Surviving Seminar Silence
How is it that everyone seems to know all these big and fancy words and can use them with confidence and clarity, without once awkwardly stuttering through their sentences and not once using the words ‘like’ and ‘um? You’re still trying to remember your tutors name, and are too busy thinking about how you really should have finished the book this week (just like you said you would last week) to even try and think about what ideologies can be applied to the text. Also, when did everyone else learn this “stuff?”, did their A-Levels really differ that much from yours?
When participation points are an easy way to gain a few extra marks it seems pointless to sit in a room with twelve other people and keep silent. But when little miss ‘pixie-cut’ who you wrongly assumed had a voice that was probably as small as she was, confidently explains the evolution of Marxism without once doubting herself, and even throws in a self-assured reference to a primary and secondary source, you suddenly feel like keeping quiet is the best option.
If you’re quiet nobody will know that it took you three hours to read the fifteen page handout (the fact that it has small font is totally a legitimate excuse) and used three different highlighters to make sure you got all the really important content. But when you’re required to say something, anything, you’re left racking your brains desperately trying to think of what input you could possibly make.
One tip that I have found works is to be the one who makes the first comment. Daunting as it is to break the painful silence that seems to always fill the room, if you are the first to make an introductory point to the generally first asked questions of Module Tutors’, “So, did you like the text/lecture” or “Was there anything unclear in the lecture that you need clarifying” you’re guaranteed that little tick next to your name. Jump right in there and confidently say that this weeks Victorian Novel “was engaging on so many different levels, not only was the plight of the main character so intensely felt by you, it was his constant struggle between finding who he really was, and how it was his resistance towards class bounds that stood out to you most and you guess that’s what strikes you as the main theme in what is arguably a bildungsroman novel…”. By making the introductory point it shows you have some basic understanding of what was going on (even if you’re just regurgitating the lecture handout), but it also opens the way for discussions from your other peers. You can now sit back for a bit whilst others are expected to drum up their own opinions on the novel in question. You can nod in agreement with what they’re saying to show how grateful you are to them contributing to the wonderful, and truly inspiring point you made to this painful 9am Monday morning seminar. Your little work has now opened up discussion, and for the next fifty minutes you can listen to the guy sitting next to you, who somehow seems to have read every book ever written about the Industrial revolution talk about how this impacted every aspect of social, political and economical life, safe in the knowledge that this wouldn’t be happening had you not jumped in there first. (Warning, if you are maybe a tad over confident in your initial point you may be asked a few more complex questions, so be on your guard just in case…gender, class and nature are always safety blanket themes that you can fall back on if all else fails)
Another tip is to come to a seminar with pre-planned answers. A group I once worked in would come to the seminar with poised and engaging answers to the questions our tutor asked us every.single.week without fail. We were all as clueless as each other when it came to trying to work out the scansion and meter of different poems, yet out tutor knew nothing of it. We would have set answers prepared, and it was our confidence and laid-back friendly attitude towards the poems we were studying where we used to embrace them as if they were our friends (despite usually having no clue what they were about) that seemed to convince our tutor that we knew all about the Byronic hero in Byron’s Don Juan.
Seminar silence can be drastically long and painful but be the hero and break it, and then let others pick up your pieces…