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Teaching Excellence Program

Addressing the Challenges of Teaching Reticent Students

Date: 12:45pm - 1:30pm PST November 14 Location: J.R. Howard Hall 302

J.R. Howard Hall 302

Most of us have encountered students for whom the lively participation and engagement we expect in our classes appears to be problematic. Small liberal arts colleges are known for offering the possibility of engaging with faculty and fellow students in stimulating discussion and debate, yet occasionally, we meet students who seem to hold back from these opportunities. Their reticence to participate generates particular challenges for the active learning classroom.

In recent years, the traditional concept of class participation has been questioned by educators advocating for alternative means of evaluating a student’s engagement with course material. (For a reflection on these developments, you can read Jessica Lahey’s Class Participation: Let’s Talk About It.) While a reconsideration of class participation as an evaluative tool is certainly valuable, at times a student’s reticence in class seems to go beyond mere discomfort with speaking. In her latest blog post, When Silence is Not Golden: Teaching the Reticent Student, Molly addresses some of these challenges, and proposes possible ways of approaching them.

For an additional perspective on participation challenges, take a look at Todd Zakrajsek’s Students Who Don’t Participate in Class Discussions: They Are Not All Introverts

Here are some questions to consider: 
  • What challenges are brought up when we encounter a reticent participant in our classrooms?

  • What approaches have you tried (both successful and unsuccessful) when a student resists involvement in class? 

  • What teaching strategies might we employ to help students become more comfortable participating in class discussions or answering questions?

  • What additional supports would be helpful when you are facing such challenges in your classes?


All TEP Pedagogy Lunches last about an hour and meet in the conference room in JR Howard Hall 302 (unless stated otherwise). You are welcome to bring your own lunch. Coffee, tea, and cookies are provided.  Although an RSVP is not required, a rough headcount would be helpful. If you plan to attend the TEP lunch, please RSVP below or email