Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Friday, September 14, 2018

Introverted Students and Class Participation

A post late last month in EdWeek Update on teaching introverted students in K-12 education discussed how grading participation could disadvantage students who were introverted and cause teachers to see extroverted students as more successful: link here. The post discussed Quiet by Susan Cain. Even if you have not read the book, you may be familiar with its subtitle slogan of sorts, "The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking." The post caused me to revisit participation grading in law school.

All of us in ASP work are familiar with students who rarely raise their hands in classes, who only speak when randomly called upon, who are often stressed by Socratic Method no matter how well-prepared, and who may prefer to work entirely alone without study partners or study groups. These are also the students about whom the professors comment once grades are posted, "Student X got the highest grade in my class, but never opened his/her mouth the entire semester. I was so surprised!"

Several years ago I started providing multiple ways to get participation points in my international law seminar classes. A small seminar depends on discussion if the professor wants to avoid being a droning voice. I also genuinely think that law students need to become comfortable in active discussion because they will be on teams or on committees once they are in practice.

However, I recognize that not all students find it natural to speak regularly in class. I have participation count for 20-25% of the grade depending on the course. Quality (as opposed to mere quantity) comments can garner "double points" for class participation. I will pause before calling on students to give the reflective students longer to think about a question. Additional participation points can be gained by reporting on international events relevant to the discussion (in writing or in class), completing written answers to study questions, working on a team task in class, or completing other exercises. If students are working on papers, I will ask them to discuss their research for a few minutes at a lataer class when a topic ties in to their paper topic.

Some students will come talk to me about their hesitancy to speak in any of their classes. We brainstorm strategies they can use to become more at ease with in-class participation. I encourage them that a seminar class is a great place to practice participation with fewer people and more discussion opportunities. At times I purposely throw out "softball" questions for encouragement to get these students started. A few students will even ask me to call on them during a certain class to help them get started.

When I was in practice, I observed more extroverted, talkative lawyers sometimes discount their quieter colleagues as less able. It always made me smile when one of the quieter lawyers would later be the very one who would quietly catch an important error made by the lawyer who had felt superior. All learning preferences have value - even when individuals want to assume their own preferences are the more important ones. (Amy Jarmon)

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