Class discussions should cater to all students, not just extroverts

by Catherine Van Weele, Senior Staff Writer

Class discussions have come to play a major role in the classroom. It is supposed to be a way to engage students and help students to develop their public speaking skills. However, traditional class discussions aren’t necessarily always beneficial to the learning process, especially for introverted students. 

Most people associate introverts not speaking in class with simply being shy. This is not necessarily accurate. Not all introverts are shy. An introvert is someone who turns inward for energy, whereas extroverts are energized by lots of external stimulation. 

While shyness may be the reason some students choose not to participate in class discussion, there are plenty of other influencing factors such as not being prepared on the course material, not having an interest in the course material or an overall fear of public speaking.

It can be difficult, especially at large universities like San Diego State, to hold class discussions when the classroom environment is not really set up for that. A quarter of classes at SDSU have over 50 students. With most classes only meeting for two and half hours per week, and a good chunk of that time being dedicated to lectures, this leaves little time for substantive class discussions in which all students are able to participate. Simply opening the room up to discussion often leads to a small handful of students dominating the conversation. 

There are students who may even prefer lectures to class discussions. With thousands of dollars going towards their education, some students would rather allocate classroom time with a more direct, straightforward way of learning. Lectures clearly outline what information and material students should know so they can prepare for their tests and exams. In class discussions, it can be difficult to decipher what points are most important which can make note-taking and studying challenging. 

It is the responsibility of professors and teachers to turn their classroom into a learning environment where all students have the ability to be successful.  

Some professors will grade students based on class participation with the hopes of bringing more students into the conversation. While more students will jump in to speak if their grades are on the line, this doesn’t necessarily lead to meaningful and engaging classroom discussions. Some students may just speak early on in order to get their credit but disengage for the rest of the discussion after they speak. Other students may even paraphrase comments made by previous students leading to an echo chamber — not exactly a constructive conversation.

I had a professor at SDSU who used a good strategy to make class discussions more accommodating to introverted students. She would pose a prompt or question and then instruct students to write down their thoughts for about three to five minutes before opening the class up for discussion. Introverts tend to take more time to process information compared to extroverts. These few minutes give introverted students the time they need to digest information and think about what they want to share with the rest of the class.

Another approach for having meaningful class discussions is doing think-pair-shares. This is when students think about the question or topic at hand and write down their thoughts. Then, students form pairs or small groups and exchange ideas with each other for about five minutes. After this, the whole class comes back together and shares what was discussed in the pairs or groups. Think-pair-shares offer students who may not want to speak in front of the whole class an opportunity to vocalize their ideas and encourage everyone to be active participants.

Introverts have valuable insights and opinions that deserve to be heard. Class discussions can be arranged in a manner that accommodates a range of learning styles allowing all students to make the most of their time in class. 

Catherine Van Weele is a senior studying political science and economics. Follow her on Twitter @catievanweele.