You’ve Got to Have Class
Exactly how you’ll use the skills we’ll cover in this chapter will be influenced by two factors: the type of classroom setup and the particular methods and styles employed by each of your teachers. Each of the following general class formats will require you to make adjustments to accomplish your goals.
Lectures: Podium Pleasantries
Pure lectures are quite common from the college level up, but exist only rarely at the high school level. Lecture halls at larger colleges may fill up with hundreds of students for some of the more popular courses (or introductory classes, particularly in the sciences).
Discussions: Time to Speak Your Mind
Also called tutorials and seminars, discussion groups are, again, common on the college level, often as adjuncts to courses boasting particularly large enrollments. A typical weekly schedule for such a course might consist of two lectures and one or more discussion groups. Often led by graduate teaching assistants, these discussion groups contain fewer students—usually no more than two dozen— and give you the chance to discuss points made in the lecture and material from assigned readings.
Combination: The Best (or Worst) of Both
Some postsecondary courses are, for want of a better term, com – bination classes—they combine the lecture and discussion formats (the typical kind of precollege class you’re probably used to). The teacher prepares a lesson plan of material he or she wants to cover in a specific class. Through lecture, discussion, question and answer, audiovisual presentation, or a combination of one or more such devices, the material is covered.
Handson: Getting Your Hands Dirty
Classes such as science labs and various vocational education courses (industrial arts, graphics, and so forth) occur at all levels from high school up. They are concerned almost exclusively with doing something— completing a particular experiment, working on a project, whatever. The teacher may demonstrate certain things before letting the students work on their own, but the primary emphasis is on the student carrying out his or her own projects while in class.
Exceptions to the Rule
Rarely can a single class be neatly pigeonholed into one of these formats, though virtually all will be primarily one or another. It would seem that size is a key factor in choosing a format, but you can’t always assume, for example, that a large lecture course, filled with 200 or more students, will feature a professor standing behind a rostrum reading from his prepared text. Or that a small class of a dozen people will tend to be all discussion.
Know Your Teacher
You must know and understand the kind of teacher you’ve got and his likes, dislikes, preferences, style, and what he expects you to get out of the class. Depending on your analysis of your teacher’s habits, goals, and tendencies, preparation may vary quite a bit, whatever the topic or format of the class.
Take something as simple as asking questions during class, which I encourage you to do whenever you don’t understand a key point. Some teachers are very confident fielding questions at any time during a lesson; others prefer questions to be held until the end of the day’s lesson; still others discourage questions (or any interaction for that matter) entirely. Learn when and how each one of your teachers likes to field questions, then ask them accordingly.
Adapt to Your Teacher’s Style
All instructors (perhaps I should say all effective instructors) develop a plan of attack for each class. They decide what points they will make, how much time they will spend reviewing assignments and previous lessons, what texts they will refer to, what anecdotes they will use to provide comic relief or human interest, and how much time they’ll allow for questions.