken at Bradley have had some type of unnecessary verbal participation component.

I am a student who is ready to learn, and graded verbal participation drains me of any motivation.

College professors: let us decide what style works for us rather than mandate what you think is best. Instead of stifling some students’ abilities to learn, make room for all learning types in the classroom.

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