Leslie Talbot, principal of Talbot Consulting, recently led a workshop on how parents can foster classroom participation in their children.  The event was organized by the PA Diversity Committee, Horace Mann Office of Diversity, and RIISE (Resources in Independent School Education).  The following is an article by Cecilia Malm, as it appeared in the Horace Mann School Bulletin, highlighting how parents can encourage their children to participate in the classroom:

HM Hosts Workshop on the Importance of Classroom Participation

by Cecilia Malm


Have you ever heard these words from your child’s teacher?: “Your child is a wonderful student, but I would really like to see him (or her) participate more in class.”

Why is classroom participation important? What are some of the factors that determine whether or not a student participates? And what can parents do to encourage their children to take a more active role in class discussions?

Education Consultant Leslie Talbot led a lively discussion of these questions and more in a workshop held on November 5th organized by the PA Diversity Committee, HM Office of Diversity, and RIISE (Resources in Independent School Education). As Founder and Principal of Talbot Consulting, Ms. Talbot has provided evaluation and technical assistance services to schools, school districts, nonprofit organizations, state education agencies and foundations for over a decade. She was formerly Senior Vice President and founding employee of K12connect, Inc., a privately-held education software company specializing in technology solutions for schools, as well as Director of Research & Evaluation for Teach For America (TFA).

Ms. Talbot opened the discussion with an exploration of some of the cultural, gender and environmental factors that impact classroom participation. “For some individuals there is a disconnect between what students believe is proper behavior and what a teacher expects,” she said. She cited an example from an experience she had observing Hmong children in the classroom. “It is considered disrespectful within Hmong culture to look a teacher directly in the eye. In this circumstance teachers and students need to come to a greater understanding of each other. There needs to be greater communication and trust on both sides.” She also noted that studies have shown girls participate much more frequently in single-sex classrooms and that environmental conditions such as the past-faced, technology-infused culture we live in can impact how focused and engaged a student is at school. “One of the most important environmental factors supporting classroom participation,” she added, “is a feeling of safety. Students must feel that it is safe to raise their hands even if they have the wrong answer.”

The second part of Ms. Talbot’s presentation focused on the rewards of effective participation and the consequences of ineffective participation. “If my child is an introvert and does well on exams and other measures of academic performance, why should failing to speak up in class impact their grade?” several parents wanted to know.

“Communication and interpersonal skills are vital in the 21st century,” Ms. Talbot replied in response to the question. “Learning to express oneself and ones ideas to others is a critical component of a good education, and an essential skill in a great number of professions.” She also spoke about the importance of taking advantage of a valuable opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge of content and your level of engagement with the subject to the teacher. Her third argument for the importance of class participation centered on the importance of developing a sense of how others perceive you. “You don’t want your child to learn to be invisible. You want your child to feel secure in presenting themselves in public and to learn how to make an impression.”

In closing, Ms. Talbot provided parents with methodologies and tools to help their children navigate the classroom with skill and confidence using the home as a foundation for learning and the development of successful relationships.

Her suggestions included the following:

Begin at home with “teachable moments.” You are your child’s first teacher. Be attentive to every experience as a learning opportunity. Ask your child open-ended questions that lead to in-depth discussion. When asked to provide an example Ms. Talbot said you might ask your child a question having to do with current events, such as “what do you think was the biggest reason for the government shutdown?” Your child might answer “because the two parties couldn’t get along,” and you might continue the discussion by saying “why do you think they can’t get along?”

Be a model. Demonstrate to your child that you are curious about the world. Use detailed and specific language, not generalities. Let your child observe you participating in discussions at events or with other adults.

Help your child set goals and priorities and assist them with time management. “Children participate when they feel prepared,” Ms. Talbot said. “If they haven’t done the reading, they certainly aren’t going to raise their hand.” She suggested trying as much as possible to be familiar with your child’s schedule and assignments, engaging in discussions with them at home or in the car on topics they are studying, and reducing stress by supporting them in staying on top of their schoolwork.

Provide your child with opportunities to learn from failure. “Classroom participation is partly about being a risk-taker,” Ms. Talbot said. “Children build confidence from failure, not success. They have to know that the world won’t end if they put themselves out there and have the wrong answer. Parents can do a great deal to let their children experience failure and to let them know they are loved and supported regardless of whether they succeed in any given situation.”

Be an advocate for your child. Ask your child’s teacher about out how frequently he or she participates in class. Communicate frequently with your child’s teachers. If you are not provided with them, request lesson plans, syllabi, and a school calendar. If your child’s teacher is concerned about his or her class participation request a conference to talk with them about ways to encourage your child to be more actively engaged. Identify at-home and extracurricular activities to support active learning, including clubs, games and volunteer work. Organize with other parents to create activities and advocate for classroom environments that support participation across diverse groups and backgrounds.

Following her presentation, Ms. Talbot responded to a number of interesting questions from parents, including:

What is an appropriate time to engage your child in the type of in-depth discussions you describe?

LT: “Keep it light. Discussion should be organic, maybe in a car ride home, on the train, or over dinner. Don’t make it seem like you’re quizzing them. Try to engage them on a topic that you think would be of interest to them.”

As a parent should you try to influence your child in terms of where she sits in the classroom?

LT: “Rather than telling a student she needs to sit in the front row to get noticed, I would say that as a parent you should ask your child to think about how the teacher perceives her during class. Does she get noticed/called upon when she wants to participate? Does sitting near the window or door present a distraction that keeps her from being as engaged as she would like to be? If she’s not getting called on despite raising her hand, she might want to experiment with changing her seat.”

In closing, Ms. Talbot shared links to several on-line resources that can help parents learn about and support their child’s classroom participation (see links below). “Children should always be true to themselves and their strengths,” she said. “But they also need to understand that every time their hand goes up, they are saying something about themselves as a learner and their goals for their future.”

On-line resources suggested by Ms. Talbot included:

Darling, A. (2012). “How to Develop Class Participation Skills.” retrieved from: http://annedarling.hubpages.com/hub/Jumpstart-Your-Childs-Class-Participation-Skills

Center for Effective Parenting. (2009). “Improving Your Child’s Classroom Participation.” http://ibes.conwayschools.org/uploads/6/8/4/8/6848680/increasing_classroom_participation.pdf

ROCCA, K. (2010). “Student Participation in the College Classroom: An Extended Multidisciplinary Literature Review.” National Communication Association. 59, 185-213. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03634520903505936


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