Each semester brings a whole new experience packaged in the same old routine. There is the new instructor with a unique style, but generally following the same methods of reading assignments, class lectures, quizzes, and tests. There are the new classmates, which in many ways resemble the social make-up of previous classmates, with the major stereotypes all represented. Then there are the first day class activities, where you introduce yourself and try to establish your role in the classroom. This is typically the first experience of participation in the class. The rest of the semester settles into a routine determined by how much or how little each student participates.
Teachers and professors prepare lesson plans based on the agenda they have planned to accomplish. Their lesson plans don’t always include all of the relevant or interesting information on a topic. Just as students can get trapped in the everyday monotony, teachers can lose their flare over time and present only the dry facts. This is where class participation becomes important. Students who ask questions can guide a class discussion or lecture. This helps to answer questions a student might have so they can better understand the topic. Questions also help the teacher remember they are speaking to people and not blank stares. There might be additional information that wasn’t in the reading that the teacher can share, but doesn’t remember it until the right question comes along.
It is difficult to come up with questions if you don’t know the material. In a lecture you might tend to just listen because it is all new information to you. Since you don’t understand any of it, you don’t know how to ask a question about anything, other than asking for definitions. This is where preparation comes in. In order to have the most effective class time, teachers and students need to come prepared to discuss the topics. Assigned readings are intended to prepare students for this purpose. When you read the assigned chapters or articles before class you get an introduction to the topic and are able to develop questions to bring to class with you. When you begin asking questions, it will break the ice and possible inspire other students to ask questions as well. It can be difficult to be the one to ask questions when everyone else is silent, but silence doesn’t mean there aren’t other questions to be asked. Your courage to get the ball rolling can be just what is needed to create an informative discussion.
Teachers and students are on different levels of understanding from each other, and students amongst themselves have different levels as well. There are different perspectives and different sets of experience. Each of these can enhance a class discussion when they are shared. Class participation is more than just showing up and listening, it is contributing what you know and how you interpret the world to provide new and unique perspectives on the class topic. While this is often accomplished through student questions and statements, it can also be accomplished through group work and team activities. In group projects or in lecture, always be open-minded and remember that everyone has their own perspective. You don’t have to agree with someone in order to be friendly and learn from them.
Finally, it is important to remember to be fair in how much time you use. Participating through comments and questions is great because it helps you and your classmates, but you don’t want to take up all the allotted time. Other students will begin to tune out if you are constantly speaking. Being an active listener is another part of participation. Each student in the class ought to have equal opportunity to ask questions and voice opinions, even if they don’t take the opportunity. Encourage other students by citing their comments when making your own, or when asking a question, suggest that you are interested to know how your classmates feel about the topic.
There is more to class participation than simply being present and answering questions when called upon. Preparing for class, offering opinions, asking questions, and politely encouraging others to share thoughts and ideas constitutes class participation. Students who participate in class can enhance their learning by getting questions answered and developing a working knowledge of a topic through discussion.