Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Anxiety over being called on in class

I vividly remember the first time I was called on in law school.  It was Contracts class.  I was well-prepared.  I opened my mouth to respond, and nothing came out.  It was probably only a few seconds, but it felt like an eternity.  Anxiety almost took over.  The ironic thing is that I had regularly done public speaking throughout my prior career.

When my students tell me that they have a fear of speaking in class, I empathize with them.  Sometimes it is just fear of a new situation.  Other times it stems from learning styels.  Students who are listeners rather than talkers with a high degree of reflective thinking in their learning styles are unlikely to jump in and rabbit on in class.

My 1L students who avoid class participation and internally gasp when they are called upon usually fear the Socratic Method and having all eyes on them in a large section.  However, 2L and 3L students also admit that they are reticent to speak in class.  The problem for them is that class participation often makes up some portion of their grade.  So, unlike the 1L student who can silently pray that she is not called upon, the 2L or 3L has to brave it and raise a hand or forfeit a chunk of the grade.

Here are some tips that I give to my students to help them become more confident:

  • After reading and briefing (or taking notes if material other than cases is assigned), take a few minutes to synthesize your reading.  Then out loud explain the reading to an empty chair, the family pet, or an understanding friend.  Next think of the professor's usual questions and answer them out loud.  You can practice your answers and gain confidence by this recitation step.
  • When the professor asks a question in class, answer silently in your head.  Then compare your answer to what another student says.  Listen to the professor's feedback.  You will probably find that you would have answered correctly.  Again, your self-confidence should get a boost from this exercise.
  • Gain additional practice voicing your opinions, questions, and answers by talking in your study group more than usual, talking with a classmate about the material, participating in student organization meetings, or asking the professor questions on office hours.  The more you talk, the less apprehensive you will be. 
  • Pick the class that you feel most confident in about the material and/or most comfortable with the professor/class size.  Prepare carefully for each class.  Write down one or two questions that you could ask in class.  Choose one or two of the professor's typical questions that you could answer.  In each class period for two weeks, make yourself participate once.  Then particpate twice each class period the next two weeks.  Continue to increase your participation over the semester. 
  • After you have had success in one class, use the same methods in another class.  Be consistent about challenging yourself to participate every class. 
  • If you find it hard to make yourself voluntarily participate, consider going to the professor for assistance.  Explain that you are trying to get over your fear of speaking in class and ask that the professor call on you some days.  Most professors are pleased when students try to confront their fears and are willing to help in overcoming the challenge.  

Law school is a "safe place" to gain more confidence in speaking in groups.  Practice is essential in developing a new skill.  As an attorney, you will be expected to speak up in meetings, hold client interviews, and lead case/project meetings.  Why not gain those skills in the law school environment?   (Amy Jarmon) 

  

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