Finding Your Voice

1. Know that your contributions are valuable and valued.  Edward Harkness did not contribute the money to fund the purchase of seminar tables so that "Harkness Warriors" could speak endlessly.  The more people with different ways of looking at the world contribute to a discussion, the richer and more productive that discussion will be. If you don't believe it, read this article.

2. Prepare well.  Do the reading.  Be an active reader.  Try to anticipate questions that will be posed about the reading.  Read with an eye to finding information in the readings that is relevant to those questions.  Underline and highlight so you can find that information in class. 

3. Ask clarifying questions.  Identify concepts in the readings that need clarification.  If you have a question about it, chances are that other students will too.  Take the opportunity to ask for clarification, especially at the start of class.  During the discussion you can also ask peers to repeat something or explain it further.

4. Be active in small groups.  Teachers will often begin a class by asking students to work in pairs or small groups for the very reason that it gives quieter students a chance to speak.  Make sure you take this opportunity.  And ask to present your small group's findings to the whole class.

5. During the discussion, you should always have your books open, scanning for passages relevant to the conversation.  When I see quiet students staring into the middle distance instead of look at the readings, I assume they are tuning out.  

6. Read passages. If the teacher asks for someone to volunteer to read a passage, step up. 

7. Use eye contact and body language to signal that you are ready to speak so that more talkative students will know to yield. If they aren't yielding in those situations, talk to your teacher.

8. Write.  When I started at Exeter, I could not get myself to speak at faculty meetings. It was too intimidating.  On the rare occasions when I did raise my hand to speak I would practically start hyperventilating, and whatever came out of my mouth was fairly incoherent.  So then, on a few occasions when I saw an issue on the agenda that I cared about I would write down my thoughts ahead of time.  I never read from my prepared remarks, but I found that I was less nervous about speaking and better able to express myself, because I had clarified my thinking, or maybe just figured out what I wanted to say.  If you have trouble speaking in class, do some writing about the readings and you may find it easier to express yourself in class.