January is the time to try new things.
Starting fresh in Term 2, you may be thinking of ways to improve on your marks from first term and to engage differently with your learning. Many classes include participation as a part of your final grade, and a good mark on this component can be the difference between one grade and the next.
This can feel intimidating at first, but with some practice and a dash of courage, you may soon see the benefits that actively engaging in class can have on your learning—and on your grades.
Tips to get you started
Do the readings
Pick a class or a week’s worth of readings and give them a close read—taking meticulous notes, highlighting quotes, the whole shabang. The worst part about speaking up in class is not feeling confident in what you’re saying, so if you hone in on a select number of readings, it can help to boost your confidence when it comes to contributing to discussion.
Ask questions (or even just one)
This is an easy way to show that you’ve engaged with the course material, while also stimulating further conversation. When you do the readings, make note of any sections that you’re unsure about, and craft a question from this to bring to class. Odds are you won’t be the only one who has that same question.
Go for it—and do it early
If you’ve put the work into prepping for a discussion, then the next step is raising your hand when the time comes and sharing what you prepared—which can sometimes be the hardest part. So, try to be the first one to speak up and get what you came to say over and done with early. This will give you less time to overthink things. When it goes well, you may even be encouraged to participate more in that class, and add on to what other people say.
Use participating in class as practice for the real world
At every job you have in the future, and at every interview you attend to get these future jobs, people will take notice if you are able to speak up, share your ideas, and show those around you that you have something valuable to contribute. Use this opportunity as practice for the real world by speaking up in at least one of your classes, just to see how it goes.
Being able to vocalize your thoughts and opinions is a necessary skill, and this is your chance to hone that skill. Even if it seems daunting right now, it’s worth giving it a shot—after all, you can’t get better at something if you don’t try!
But what if you’re just feeling too nervous?
If this just isn’t the right time for you to try participating in class, don’t stress. Instead...
Don’t be too hard on yourself
If speaking up in class is not your forté, don’t beat yourself up. Take this opportunity to watch what your fellow students do and listen to what they’re saying in class. Over time, you may just gain the courage to speak up yourself.
Remember that people are good at different things, and just because people are more vocal than you in class does not mean that they’re smarter than you. You may shine more in research papers or group projects, and that’s totally cool.
Approach the professor outside of class
By attending office hours, or speaking to your professors before or after class, you can ask any questions you have in a less public space, and show your prof that you’re engaged with the class materials. You can even let them know that actively participating is not your strong suit, and ask if they have any advice for you.
I was having some trouble contributing to a class outside my major in first term (where participation was 20% of my grade!), and I decided to approach my professor after class for some advice. He recommended some additional readings for me, and a supplementary assignment I could complete. He also reassured me that even if I didn't find my voice in class right away, he (and, I think, most profs) are just as interested in seeing growth over a term as anything else.
I was met with a great deal of empathy and willingness to help—a welcome reminder that your instructors want you to succeed, and they'll be more likely than not to want to help in whatever way they can.
Because of this conversation, and my prof's support throughout the term, I found myself less nervous about contributing in class discussions as the term progressed, and I ended the term with a high participation mark.
I'm in my fifth year, and I still find it hard at times to find my voice in the classroom. But, when I do challenge myself to speak up and contribute, and I put the work into preparing for class discussions, I am able to see real, concrete results.
So, take your time, challenge yourself a bit, and see where speaking up in class takes you. It may result in a perhaps small, but real change in your learning and your grades.
Header photo credit: Justin Lee / UBC Brand & Marketing