Class participation is important in English courses; as we read writers who are themselves very much invested in using words in the service of an energetic exchange of ideas, we should also join those writers in energetic conversation. It’s important, therefore, that you come to every class with a hard copy of the material we will be discussing.
It is also important, however, that you recognize that while having the text in hand is necessary, it’s also not enough. Courses that focus on historical literatures entail demanding reading assignments in which you will confront characters, conventions, allusions, terms, sentence-styles, and phrasings that are unfamiliar. You cannot just skim most historical literature. For every text assigned in this course, the internet is your friend, and the library’s resources are your best friend. You should not expect to “get” — sometimes, at even the most basic level — some of the texts assigned in this course on a first read. You are expected, however, to come into class having “gotten” the gist of those texts. And even more than that is expected: you should have formulated before the start of class some claims and ideas about what the text we’re reading is up to. You should therefore research assigned texts before, during, and after reading them so that you can talk about them in class with confidence.
I recommend that you come to class with notes that include:
- a summary of the assigned reading
- a selection of two or three key passages that you’d like to discuss and/or clarify
- one or two questions that you’d like to explore with your peers, and
- one or two claims you’d like to make about the assigned text that would be suitable for considering at more length in an assigned essay
Advanced undergraduate and graduate students should also come to class discussion with:
- one or two key theoretical terms that might be usefully applied to (or refuted by or developed further by) the assigned text
- a sense of what other specialized critics have already said about the assigned text
- a sense of what your response is to those critics
This kind of preparation can be done in commonplace books, but if commonplace books aren’t assigned in the course, you should nevertheless come to class not only with the assigned text in hand, but also with hard-copy notes that you can use to guide your participation in the course.
These materials should guide your contributions to class discussions, and you should be prepared to speak in class on most days. You can be brave and start a discussion topic; you can agree and add examples to another student’s or the professor’s claim, or you can agree with a difference; you may even disagree – politely and with evidence in hand – with a claim made in the course of the conversation. These are easy discussion strategies that you can use in class that can keep our discussions productive.
Your participation grade will primarily be determined by two things:
- how often you verbally contribute to class discussions. You cannot get an A for discussion if you do not make a spoken contribution to class discussions most of the time. For every three class sessions, you should make sure that you’ve spoken up in two of them.
- how productive your contributions to the class discussions are. Your spoken contributions should confirm to the class ethos (as explained on the syllabus), and they should remain focused on assigned texts and key course concepts.
Your participation grade may also be affected by how often you miss class, how you perform on pop quizzes, your contribution to group work, and your general demeanor and attitude toward your professor, your peers, and the assigned materials.