How to participate in class
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In the past, students have approached me and
indicated that class participation does not come easily to them. I will attempt systematically to address two
questions. First, why is it useful to participate in class? And next, how
might one prepare to participate, thereby avoiding that oft-cited, oft-feared,
nearly universal affliction, "stage fright".
Why is it useful to participate in class?
There are several reasons participation in class is useful. Here are just a few:
How do I prepare to participate in class?
Each of you undoubtedly have different strategies
but here are some strategies which students have found useful in the past.
You may want to consider them.
- Participating allows you the opportunity to
receive input from others who might have perspectives that are quite divergent
from your own; these students can help you to broaden your views and to
expand the range of your hypotheses. Also, in the case of a debate, it is
a good idea to be aware of the views of "the opposition". In addition,
speaking in class can allow you to identify "kindred spirits"
who might share your views and who might be stimulating people with whom
to talk or to study.
- Soon you will either be in graduate school or
at work. In both settings, articulate behavior is frequently rewarded. Those
who speak frequently and persuasively are likely to receive recognition.
Thus, speaking can be a valuable skill. Speaking is very much like writing
in that the old adage "practice makes perfect" applies. The classroom
is an ideal setting for this type of practice.
- If you have done the reading, but not fully
mastered the material, then, the classroom is the ideal place to convey
that to the instructor so that s/he has an opportunity to clarify difficult
- If you have done the reading and fully mastered
the material, then the classroom is the ideal place to convey that to the
instructor so that s/he can "move on"; and provide you with more
- Speak-up. I share my guidelines here. But remember instructors vary considerably
in their expectations, clarify instructor expectations through careful observation
or by asking during office hours. In my classes, I encourage students in
a seminar speak at least an average of two times per class. In a
large class, of 50-100 people, I'd encourage you to speak about once a week.
However, if everyone did this, you'd never hear the lecture. The key is,
if you are very well-prepared and thoughtful, you want to make an impression.
Besides it's great practice for becoming a leader and having an impact in
the real world. However, assess the situation carefully, you want to be
viewed as thoughtful not as monopolizing or inappropriate. If this is a
concern for you, approach the instructor about it privately. You will most
likely find that participation, a thoughtful and analytic study of the readings,
is always welcome.
One exception to the average of twice a week rule is the student who has
not done the reading; ordinarily under such circumstances, it is probably
not a good idea to express views on readings which one has, in fact, not
read. Good manners dictate that the instructor not comment on a lack of
preparation. A pro pos of this comment, instructors are vulnerable to assuming
that the student who does not speak has not read. Class participation is
the best antidote with which to address this misperception.
- Students often worry that they will not sound
brilliant when they speak. This is probably true. Even brilliant people
do not sound brilliant all of the time. However, most instructors and classmates
will respect the student who has come well prepared recognizing that in
the long-run, careful, systematic preparation leads to scholarship and the
more modest goal, not of brilliance, but of learning.
- How might one prepare for this class? Prior
to the class review the instructional plan, the syllabus and the readings.
- What will we be talking about in class?
- What are the issues raised on the syllabus or outline?
- How can I apply the readings to date to the questions at hand?
- List the questions that you think will be asked in class. Answer them.
- Then ask yourself, now, that I have done the readings and thought about
the questions, how can I deepen my understanding about the material? What
questions do I want to raise in class?
- If class participation is difficult for you, role play with a friend.
Ask yourself, "what is the worst thing that could happen if I participate?
How would I handle it if it did happen?" Role play---positive and negative
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