I am UIC: Engaging in conversation in the classroom
We are now in the second week of this new semester — we are settling into the groove of a fixed schedule, and we are finding our favorite informally assigned seat in class. With that, we are growing more and more comfortable, which means that class discussions will begin to really pick up in the next couple of days. I want to talk about participating in class this week.
I know we have all felt the uncomfortable silence of a disinterested and disengaged class, especially when numbers of students are up to 75 students in the same room. One feels as if he or she can hide among the masses, or maybe that his or her voice is smothered among the masses. But I hope you have also been able to experience at some point the beautiful phenomenon that occurs when students are passionately excited about the topic of a class. The energy of the room is high, and depending on the controversiality of the topic, the tension in between spoken statements and raising hands is almost palpable.
I have definitely experienced both of these environments in the course of my several semesters here at UIC. However badly I wanted to break the uncomfortable silence or provide an enticing counterargument, I have always struggled to use my voice during these discussion-based courses. Graded participation used to make my heart race, and my increasing anxiety would force my mind to draw unbearable blanks, robbing me of the ability to say anything insightful or worthwhile. That is why I’ve never understood professors who have required verbal participation in class (don’t they realize that over 75 percent of us are out here struggling to find the words to say). However, I have learned, through a series of embarrassing stumbles and long pauses, weird questions, and many trips up to professor’s office hours, to find my voice in class.
My solution? Always do the readings assigned for class.
This probably sounds silly and obvious, but reading and annotating the readings assigned for each class period has helped me tremendously in engaging my own thoughts in a meaningful class discussion. I used to only briefly skim the long and tedious articles for class, realizing that I didn’t really need to entirely read to get As on my exams. But what I realized was that from doing the bare minimum, I was robbing myself of the ability to independently think and articulate that which I was being presented. I was depending upon gleaning the rehearsed thoughts and opinions of my professor, and through this bad habit, my ability to think for myself on matters was experiencing an increasing rate of attrition as I have advanced through school. Practice a lot, be willing to make mistakes, and be willing to be disagreed with, and you will eventually find your voice! You are doing you and your classmates a favor.
So anyway, read for class, and I guarantee you will find no problem speaking up in class. I still find it extremely uncomfortable to speak without being called on, but that is another matter that I will have to continue working on. With that said, I think next week I will write a bit more about respectfully disagreeing with other’s opinions and thoughts. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading.
Abigail Floresca is a junior majoring in criminology, law and justice with a minor in professional writing. Writing is how she connects, processes, expresses and relates to the rest of the world. Increasingly aware of the power of storytelling in bringing about change and reform, Abigail earnestly seeks to find a way to incorporate a perfect blend of writing and social work within the criminal justice system — she dreams of bringing about a positive change, one story at a time. At UIC, she is involved in campus ministry; conducts research with the criminology, law and justice department; interns with the Chicago Justice Project, and loves exploring new places downtown.