Study Skills Series: Taking part in classes

by Robert Craig, University of Bristol Law School

[The introduction to the series can be found here]

In classes, it might be thought to be better to choose your own moment to contribute rather than perhaps be randomly asked a direct question that you were not expecting by the tutor in the class. They will be trying to involve you in order to encourage you to make the best use of classes, which are designed to help you develop and test your ideas and reactions to the material by discussing them with your tutor and peers. But, to repeat, it is far better for you to pick a good moment to contribute something, even if it is just a question.

Classes are not a competition. Don’t forget that everyone is in the same position, trying to grapple with lots of unfamiliar, but intriguing, ideas – and it is far better to have a go, and maybe get it a bit wrong sometimes, than to stay quiet and not develop your verbal skills and thinking alongside your peers and tutor. Everyone in the class will get it wrong sometimes and once you realise you are all in it together, you can generate an atmosphere of enquiry and discovery that can help you learn and understand the material much better as a group. You have all worked very hard in order to get here so that we can turn you into even more awesome human beings by the time you graduate, so help us do that by getting stuck in. Straight away. Don’t forget, future employers nearly always ask referees to comment on class contributions. They want to know whether you are the kind of person who gets involved and is fully engaged with what is going on around you.

If you are in my small group meetings, I will insist you say at least one thing in every class, and I will eventually come and ask you a question if you do not volunteer. Be brave! You will be fine. I recommend adopting what I call the “early and loud” principle because the questions at the start of class tend to be a bit easier. Later on, when I am looking for contributions, I am much less likely to ask someone a question if they have contributed repeatedly already. Feel free to do an internal fist pump if my eyes slide past you later on in the class. Or external, if you must.

Creating a positive and friendly atmosphere in class is as much your responsibility as the tutor’s. We can try and facilitate a productive and engaging intellectual environment for you, but in the end the final onus is on you as a group and as individuals to be welcoming, and extremely forgiving, when people are brave enough to try to grapple with complex and novel ideas in front of other people. Especially if they are only doing it so I don’t pick on them later.

Always remember that sooner or later, you are going to get something wrong and that is absolutely ok – better to get it wrong in class, where literally no one cares, than in the final assessment. And anyway, my superpower is twisting student wrong answers into something vaguely correct. Also, don’t worry about it because, genuinely, everyone will have forgotten about it within five minutes – they will be too busy thinking about the next thing. And if you have already contributed a lot and you can see someone plucking up the courage to speak, encourage them. Finally, when someone makes a good point, let them know! We discourage actual cheering, but you get the general idea.

The earlier installments in the series can be found here, here , here and here.

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