Class Discussion

Class discussion is probably a more important part of World Humanities than any other class I teach. Because we are often concerned with the international news of the day, we will frequently develop initial understandings through talk. The importance I place on discussion is reflected in course grades, and discussion is assessed two or three times per term.

I’m sympathetic with those who argue that just because a person doesn’t participate in discussion doesn’t mean they aren’t aware of what’s going on. Susan Cain, among others, have argued persuasively that we overvalue extroverted behavior and undervalue introverted behavior. However, unlike other disciplines, English/language arts is expected to assess communication skills as much as content. “Speaking and listening” are therefore explicitly part of the what we assess (see, for example, the standards in the Iowa Core Curriculum, or those from the National Council of Teachers of English). For that reason, it’s unrealistic to expect that you can choose to rarely or never speak in discussion and still receive a better-than-average grade.

However, there are ways of conveying that you are engaged with the discussion that is going on without necessarily speaking up. They include:

  • maintaining eye contact with people who are participating;
  • taking notes during the discussion;
  • write and turn in a reflection on your own thoughts after discussion.

None of these are going to be the equivalent of actually participating in discussion, but they’re better than nothing. The bottom line: if you have trouble speaking up in class, talk to me about that so we can develop strategies for improvement.

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