“Yeah, and just adding onto that…”
“Totally, and bouncing off of that…”
“Mm. And just reverse-somersault-triple-Lutz-with-a-half-twist-and-a-flourishing off of that…”
I’m sure we’ve all heard these phrases before. They form the backbone of every classroom discussion. After all, why simply reply to something – which is, truly, peasant behavior – when you can bounce off of it like a true intellectual?
In fact, did you know that Isaac Newton did not discover the concept of gravity from an apple falling onto his head, as is commonly believed? In reality, his first observations of gravity in action were derived from witnessing the buoyant bouncing of ideas in intellectual seminars.
You might be able to infer from my candid tone that I dislike the usage of such conversational crutches in classroom discussions – which would be incorrect. I have nothing against them. Bounce all you like. However, I think it’s important to recognize what such phrases indicate: students’ attempts to insert themselves into a conversation in order to boost their participation grade.
Now, this is all well and good in a discussion-based class. After all, just as a Trader Joe’s employee cannot exist without some form of piercing, tattoo, or dye job, so too can a discussion-based class not exist without participation. Thus, it makes sense that a teacher should implement some form of graded incentive for students to participate.
The same cannot be said for lecture-based classes.
Now, I may be just a simple dropout from Elementary Logic II, but I’d wager that the following logic is relatively valid:
You go to discussion-based classes to discuss, and you go to lecture-based classes to be lectured to.
In other words, unlike discussion-based classes, lecture-based classes are not dependent upon students participating. As such, I struggle to see why so many lecture-based classes grade students on their participation.
I understand that student participation can make lectures more engaging, but meaningful student participation is also less feasible in a lecture environment. After all, being lectured to is a demanding task! You have to take notes, process information, and wonder if the guy two seats to the right of you is ever actually going to blow his damn nose or if he’s just going to keep sniffing forever. Opportunities for genuinely meaningful contributions are rare – especially given the fact that lecture-based classes tend to have significantly more students than discussion-based classes.
Attaching a grade to participation in lecture-based classes only exacerbates this problem. The opportunities for participation are even lower because everyone is just spouting out whatever surface-level insight is necessary to get them those precious, precious participation points. And there’s really only so many insights you can make per PowerPoint slide. Half the time, people can’t even utter the divine phrase of “Bouncing off of that …” because there’s nothing to bounce off of. By sheer logistics, it is rare that everyone can meaningfully participate in a lecture class.
Of course, there may be some who claim that students will avoid participating and contributing their opinion unless they have some sort of graded incentive to, which is a ridiculous claim, of course. People love giving their opinion on a matter – provided the matter is engaging enough. Let me give you an example:
How do you pronounce “.gif?”
Who cares? You do. You might say you don’t, but you do. Sorry, I don’t make the rules.
Thus, I acknowledge that a lecture completely void of participation is a rather zestless endeavor. After all, who would willingly drag themselves to and from campus for the sole purpose of being talked at for several hours a day?
But if there is to be participation in lecture-based classes, it must be organic. Free-range. Non-GMO. Farm to table. You get the idea.