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Class Silent After Professor Asks Question About Material Not Covered in Wikipedia Summary


Photo by Frank Hebbert / CC BY 2.0

Last Tuesday in Introduction to Linguistics, Professor Mark Chowdry noticed the entire class fell silent when he asked a question not covered in the Wikipedia summary. In a class lecture on syntax trees, Chowdry decided to open up the discussion to the rest of the class.

Chowdry explained that recently he has begun experimenting with the Socratic method in his classroom in order to stimulate critical thinking and increase engagement in the classroom. “I’ve been trying to foster a dialogue between the class and myself, hoping that quieter students will speak up. I know they’re all dying to, because in my decades of teaching experience, I have found that students generally love to offer their uninformed opinions on complex concepts in front of hundreds of judgmental peers.”

Despite Chowdry’s best efforts to tease out an answer from the class, he was unsuccessful. After asking about Noam Chomsky’s development of phrase markers, the class went silent for approximately forty-five seconds. In a second unsuccessful attempt, Chowdry reiterated the context. Various students pretended to take notes or flip through the textbook in order to seem occupied with the material, but still the class remained silent.

Chowdry was baffled by the lack of engagement. “The question was quite elementary,” he said. “Furthermore, the material was explicitly covered on the second page of the reading. I’m really not sure why the class was so reticent.”

Students from the class offered their perspective. Derek Williams (E ’20) noted, “I could have just made something up, but I really thought someone in the lecture would have done the reading. Like, not me, obviously. But someone else.”

Colleen Michaelson (C ’22), another student in Chowdry’s lecture, expressed a similar sentiment. “I’m usually a very active participant in class,” Michaelson said. “But then Professor Chowdry asked about something that wasn’t covered on the 150-word abstract or the Wikipedia page, and that’s really beyond my purview.”