By the end of this section, you will be able to:
- Explain effective ways to approach the first week of the semester.
- Describe reasons why it’s important to attend classes.
- Know what to do if you miss a class.
- Explain the benefits of participating in class.
- Understand how to set yourself up for successful participation in class.
- List guidelines for effectively asking and answering questions in class.
The First Week of Classes
Attending class every day is important, but attending the first day of class is especially critical. It is the time when you’ll most likely receive a course information sheet, a syllabus, and important information about the course’s content, the instructor’s approach, and any necessary pre-assessments. In some classes you may have an opportunity to interact with your classmates through icebreaker activities while in others you may be expected to begin immediately learning new material that will be on the first test. If you are enrolled in any online courses, it is equally important to “attend” by getting online and engaging in preview week.
One way to prepare for any of those week one materials and activities is by knowing a little about them in advance:
- Course Information Sheet Every instructor in every class at Monroe Community College is required to provide students with a course information sheet, or CIS, within the first week of the semester. If you don’t receive a CIS in any course, it is okay to ask for one. It’s important to read each CIS thoroughly and keep it in a safe place at least until after you’ve received your final grades. The CIS is a contract between instructors and students that lists course learning outcomes (what each student will know or be able to do by the end of the course) and important policies (such as if you can make-up exams or how many are absences allowed). The CIS explains how you can contact your instructor, what books and materials should be purchased, how your final grade will be calculated, and what to do if you need extra assistance in any course. The CIS also has information on class cancellations and emergency school closings. By making sure you fully understand and can immediately access the CIS for any course, you are taking a fundamental step to getting your semester off to good start.
- Syllabus Unlike the CIS, a syllabus is not something you’ll receive in every class, but most instructors give out some type of listing of when assignments are due. Many provide specific pages of the course readings they expect to be completed each day while others list only the due dates for tests, papers, or projects. All syllabi, whether they cover everything required for the entire semester or only the next week’s assignments, are key documents that need to be read carefully, recorded on calendars, and kept in a safe and prominent place.
- Pre-Assessments or Immediate Learning Many professors distribute their course information sheets, expecting students to read it outside of class, because they want to get right to work either teaching important course content or determining what students know by administering some type of pretest or baseline assessment such as a writing sample. Therefore, it’s important to come to the first class with pens, pencils, paper, and a folder so you are prepared to take notes or pretests as necessary.
- Icebreakers Even before they start teaching, some professors spend time on icebreaker activities designed to help students get to know each other. These introductory practices, such as name tags, games, or questionnaires, are well worth the time spent on them. They build a community of learners who are likely more comfortable and engaged than students who may not even know each other’s names.
- Preview Week It is very common for colleges to offer a preview week and/or an in-person, on-campus orientation for online courses, and it is very important for students to participate in those activities to the extent that they’re able so they can start the semester prepared and informed. Online courses are generally reading- and writing-intensive and include special processes for submitting work and attaching links and documents. Students can expect their online instructors to provide a course information sheet, and, most likely, a syllabus, a getting-to-know-you discussion board, and/or pre-assessments.
The schedule adjustment (drop/add) period occurs at the very beginning of every semester. Courses dropped within the first three weeks of the full fall or spring term will not be recorded on your academic transcript. With the exception of online courses, students may add a course during the first week of the full semester without an instructor’s signature. A faculty signature (or green slip) is required to add a class during the second and third weeks. Dropping or adding a course may have financial aid implications, so it’s always wise to check with that office and/or with an advisor before making any final decisions.
Going to Class
Students’ attitude toward learning, going to class, and the whole college experience is a huge factor in how successful they will be. Going to class is the first step in engaging in your education by interacting with the instructor and other students.
Here are some reasons why you should make it your goal to attend every class:
- Miss a class and you’ll miss something. Even if a friend gives you notes for the class, they cannot contain everything said or shown by the instructor, what was written on the board for emphasis, or the questions asked by other students.
- Your final grade often reflects how you think about course concepts, and you will think more clearly when engaged in class discussions and hearing the perspectives of other students.
- Research shows there is a correlation between absences from class and lower grades. It may be that missing classes causes lower grades or that students with lower grades miss more classes. Either way, missing classes and lower grades can be intertwined.
- Your instructor will note your absences, and some instructors may withdraw you from their course after three absences.
- You paid a lot of money for tuition, so put those dollars to work for you by learning everything you possibly can.
If You Miss Class
Sometimes missing class can’t be avoided, especially if you’re sick or in an unexpected accident. In that case, return to the next class and see if you can talk to one or more of your classmates about what you missed while you were out. Also, it’s important to schedule appointments with advisors and health care professionals for times when you are not scheduled to be in class. But if you know that you will miss a class, there are some steps you can take in advance:
- Tell your instructor and ask if he or she teaches another section of the course that you might attend instead. Ask about any handouts or special announcements.
- Ask another student whose judgment you trust if you can copy his or her notes. Then talk to him or her after you’ve read the notes to go over things that may be unclear.
- It may not be necessary to see your instructor after missing a lecture class, but if you are having difficulty because of something you missed earlier, stop and see your instructor and ask what you can do to get caught up.
Some students may feel that listening to a recording of the lecture, viewing a podcast, or finding a similar online course will be essentially the same as going to class, but these passive learning experiences are meant to supplement rather than replace class attendance.
Monroe Community College uses Blackboard as an online learning platform, and it is a place where you can find some of these or other supplementary materials. If you have to miss class, make sure to check Blackboard for assignments and course updates. Although they can’t replace the kind of interactions you’ll get by attending class, you’ll be able to avoid falling behind.
The Value of Interaction in Class
As noted earlier, there are many good reasons to attend every class, especially interacting with the the instructor and other students to enjoy a full educational experience. The following are some additional benefits of interacting in class:
- Participating in class discussions is a good way to start meeting other students. You may form a study group, borrow class notes if you miss a class, or team up on a group project. You may meet students with whom you form a lasting relationship, developing your network of contacts for other benefits in the future, such as learning about internships or jobs.
- Asking the instructor questions, answering the instructor’s questions in class, and responding to other students’ comments is a good way to make a positive impression on your instructor.
- Students actively engaged in their classes learn more and thus earn better grades. When you speak out in class and answer the instructor’s questions, you are also more likely to remember the discussion.
Participating in Class
Part of succeeding in college involves active participation. Although speaking in front of a group can seem intimidating at first, it is a valuable skill that can be developed with practice. The following are some guidelines for effectively participating in your classes:
- Set yourself up for success by coming to class fully prepared. Complete reading assignments. Review your notes on the reading and on the previous class. If there is something you don’t understand well, start formulating your questions now.
- Sit in the front with a good view of the instructor, board or screen, and other visual aids.
- Remember that your body language communicates as much as anything you say. Sit up, look alert, and make good eye contact with the instructor.
- Pay attention to the instructor’s body language, which can communicate much more than just his or her words. How the instructor moves and gestures, and the looks on his or her face, will add meaning to the words and will also cue you when it’s a good time to ask a question or stay silent.
- Take good notes while keeping your eyes on the instructor.
- Follow class protocol for making comments and asking questions. In some classes, the instructor may encourage students to ask questions at any time while in other classes the instructor may ask for questions at the end. In this case, jot your questions in your notes so that you don’t forget them later.
- Pay attention to the instructor’s thinking style. Does this instructor emphasize theory more than facts, wide perspectives over specific ideas, abstractions more than concrete experience? Take your cue from the instructor’s approach and try to think in similar terms when participating in class.
- Pay attention to your communication style. Use standard English when you ask or answer a question. Try to show confidence in your ideas while being respectful of the ideas of others.
- When your instructor asks a question to the class:
- Raise your hand and make eye contact.
- Before speaking, take a moment to gather your thoughts and take a deep breath.
- When your instructor asks you a question directly:
- Organize your thoughts to give a sufficient answer. Instructors seldom want a yes or no answer, so provide reasons or evidence in support of your answer.
- Be honest and admit it if you don’t know the answer or are not sure. With a question that involves a reasoned opinion more than a fact, explain why you haven’t decided yet; your comment may stimulate further discussion.
- When you want to ask the instructor a question:
- Don’t ever feel a question is stupid. If you have been paying attention in class and have done the reading and you still don’t understand something, you have every right to ask.
- Avoid dominating a discussion. It may be appropriate in some cases to make a follow-up comment after the instructor answers your question, but it’s also important to allow other perspectives to join the conversation.
- The first week of class is especially critical because that is when key information, such as the course information sheet and syllabus, is provided, and students should read, understand, and keep these documents in a safe place.
- The benefits of attending every class include not missing important material, thinking more clearly about course topics, developing a better relationship with the instructor, and being better prepared for tests.
- Students benefit in many ways from class interaction, including more actively engaging in learning, developing a network with other students, and forming a relationship with the instructor.
- When possible, prepare in advance for missing a class by speaking with your instructor and arranging to borrow and discuss someone’s notes.
- Podcasts, lecture recordings, online course materials and similar learning methods can supplement classes but cannot replace all the benefits of attending class in person.
- To prepare for class participation, come to class ready, sit in front, and pay attention to the instructor’s words and body language.
- Use good communication techniques when asking or answering questions in class.
1. What are some important things to do during the first week of the semester?
2. Look at the course information sheet for one of your classes and answer the following questions:
How can you contact the course’s instructor?
What materials are required for the course? When will you have them?
Which one course learning outcome do you think will be easiest to learn? Which one do you think will be most challenging? Why?
3. What are some of the benefits of attending class?