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Students and instructors discuss summer classes

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Students and instructors discuss summer classes

Serena Bailey

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For most of the University, summer is a time to relax and unwind without the pressures of class. Students and professors can sleep in late, go the beach, spend time with friends and family and not worry about grades. But for some, the summer months are another semester – just faster and shorter.

Classes in the fall and spring last a few months, during which students and professors mostly meet a few times a week for an hour or an hour and a half. During the summer, classes might last one month and meet almost every day of the week for a couple hours. This intense timeline means instructors and students have to adapt their academic styles.

“I think it’s more stressful in the summer,” Jennifer Hoewe, a professor in the journalism department said. “Because you have to come in everyday ready to go for three hours and keep students interested and engaged, whereas over the fall and spring, I see you guys twice a week for an hour so if I can just keep you engaged for two hours once a week, we’re good.”

The trick, according to Hoewe, is changing her teaching style. Instead of teaching the class like a large lecture, as she would during the normal semester, she breaks it up into blocks: 20 minutes of lecture, an activity or class discussion, then 20 more minutes of lecture. The increase in classroom discussion and more frequent meeting times can actually help her students, she said.

“We have more of an opportunity to talk through how your story is going as you’re doing it, because when you take the labs in the spring, you meet with your lab instructor once a week and so that’s your only chance to see if your story is on track,” she said. “I’ll meet with them two or three times while they’re working on a single story and so every day they can come in and say ‘Is this a good source?’ ‘Am I asking the right questions?’ ‘How’s my lede?’”

Hoewe said she also appreciates the increased level of interaction between instructor and student that comes from teaching smaller summer classes.

“Being able to see them everyday is helpful,” she said. “They get to know me a little better and I get to know them, to understand what situations they’re going through and how they’re learning and adjust to their learning styles and that’s easier to do if you meet consistently more often.”

Tanner Jennings, a junior majoring in biology, said he sometimes prefers taking summer classes because they’re over faster and he sees his progress more often, but that they can often be stressful because there’s less time to fix his grade if he does poorly on a test. That rigorous schedule, he said, changes the way he prepares for classes.

“I spend more time at the library because I’m studying more often,” he said. “During a regular semester, you get way more time because there’s not a test every week. During the afternoons, it would be go home, study or go to the library and study whereas during the normal semester long class it would be ‘oh I don’t have another test for two or three weeks. I don’t have to go study immediately after class.’”

Douglas Lightfoot, an associate professor of German and the department chair for modern languages and classics, said he adapts his lesson plans similar to the same way Hoewe does by breaking up his lectures with activities to keep the students engaged. This is especially important when teaching a foreign language over the summer, he said, because languages are usually learned through a slow process.

“When you have students for two and half hours or something close to that during the summertime, the learner’s brain just gets overwhelmed by having to focus on foreign language for such an intense amount of time,” he said. “Even if they’re the greatest student in the world, it’s going to be challenging for them to keep concentrated so as a teacher you have to mix things up more. Make it more dynamic and have people be moving around so that their circulation is going so that their brain is able to stay awake with more oxygen.”

According to Lightfoot, the atmosphere in the classroom is often different in the summer simply because both instructors and students are aware that this is usually their downtime.

“That makes it somewhat more of an informal environment- a little more laid back and less stressed out,” he said. “Everyone knows that students aren’t thinking about their four or five other classes because they don’t have that many in the summer, so they’re able to kind of take it down a notch and breathe a bit more even though things are going quickly…I am more relaxed and students are more relaxed and that helps them learn better too overall. Stressed people don’t learn well. Relaxed people do.”

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Students and instructors discuss summer classes