Editorial: Attend class both physically and mentally

Staff Editorial

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As we enter a new semester, students attending their first day of classes go through the familiar ritual of looking over class syllabi.

While many of the details are the same, teachers have a variety of attendance policies. Some keep attendance and use it to calculate the student’s grade while others leave the responsibility entirely with the student. Most students understand the importance of showing up to class whether or not the teacher takes attendance.

But while physical attendance is important, mental attendance is just as important but is often neglected. Simply sitting down in the classroom seat is not enough if you do not engage your mind with the material.

Obviously, if you come into their morning class tired every day, you will never learn much. But there are plenty of other ways students do not really “attend” class, sometimes without even knowing it. They may talk to another classmate, or they may pull out their smartphones and start texting friends, telling themselves that they are still “listening.”

Or their thoughts may simply drift away to something other than the course material, whether that is lunchtime, the stresses of daily life or even another class. Whatever the reason, they are not present in the moment, engaging their attention with the subject matter of the lecture or discussion.

Unfortunately, some students have the attitude that if they show up for class and do the homework, they have fulfilled their end of the “bargain,” and if they do not get a good grade, it must be the teacher’s fault for grading too hard or not explaining things well.

But learning is not a passive process. The teacher’s job is not to pour information into your brain. Rather, you must actively engage with the material and check for yourself if you truly understand it. If you do not understand something, it is your responsibility to ask the teacher for additional help.

Luckily, there are many ways you can make sure you show up mentally for class. The best way to stay engaged during class is to take notes in your own words. Simply copying what the teacher has written on the board or screen is not enough. It is important that you write your notes in language that makes sense to you.

Effective note-taking requires listening carefully and thinking about the material. You should not only write down what you think will be on the test but also anything you found helpful or interesting. If the teacher tells a brief story that really illustrates a concept, write it down. If you notice a connection with something else you learned in another class or outside class, write it down.

That information probably will not be on the test, but it will help make the concept stick with you. Just as important: writing down those details will keep you actively engaged, making it hard for you to space out.

Another important way to stay engaged during class is to ask questions regularly, and not simply “will this be on the test?” If you are listening carefully and you do not understand something, chances are many of the other students in class do not understand it either.

You should also be asking questions to expand your understanding. Many students may be afraid to ask questions in class because they think it will annoy the teacher, who will be unable to get through all the material if students keep asking questions. But teachers want students to be engaged and asking questions. It shows them what students do not understand, and it makes class time more interesting for them.

The other main reason students do not ask questions is that they think it will make them look unintelligent to other classmates. Even if that were the case, you should not deny yourself a quality education out of fear of embarrassment.

But asking questions often makes you look more intelligent, not less. If you are paying attention in class, asking a question shows that you understand the material enough to recognize what you do not understand.

We at The News encourage every student to show up to class both physically and mentally, as there are many benefits to those good habits. In the long term, you will find that you become a much better student, especially if you reflect on what learning strategies did and did not work for you. It will be easier to get good grades, because you will have learned how to learn. You will likely also find that after you graduate, the listening and critical thinking skills you have cultivated will be valuable to every employer.

But even in the short term, if you pay attention in class, you will not have to spend as much time studying outside class to get the grade you want. If you plan to spend three or more hours every week in that classroom anyway, why not make the most of that time?