Classroom silence reflects childish habits
October 22, 2009
When I was young I imagined college students as people like Anne of Green Gables. Inquisitive, motivated, confident, mature, poised intellectuals.
My image of college students were people who sought out philosophical discussions, or educated forums, talking about how the world is, how it could be, how it should be and the differences in between. These students are people who like learning, sharing what they already know and talking about their analysis of it. Key word: talk.
I have recently been in a number of classes where the students simply don’t talk. Not all classes, but a few. For example: A professor asks the class their opinion on a piece of artwork, particularly its use of line. None of the students respond.
The entire class knows what line is and everyone has an opinion of the piece-some kind of a response forming in their head, but no one says anything. The students aren’t stupid. They know the material. Now the professor won’t move on unless someone in the class says something. Still, no one talks so the class freezes. It’s paused, at a standstill for several minutes until the instructor gives up and moves on to his next point.
He asks another question. By now the students are just bored from the lack of stimulating discourse and have mentally checked out, staring catatonically at the wall, PowerPoint, or their shoes—praying all the while for time to move faster.
This kind of classroom atmosphere is the most boring, please-shoot-me-in-the-throat, intellectually stifling kind of experience students could ever create for themselves.
What I find absolutely infuriating are the students who have an answer (the correct one as well) and then whisper it to themselves. Not getting a response, the professor repeats the question, but this bone-headed student says the answer again, but under their breath so only they and their immediate neighbors can hear it. The student refuses to be louder and whispers as if to prove it to themselves and those around them that they do in fact have a brain and that it does work.
Here’s a little tip: if you are a student that happens to sit next to one of these “answer whisperers,” listen to what they say, then raise your hand and say their answer louder. Not only will the whisperer get mad and consider changing their ways, the teacher will think YOU are the smart one and maybe give you some “participation points.”
Participation points themselves are a total joke. They are a sign of a professor’s desperate search for student involvement in the class and the material being presented. The phenomenon of students feeling they shouldn’t speak during class (perhaps out of fear of social scrutiny) has been visibly frustrating instructors-driving them to include participation as part of the grade and increasing their need for quizzes. If students won’t speak voluntarily about what they are learning, teachers have to test it out of them. Then someone invented “clickers”-little anonymous devices that allow students to answer multiple choice questions in class without having to raise their hand and be singled out as correct or incorrect.
There are profits being made out of “classroom response systems.” With these systems of clickers, graphics and software, shy people don’t have to step out of their comfort zone.
But part of growing up is growing out of childlike fears and timidity. Just like a three-year-old hides behind his mom’s legs when confronted by strangers, students are learning to hide behind these clickers. What’s worse is that teachers are encouraging their use, and I don’t blame them.
The answers and thoughts in our brains aren’t a secret. If we have them in our heads, we should say them and say them loud.
Yes, the professor will hear, but that’s the point isn’t it? I highly doubt answering a professor’s question labels a student as a “know-it-all.” Even so, isn’t remembering what you’re taught and sharing what you know and think a positive attribute?
Yes, speaking up in class can be uncomfortable, but if students are to be considered college educated adults, they need get over it.
UW-River Falls students need to embody what it means to be educated, growing out of childish habits into adulthood and help make sitting in class less of a bore by participating and taking on an active role.
Kirsten Blake is an alumna of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.