When you teach a class or lead a discussion, participation is often easy for some people and hard for others.
People who find participation easy will tend to talk a lot and ask a lot of questions. They can really easily fill up all the space with their confidence and their speech. This can result in people who struggle to participate feeling like they have no way to say anything. (This is not necessarily anyone’s fault.)
It is possible to create space for them in several ways. They all start from presuming competence. Specifically - start from the presumption that people who aren’t participating have worthwhile things to say, and
They also start by paying attention to who is and isn’t participating. If you notice whose voices are absent, it becomes easier to find ways to include them.
It can help to call on people specifically when you notice they’re not saying things, in a low-pressure way:
- Say you notice that Susan hasn’t said anything in the discussion
- You can say, “Susan, would you like to add something?” or
- “Susan, what do you think?”
- If you’re not asking for an answer to a particular question, and you ask in a non-demanding tone, this can be a good way to give people a chance to talk
- Particularly if you wait a few seconds after asking, and take no for an answer (whether it’s a stated no or an implied no)
It can help to ask in a more general way:
- Sometimes the conversation is dominated by a few people
- You can often address this by saying something like
- “Would anyone who has not said anything yet like to say something?” or
- “I’d like to hear from people who haven’t spoken.”
- This lets people who aren’t speaking up know that you care about what they have to say without putting individual pressure on anyone
- It also lets people who are taking up the space know that you’d like to make sure you hear from everyone
It helps to be available through email:
- Some people who care deeply about the subject and want to participate aren’t able to do so in real time
- If they are better at using email, being available by email will make it possible for them to participate
- (It might also make it easier for them to tell you about barriers to their participation)
People who teach: What have y'all seen work well for people who want to participate but find it difficult?
People who find it difficult to participate: What have teachers done that made it easier for you? What made it harder?