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Why is class participation considered so important these days?

(49 Posts)
dimsum123 Fri 07-Feb-20 11:52:15

As a parent, I would like to know why class participation is considered so important by many teachers?

Why is it necessary to put your hand up in class to ask or answer a question?

Why is sitting there quietly, whilst actively listening, hearing and processing the information being disseminated not enough?

I ask because my son has been at school for ten years if you count reception. He is 13 and currently in year 9, and in each and every report and at every parents' evening we get told he is very quiet and should contribute more/participate more in class.

Because of this he is perceived as lacking in confidence. He does not lack confidence in general, but I would agree he does lack confidence in speaking out in class, perhaps because he's scared of getting an answer wrong or of asking a stupid question and being laughed at.

However he gets good grades in all his written tests and homework etc, always getting 7s and 8s and with a bit more effort and less time on the playstation, could comfortably achieve 9s across the board.

Given that in his GCSEs he will only be marked on his written work, apart from French which is an exception, why is class participation so important?

If it is because the teacher wants to know if he has understood the lesson, that can and is evaluated through homework and written tests.

Even more confusing is that some teachers see it as an issue whilst others do not. Some are content that he is clearly learning and understanding what is being taught, as can be seen from his written work, and are not pushing for him to speak more during lessons.

I have noticed that it seems to be the older, perhaps more experienced teachers who are not concerned about the lack of visible participation and it's the younger ones who seem most keen for him to engage in this particular way.

In years gone by the opposite was required and children were meant to sit quietly and listen and learn. If my son had been around during those times he would have got top marks for effort in every lesson. It seems in our world today being an extrovert is considered the ideal.

I feel it's trying to push a square peg into a round hole and at best it's futile and at worst it's damaging if as a result my son my feels his personality is not good enough as it is.

Can anyone shed any light?

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FredaFrogspawn Fri 07-Feb-20 11:54:17

School is about more than grades for gcse. I guess if he has more developed speaking skills and more confidence with joining in discussions, he will ultimately have more to offer and employer.

BillHadersNewWife Fri 07-Feb-20 11:58:11

I sympathise as I have a naturally quiet DD but in reality OP, they need to learn to be brave and participate.

It can be tough in the working world and people who speak up are noticed more.

That's life.

As an introvert myself, I had years of forcing myself to speak up and join in so that I could pursue the career I wanted to.

Now I'm 47 and have paid my dues and work from home, alone with hardly any actual interaction with my clients.

I do phone calls obviously but meeting in person? Nope!

My point is though, that I HAD to come out of my box to get to this point.

Allflightscancelled Fri 07-Feb-20 11:58:17

If children participate in class you can see that they're engaging rather than day dreaming. You can also check their understanding.

Plus, sharing ideas, even if they turn out to be a bit wide of the mark, and need some refinement, benefits everyone. It's a bit like when you're in a brainstorming meeting and they'd rather you said whatever comes into your head, even if it turns out to be crap? It can still lead to some interesting places.

BillHadersNewWife Fri 07-Feb-20 12:00:14

I helped my DD (now 15) to become more outspoken by making her order in restaurants, go up to the counter in shops etc. as well as signing her up for music lessons, ballroom lessons and guides.

These have all helped her and now she's just begun to speak up in class. Her teachers have noticed a marked difference in her this year and she's joined a band her own back.

Tish008 Fri 07-Feb-20 12:00:42

Extroversion is rated more valuable traits than introversion.

I say if he is happy and understands the work then leave him be.

There is always a caveat that soblong as he participates in group work fully he should be able to be himself the rest of the time

dimsum123 Fri 07-Feb-20 12:01:26

Thanks for your post. He's only 13 so neither he nor I are thinking about jobs/employers at the moment.

He's got plenty of friends and his teachers say he has a good sense of humour so it's not that he is completely silent, but he is definitely not an extrovert.

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NearlyGranny Fri 07-Feb-20 12:05:13

Children who are overly subdued and reticent go out into the world at a huge disadvantage, vulnerable to being shouldered aside and taken advantage of. Besides, speaking and listening is on the curriculum so has to be taught!

Children need to be able to articulate their thinking, share ideas with others, offer and support a point of view and facilitate discussion in a group. These are all important life skills no child should be without.

The new Ofsted framework means inspectors listening to children talk about their learning, too, fwiw.

Scarydinosaurs Fri 07-Feb-20 12:06:02

I would imagine that the teachers who are encouraging more participation are thinking that if he grew in confidence to be able to give answers/ask questions without worrying he would be laughed at, he would be happier.

But I agree- we do all seem to try and shape children to be the same, and really not everyone is the same!

I wouldn’t worry about their comments. At least his target isn’t ‘stop irritating your fellow students’ ha!

NearlyGranny Fri 07-Feb-20 12:07:47

Look at the Etonians in government: they were coached and encouraged to speak confidently and to expect to be listened to. It puts them at an advantage.

dimsum123 Fri 07-Feb-20 12:13:33

@Allflightscancelled, but why do teachers assume the child is daydreaming? They might just be listening and learning? DS is clearly listening as he always does well in all his tests etc.

Agree re the brainstorming although in class am not sure it's brainstorming as such, more just asking/answering a question.

@BillHadersNewWife, yes we are encouraging DS to order in restaurants etc. He now goes out without us quite often, with his group of friends, so he is forced to order for himself and interact with waiters etc so I guess that is good.

@Tish008, my thoughts exactly. Introverts are considered inferior and should try and become more like extroverts. That's the message I get from some of his teachers.

But some of his teachers are fine with him just the way he is, as long as his grades are good which they always are.

I was similar to him at school and yet went on to do well, and actually trained to be a lawyer and spent years standing up in Court arguing my case in front of a judge! All this despite being an introvert and provided I was well prepared, I was very confident in court.

OP’s posts: |
dimsum123 Fri 07-Feb-20 12:17:33

@NearlyGranny, sorry, but the very last thing I would like him to be like is one of the Etonians in government!

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PerfectParrot Fri 07-Feb-20 12:18:47

I think that discussing stuff in class becomes more and more important through school and so the teachers are probably just trying to develop that skill. I'm naturally introverted and understand that it is difficult. But when covering a challenging concept at A level (I teach physics) it is far better for the student if they feel confident to ask questions as we go along. I also need to constantly assess where they are up to because if they haven't understood one small bit it can make the next step much harder.

Every year I have a few new year 12 students who don't understand something in class, don't like to ask, and then spend ages trying to do a homework task that they can't manage. In some cases, getting quite stressed by the fact that they are finding it hard. They are almost always the "studious but quiet" students who found GCSE quite easy.

Finally, even at GCSE, while the written work is what is marked, they are actually being assessed on their understanding of the subject. Discussing things is a really good way of clarifying your own understanding of something.

Trahira Fri 07-Feb-20 12:25:02

OP, I broadly agree with you. Your DS may well be listening quietly and learning even if he isn’t contributing.

From the teacher’s own selfish point of view, it is MUCH easier and more rewarding (not to mention enjoyable) to teach a class which is participating actively and it’s not always the same few kids putting their hands up. There’s no real reason why your DS should be concerned about that, but maybe it helps explain the teacher feedback?

(I’m not a teacher btw but I do work in education.)

NearlyGranny Fri 07-Feb-20 12:33:31

Not suggesting you want to raise a Boris, just suggesting all our children need to be Boris-proofed and able to hold their own with the privileged! My own state-school educated DD1 was a quiet flower and we worked hard for years to build her confidence. She got into a top university dominated by privately educated students and held her own there. Her comment to me was that the most privileged knew how to dominate a conversation even when they had nothing to say. That is what your DS will probably encounter, too.

Allflightscancelled Fri 07-Feb-20 12:45:11

@dimsum123 teachers don't necessarily assume daydreaming, but they may well suspect it. And, as I say, learning really does seem to be more effective when it's shared - ie everyone gives some input, whether it's new ideas, or responses to ideas someone else puts forward - so really, everyone's learning is diminished if some people aren't participating. I do have sympathy for people who find it hard to contribute. But it's still true that everyone benefits if they can do so.

dimsum123 Fri 07-Feb-20 12:54:15

@Trahira, this is my theory as well, that the teachers feel rewarded when there is class participation. It's a form of immediate and clear feedback about their teaching. It's only some that seem very keen on this, not all, which is what I found a bit confusing.

@PerfectParrot, I understand your point and it is a valid one. Perhaps at A level it will become more important that he is able to ask questions if he doesn't understand something, but he's very bright and I don't think he's finding any of his subjects particularly challenging at the moment.

However from my own experience at school and college and uni as an introvert who hardly ever asked a question in class, I did pretty well, and it hasn't held me back in any way. Same with DH.

I personally am not bothered if DS doesn't participate much as long as he is not actually daydreaming and continues to get good grades.

I'm more concerned about his self esteem at constantly reading in his reports that he's not good enough as he is and that he needs to become more of an extrovert which is the message I'm getting a lot of the time.

OP’s posts: |
dimsum123 Fri 07-Feb-20 12:55:19

@NearlyGranny, DS is at a top private school!

OP’s posts: |
Allflightscancelled Fri 07-Feb-20 13:00:33

@dimsum I should also add that I agree with you and other posters that all kids are different and they can't all be shoehorned into what the school thinks is 'best'.

My daughter is older but at the other end of the scale - ie I honestly think sometimes her classes would be better if she could STFU and let someone else get a word in. But like your son, she's doing great so far (sat GCSEs last summer) so all I can do is back her. Does your son go to parents evenings with you? Because if he does, and he hears you support the way he chooses to learn, and validate it on his behalf, that'll maybe help.

dimsum123 Fri 07-Feb-20 14:11:36


Snap! I've also got an older DD who is a complete extrovert and puts her hand up all the time and also could do with STFU sometimes. She's not at all bothered about asking a silly question or giving a wrong answer especially if it makes everyone laugh.

But the teachers love her and she always gets top marks for effort. The funny thing is that as her parents if we were to grade her for effort based on what we see at home, we'd probably give her a C as she spends far too much time chatting with friends and buying fancy stationery than actually knuckling down and doing the work!

I've come to realise the whole thing is a bit of a game and if DS wants to get an A for effort he needs to talk more. Otherwise he'll only ever get a B which is based on written class work, home work and tests.

OP’s posts: |
LolaSmiles Fri 07-Feb-20 14:24:31

I strongly dislike it when quieter students are told to be more extroverted.However, participation in class doesn't always translate to being extroverted.

For example, if I set a task where everyone needs to discuss something with their partner and I've designed my seating plan to account for the fact I do lots of small paired tasks before the independent work, then someone doing the task on their own instead of in a pair is actually opting out of learning.

I don't like hands up as a strategy in class for questions and I much prefer to pick the students I want for specific questions, or avoid specific students if I know they respond better to 1-1 questions.

Part of learning involves soft skills and participation is expected.

Allflightscancelled Fri 07-Feb-20 14:31:14


But the teachers love her and she always gets top marks for effort. The funny thing is that as her parents if we were to grade her for effort based on what we see at home, we'd probably give her a C as she spends far too much time chatting with friends and buying fancy stationery

Our daughters could be twins grin

tellmewhentheLangshiplandscoz Fri 07-Feb-20 14:52:10

This is an interesting thread as my DD year 7 is very similar. Whilst I agree she needs to come out of her shell and we're working on that with her all the time I am starting to get irritated at hearing teachers tell me she's very quiet in class . While at the same time when I suggest they start putting her on the spot occasionally all I hear is "Oooh, we don't like to do that as it could make her feel uncomfortable"! Now I understand if it's done the wrong way it's counter productive but surely you can start small, say pick a topic/question you know the child understands? Maybe quietly suggest at the start of lesson "Jonny I'd love you to share that idea with the class later, could you do that?" Because ultimately you can tell me every week she doesn't put her hand up or speak up but I'm not there in the room to nudge her.

Sorry if that sounded like a rant teachers, you all have my utmost respect. I work in schools on a casual basis and some of the stuff I see, jesus you lot are incredible, I couldn't do it day in day out. Sometimes it's just disheartening to keep hearing the same old but no indication of strategies teachers have tried.

As an aside, she's an amazing listener. I sometimes wonder if all the extroverts around her listen as well as they talk wink.

I do like the idea of getter no her to do more "asking" where were out and about, especially when talking to adults. We'll definitely do this more. NearlyGranny I love the concept of Boris Proofing our kids!

SpruceTree Fri 07-Feb-20 15:02:31

I get this OP!
If the teachers want to hear what an introvert has to say they need to ask them when small group work is going on.
Being an introvert is an advantage in many jobs. It's something to celebrate not something that must be changed.
I think teachers just think it's something to say on a report. Ignore it and let your child know they are perfect as they are.
I get fed up with teachers making out being quiet is a negative thing. Personally i find loud extroverts annoying and wish they would just stop talking.
I guess it all depends on the teachers personality.

LolaSmiles Fri 07-Feb-20 15:17:13

That's what they should be doing! It's poor form on the teachers if they're not.

It's good practice to use certain strategies for supporting introverted or quiet students:
- consider who they are sat with in the seating plan to promote paired talk
- give rehearsal time to have thought about or discussed an answer so they don't have a panic moment being selected publicly
- prioritise them during the time you're circulating the class so they get some TLC and you can talk 1-1
- confirm their answer / idea was interesting and tell them you're going to ask them to share in 5 minutes
- ask them a question that you know they know the answer to

I'll never forget the lovely letter and flowers I got at the end of one year from a parent of a wallflower child (said with affection by the way). I hadn't realised the full impact of schools focusing on extroverted behaviours until that year.

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