I remember one advanced conversation class I was enrolled in as a student of Russian. It was a small class, and all but two were very vocal. I happened to be one of the quiet ones. Part of the problem was my own level of confidence in speaking. Other factors that contributed to my lack of participation included personalities with strong opinions, topics that required more background knowledge than I had (I’m not avidly interested in politics and economics), and the nearly invariable format of open discussion. I felt the laissez-faire style of our instructor allowed vocal students to talk at length and left uncertain ones like myself to take cover in silence. (I really did have a good cover. I always wore an attentive, engaged look.)
At one point we were each given the assignment of reading a news article of our choice, summarizing it for our classmates, noting and explaining unfamiliar vocabulary, and posing discussion questions. Because there were concrete tasks and we had adequate preparation time, my level of confidence increased. My presentation wasn’t exceptional, but considering my usual level of participation, there was notable improvement.
What’s the lesson to be learned? Open discussion doesn’t work in everyone’s favor.
- Small, concrete tasks can help students focus.
- Open discussion can have a framework: a rough time frame and some guidelines.
- Students need a balance between topics of their choosing and topics we select for them.
In my next posting, I’ll explain my three points listed above in more detail.