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Put Up Your Hand! Four Tips for Contributing to Class Discussion

Mid-term feedback is in. Everyone has been bucketed. The forced curve means that some of us are in the bottom bucket. It’s time to ‘get in the game’. And we’re here to help. Here, Jenifer A. Marshall, an Associate Director in MBA Student & Academic Services, shares best practices for improving the quantity and quality of your class contributions.

How do you feel when the professor asks a question, and you know you have something to say? How do you feel when you sit down knowing you haven’t participated in the last three classes? How do you feel when you’re cold called?

Students have many different reasons for feeling hesitant about participating. You may not feel you grasp the material well enough to contribute. You may understand the material but feel that you don’t have anything “smart” or “interesting” enough to say. You may prefer to listen and don’t enjoy the spotlight. Whatever the case, it can be tough to put yourself out there.

Understand your fear or reluctance
Try to understand what’s holding you back. Notice what you’re telling yourself when you’re sitting in class. Are you being critical of yourself? “I don’t have anything interesting to say.” Defeatist? “I’ll never get up the courage to raise my hand.” Try to change that message and be kind and encouraging to yourself. A recent study showed that talking to yourself in the third person rather than using “I” can decrease your anxiety and help you perform better. It’s as though you’re talking to a friend, and you may be able to think more clearly and feel less stress.

Enlist support
Let someone in your class know your feelings about participating and look at that person when you’re speaking if possible. You may feel more confident knowing that someone is pulling for you.

Remember that you always have something to offer
Even if you’re struggling with the content of a course, you can usually find some areas in a case about which you have something to say. Although you can’t control the flow of the class discussion, try to identify those areas of interest and comprehension ahead of time and contribute as you can.

Get help
Student & Academic Services staff is available for individual appointments to discuss class participation, tutoring and learning support, and any personal concerns you may have. We also regularly offer workshops on a variety of topics such as time management, stress reduction, case reading and exam writing, and mindfulness. Email us at sas@hbs.edu to schedule an appointment.

October 27, 2014
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