Commentary: Quietly Loud

Due to the value placed on certain character traits in students in academic settings, including extraversion, confidence, verbal engagement, and gregariousness, it is becoming increasingly difficult for those who do not necessarily possess these character traits to be viewed as equally contributing members of classroom discourse. As introverts tend to think things through more comprehensively, it can be hard for us to be both actively contributing members in the classroom and adhere to our personalities. The Andover community, with all of its diversity, can work towards fostering an environment in which introverted and inward-directed students feel comfortable and are given an equal opportunity to thrive. At Andover and many other academic institutions, there are inherent misperceptions that teachers may form about introverted students which result in unfair grading disparities.

This misconception becomes apparent particularly when it comes to classroom participation. The notion of class participation and engagement should not be limited to how many times a student raises his or her hand to speak or asks a question regarding the material. While these certainly are important indicators as to which students are comfortable speaking up and sharing in class, they are not valid factors in gauging a student’s engagement with a topic. Class engagement should include a range of criteria: homework assignments, critical thinking about class material, the quality of a student’s work, the reflection process, extensive note taking, and improving test scores. This leads to a more comprehensive evaluative process. While there certainly are teachers at Andover who take these factors into account when assessing participation grades and courses, my experiences in this area have been varied.

Oftentimes I have had to force myself to share thoughts and opinions in the classroom in order to be viewed as engaged and regularly contributing — even if my words did not necessarily advance the conversation. On the other hand, I’ve observed students both arguing in favor or against statements made by their peers for the purpose of verbally contributing to the class discussion and not necessarily because the student feels strongly one way or the other. Based on my discussions with some of my classmates, I believe that there are many highly engaged and diligent students who experience this need to “prove” their engagement in the classroom but fail to do so successfully because of their introverted personalities and/or learning styles.

While I certainly understand the importance that classroom participation plays in helping students to foster the skill of interpersonal communication, I do not believe that students should be penalized solely for their lack of verbal contributions. In Valerie Strauss’ “Washington Post” article “Why introverts shouldn’t be forced to talk in class,” Strauss poses a series of critical questions to teachers around the world:  “Can students participate without speaking out loud?  Should teachers consider the times that a student gives silent assent to a question or thoughtfully jots notes for a future essay as participation? Are these useful forms of participation? How might silence be re-framed as a ‘productive’ or useful contribution to the classroom?” While these questions may vary in relevance and effectiveness depending on the type of course and/or learning environment, there are many steps that both teachers and students can take towards understanding each other’s expectations and participatory styles.

The growing emphasis on verbal engagement in the classroom must be coupled with an increased awareness and understanding of the diverse personalities present in the classroom.  The absence of dialogue should not be interpreted by the teacher as the absence of learning, caring, or engagement. My hope is that Andover and other schools around the world  will move in a direction where the quality of a student’s voice, work, and effort are considered a more effective measurement of the student’s engagement and contribution, rather than the total number of words that the student speaks in the class.

Adin McAuliffe is a three-year Upper from West Palm Beach, Fla. and an Associate Commentary Editor for The Phillipian. Contact the author at