by Captain Robert Ali
Author’s Note: I teach Military Science 100 (MS100), Intro to Warfighting to freshmen level cadet (also known as “Plebes”) at the United States Military Academy at West Point (USMA). In this paper, I sought to investigate whether there is adequate class participation in the learning process and to provide an insight into participative learning and its importance. The goal of this work is to familiarize on how to foster active participation at USMA, in our courses as well as offering remedy on how to control and manage issues of insufficient or failure of involvement. This paper also discusses class participation and shares techniques of participating which encourage active learners’ engagement during class sessions. Finally, it offers ideas on bringing more cadets into a lesson discussion and increasing their involvement.
This first appeared in The Havok Journal on May 21, 2017.
Class participation is a key feature in learning at West Point as it brings out an interesting connection between the Instructor and the Cadets and can bring out a high level of energy and enthusiasm in the learning environment. Class participation is one of the most important things because it increases understanding which trickles down to an increase in performance. It also builds up the relationship between the instructor and the cadet and mutual understanding. Increasing class participation is one major thing that avoids laziness and dullness, leading to an engaged and excited class. Participation is one of those strategies that is straightforward and is often quite successful in achieving an infinite number of learning goals and objectives.
Before we narrow down to ways of increasing class participation, it’s important for us to know the benefits of participation. One is that participation fosters or increases learning interest. For cadets, it is challenging for them to maintain focus and attention to the instructor for the time he or she will be in class, especially if what is happening is lecture only. When instructors encourage class participation, this act assists or enhance an environment that allows listening to one another opinions as well as an answer or another point of view. Learners will be interested if another cadet gets to share and they will also want to do the same making the lesson as interesting as possible.
Another reason why it is important to increase participation is that cadets will have fun. The class tends to be more interesting when there is learners’ engagement. There will be fun in whatever the class is discussing and at no time will the cadets shift their focus to something else as they will enjoy whatever is happening. A dull class makes the instructor gloomy hence making the lesson uninteresting and arduous, but the more fun the lesson is, the easier it becomes, and comprehending becomes easy.
Another major reason as to why increasing participation is important is because at times my instructor points are based on participation. Most instructors will base their grading system based on how cadets participate. A cadet may perform well in their studies, but regarding participation, if they do not do so well it will adversely affect their grade. Failure to participate can make the cadet’s scores go down, even in cases of high marks on other graded events such as Written Partial Review (WPR). As a result, this outcome tells the cadet that just as he or she puts emphasis on other courses, he or she should concentrate on participation as well to make his grades go up.
Boosting class involvement or participation is also advantageous since engaged cadets acquire more help than inactive learners. The help cadets get regarding their difficulties in learning is dependent on their level of participation in learning activities. When cadets are active, they tend to share what they have acquired. As a result, the instructor is in a position to assess their level of understanding and make corrections or clarify areas that are not well comprehended. Eventually, these learners will get more assistance from their instructors in any challenging situation. In this case, we can conclude that participation has helped them to get corrections and the appropriate help they need. It is, therefore, important to boost the act of participative learning. Here are some additional reasons to stress cadet participation in West Point classes:
Increasing participation helps in making new friends. In this case, it is at times hard to befriend everyone in a classroom environment as some of them are usually large with many cadets. Participation, in this instance, will make cadets know each other and make new friends. Some of the cadets will share common goals and objectives, and they tend to bond. This bonding can bring about friendship based on learning and can increase competition between cadets as they would love to do much better than their peers. This relationship and competing lead us to the conclusion that encouraging participation has resulted in an efficient cadet performance by creating a way for competition.
Increasing participation also leads to better relationships with instructors. Instructor-cadet relationships are vital and essential in the learning environment. If these relationships are built up, the issue of fear is dealt with as instructors are in a position to understand their cadets and vice versa. Increasing participation goes a long way in building these relationships. These relationships will also contribute to performance. Research has shown that in scenarios where the students and teachers had a better relationship, there is adequate apprehending and performance is much higher than cases where there is insufficient or unfavorable student-teacher relationship. In similar situations, the cadets view the instructor as a superior being, and they treat him or her with fear and at times won’t pay attention to the instructor, or they will fear to ask questions hence not understand.
Increasing participation also makes the cadets aware if they are wrong in a particular area. When they are making their contributions, they will be informed of any incorrect statements and get a correction on the same. But if the cadets remain quiet they hold back whatever they have to contribute whether it is right or not and they are not aware of the status. Hence cadets are encouraged to speak up so that in the case of any incorrect statement or presentation they may have it may have a chance of correction.
Participation engages cadets. It is so, especially when there would be a question and answer session. A challenging question posed by the instructor arouses their interest and leaves them to figure out why, gets them to think, and encourages them to make links with the subject of discussion. Magnification of this benefit occurs when lecturers play a bit with the query, repeat it, write it on the chalkboard, and decide not to call on the first hand they see. This measure engages the cadets and makes them think and want to outshine the others thus making the class lively and active.
Participation also provides the instructor feedback. When the instructors ask questions, and the learners respond or try to describe, I can evaluate the extent to which the cadets understand the concept. They can correct or help the cadets adjust what they have not got right or do not see quite clearly. This activity provides the instructor with feedback on what he or she needs to pay attention to for the next lesson. Moreover, it also offers the instructor a chance to become aware of the understanding capacity of the topic by the cadets or how informed they are on a given subject.
Participation provides not only the instructor feedback but also the cadet’s feedback. It is so especially when the instructors ask questions or otherwise seek cadet input and contribution over a subject; they are letting learners know something about the significance of certain ideas and information. This activity goes hand in hand with increasing participation.
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