Participating in Class Discussions

From Andrea Lirio

Starting college with the fear of speaking up in class, and how I overcame it.

I’ve always had a fear of speaking up in class. When I was in high school, I had trouble speaking up in class because I hated getting answers wrong. You speak up in class, and your teacher tells you you’re wrong in front of all of your classmates. How embarrassing! It’s not easy to put yourself out there and throughout the years, I grew more uncomfortable participating in class discussions. In coming to Bryn Mawr, I hoped to break out of my shell and face my fear of speaking in class.

One of the reasons I decided to attend Bryn Mawr is because of the small class sizes – the median class size is 14 and the student to faculty ratio is just 9:1. Many of our courses are taught seminar-style with an emphasis on student discussion. I came to Bryn Mawr hoping to challenge myself to go out of my comfort zone and participate in class discussions. Through the college decision process, I realized a larger college or university wouldn’t provide me with the same close-knit community and learning experience.

During my first semester of college, I still had difficulty coming out of my shell. It’s not an easy transition from being a quiet student in class to eagerly raising my hand. I took time during my first semester to adjust and absorb my surroundings. I was encouraged to participate regularly in my Spanish language class discussions and Emily Balch Seminar (ESEM), which helped build my confidence in the classroom. Bryn Mawr offered a different environment than I was used to in my high school – a more inclusive and non-judgmental space. Although I didn’t regularly participate in class unless prompted to during my first semester, I was given many opportunities to go out of my comfort zone and face my fear of speaking up in class.

After winter break, however, everything changed! Having four classes under my belt from the semester before and knowing the people and space around me, I felt more confident. I entered my classes – Spanish, math, philosophy, and economics – with more confidence and certainty. To my surprise, I started speaking more in class! When the professor had a question, my hand shot up. It was a complete change for me. Even when I got an answer wrong, I didn’t feel as bad as I had during high school. It wasn’t a big deal! My professor acknowledged my comment and directed me toward the correct answer. Different from high school, my professor provided a safe, non-judgmental space to share questions and comments. Bryn Mawr’s close-knit class sizes helped me get more accustomed to sharing with my peers and facing my of fear of participating in class discussions.

Here are some tips for speaking up in class:

  1. I know it’s way easier said than done, but don’t worry if you get something wrong! Everyone in your class is learning too. Honestly, your professor appreciates that you took the risk and are interested in learning more!
  2. Prepare for class! If you get nervous about what to say in class, prepare for it! Read the textbook and take notes on what you will be studying in class the next day. Have those notes out during the discussion and be prepared to ask questions you may have about the content or help explain something to your peers. It never hurts to be prepared!
  3. Meet with your professor. Being at a small college, we have a great opportunity to meet with our professors one-on-one during office hours. Go to them! Talk to your professor and talk about your worries and concerns. They are there to help and guide you through the course and your college experience as a whole.
  4. Don’t over analyze. I’m guilty of this myself. Many times, before participating, I review what I’m about to say and make sure it doesn’t sound dumb. There are so many times I’ve missed an opportunity to participate in class. Sometimes my peer would say EXACTLY what I was thinking about, but they were able to stay it first because they were more confident and just went for it. If you think it’s something your class would benefit from hearing, SAY IT! Don’t overthink!

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