Recitation Class: Know its Benefits and Challenges to Get the Most Out of it

Repetition is the foundation of accomplishment and allows you to apply what you have learned to achieve your goals.  That’s why recitation classes are so important.

A recitation class is a small class that complements a large lecture by focusing on the critical points from the lesson in a smaller setting. Students are guided by a teacher’s assistant as they evaluate lecture content with their peers, asking questions and wrestling with their ideas as they develop a deeper understanding of the material.

A recitation class is going to be the foundation you need to complete your studies and finish with a proper understanding of the concepts you were taught. 

When you go into college, you will have a variety of class types, that your curriculum is taught through.

These range from labs and lectures to seminars and recitations.

A recitation class is a little different from the other courses you will have. 

This class can be incredibly beneficial to your learning; however, it can be a little challenging to make the most of it.

What is Recitation?

“Repetition is the mother of learning, the father of action, which makes it the architect of accomplishment” – Zig Ziglar

In its most basic form, recitation is the action of saying something aloud from memory or a formal reading.

This traditionally was a poem or a verse that has then progressed into essays that are presented to a teacher, peers, instructor/tutor, or even a combination.

Now, this has evolved again and is used throughout education from mathematics to science courses.

However, the style of recitation varies slightly, because let’s be honest, it would be ridiculous reciting poetry in an engineering or chemistry class. 

Understanding Recitation Class

The lecture format does not always meet the needs of all students in the lecture hall.

The recitation class is designed to serve as a supplement to this format, providing students an opportunity to learn from each other as a teacher’s assistant (TA) guides the group’s discussions and thought processes in an effort to ensure deeper learning takes place.

A recitation class is a complement class to a lecture.

It is designed to focus on complex points of the associated lecture that either have complicated material (i.e., math or science) or a large-sized class where messages can get lost.

It’s important to remember that the lecture aims to teach many students; however, not every student’s academic needs are adequately addressed, so a recitation class focuses on this and fills in any gaps. 

Depending on the subject, each recitation class may be structured a little differently.

A recitation class that is a complement to a mathematics or engineering lecture will often utilize this section by performing derivations, solving problems, and ensuring that students have a proper understanding of methods and applications. 

Scientific classes (ie. biology, chemistry and physics) use their recitation class to clarify anything that was not fully understood during the lecture or was not able to be adequately covered due to time constraints. 

When it comes to English/language courses, recitation classes will iron out any issues with pronunciation, prose, multiple meanings while promoting a deeper understanding of the material. 

Overall, a recitation class allows a student to clarify anything that they were unsure about as well as ask questions about particular concepts and review the material. 

The Purpose of a Recitation Class

Your recitation class is incredibly valuable, and you should not take it for granted.

One of the primary purposes of a recitation class is to help students learn how to apply the information and concepts from the lecture. 

Another purpose is to provide you with the opportunity to go over any material that you are not fully understanding, anything that you need clarifying and to iron out the creases in your studies. 4

It is the utmost importance that you understand the concepts properly so you can apply them correctly. 

Elements of a Recitation Class

A recitation class can vary a little depending on the course and what the professor has outlined and instructed the TA/instructor to do. 

It is usually about interactive learning with other students and personalizing interactions with the professor or TA, so academic needs are met. 4

The smaller group allows students to develop their confidence to ask questions and fully participate in discussions, without the stress of a large audience, ensuring the student can grasp concepts and accomplish their goals fully. 

A Recitation Class Usually Consists of the Following Elements:

  • Group work
  • Opportunities to ask questions
  • Clarification of points from the lecture
  • Written or discussed examples of concepts from the lecture
  • Discussion of lecture or material from the course
  • Quizzes/Worksheets
  • Review of homework, quizzes, and assignments 
  • Preparation for exams 

What’s the Difference Between A Recitation Class and A Lecture? 

The difference between a recitation class and a lecture is the format and size fo each class. Lectures are usually delivered by a professor to an audience in a large hall with little interaction. Recitation classes are delivered by a TA in a smaller setting. They support the students in the lecture class by encouraging discussion and deeper exploration of exploration ideas.

It is essential to understand the differences between a lecture and a recitation class, so you can take advantage of both classes fully. 

Lecture defined:

(noun) An educational talk to an audience, especially one of students in a university

(verb) Deliver an educational lecture or lectures (source

A lecture is scheduled to address a large class about the material or a particular concept of a course.

It is where you will learn new ideas and the content you need throughout your studies.

However, during a lecture, not many examples are shown to save time and ensure you get all the material you need in the allocated time. 

Teaching many at once is much more efficient, especially when introducing new material that is the main reason for a lecture.

It can provide a lot of valuable information that you may not be able to find anywhere else and can only get from your professor.

This information can be incredibly useful, especially when it comes to exams and assessments. 

Recitation defined:

(noun) The act of repeating something that has been previously learned, usually memorized

(noun) Material that is spoken aloud

(noun) A class that is scheduled in conjunction with a lecture (source)

A recitation class is designed to address any gaps from the lecture, so you have the opportunity to grasp the material thoroughly.

Usually, no new material will be taught during your recitation classes, and it will only be reviewing and going over the content from the lecture. 

There will be more examples and further explanation of material from the lecture to ensure you are understanding the processes and reasoning, not just fumbling your way through it.

Your recitation class also gives you the option of being taught the material in a different style or manner, if you are struggling with grasping it.

Advantages and Disadvantages of the Recitation Method

Advantages 

Instructors

Having instructors or TA’s for the recitation classes can be quite beneficial.

Students can gain valuable insight, advice, and strategies that can be tailored to their needs.

This ensures that student have a better chance to learn the material they need for the course. 

Assignments/Homework 

A professor will not have the time to answer all the questions students may have about an assignment.

This can be problematic. Although they know what they meant to say, it doesn’t always come across clearly.

A recitation class instructor has the opportunity to look a little closer at the details, more in-depth into particular topics and take the time to fully understand student queries as well as the information they need to feel like issues have been resolved.

Material 

The recitation style allows students to dive into the content from each lecture thoroughly.

It can reveal important points that may have been missed during class.

Feedback is essential; during this period students have the opportunity to discuss the materials with classmates and the TA, as they work to strengthen their understanding of the content so that they can put themselves in the best position to earn a high grade.  

Recap 

Sometimes students do not necessarily want to ask a question or get involved in a discussion because they are not sure if they should already know what is being asked of them.

In short, they are worried about appearing behind or not with it and are embarrassed.

Recitation classes take some of the pressure off because the students get to know each other and the TA.

They develop trust over time and begin to realize that everyone has good days and bad days.

Interaction is naturally encouraged through the small group setting.

Students begin to realize that others in their class are struggling with similar topics that are bothering them.

Together, they can explore these topics, seeks answers, better prepare for assessments, and leave the course understanding more of the content than if they were not in the recitation class.  

Confidence 

The style of the recitation class naturally builds confidence in students because it encourages them to interact with their peers.

This works both ways. Students who don’t understand a topic will be more likely to inquire about it.

Students who do understand a topic now have the opportunity to share the information with others and deepen their own mastery of the content.

Disadvantages 

Instructor 

Sometimes the instructor is not a good fit for the class or a particular student, which can cause confusion and make the class unbearable to students.

This can be avoided by proper training and communication with the corresponding professor.

Unfortunately for the student, sometimes this can not be avoided, and it will impact the student’s ability to learn and understand concepts properly. 

Anxiety/Pressures 

It can be stressful for some students to be required to interact with peers, which causes a lot of anxiety and pressure.

Sometimes students can feel overwhelmed by the pressure, leading to a negative impact on their studies and grade.  

Rehashing 

Students who already understand the material may feel like they are unnecessarily being forced to study the content twice.

This can impair their learning as they become disengaged while the instructor is trying to get everyone else caught up. 

Effective Recitation Class Methods

A study was conducted where 272 students were divided into four groups.

Each group was taught the same topic using four different methods of recitation teaching to see which was the most effective and what one the students preferred. The results concluded:

The most effective method for teaching recitation classes is students working in cooperative learning groups in which the experienced/trained instructors ask questions using Socratic dialogue (source ).

This method allows students to work in groups under the guidance of the instructor and with the support of peers.

If a misconception arises, the instructor can direct their attention to resolving the misunderstanding to ensure that there is a strong conceptual understanding.

The process they use to accomplish this is asking questions that encourage them to arrive at the correct answer.

Key Elements of this Method

  • Cooperative learning groups
  • Guidance of instructor
  • Socratic dialogue ( lots of questions) 
  • Experienced/trained instructor

Benefits of Recitation Class

Recitation class offers many benefits that lectures simply do not.

It is critical that they are offered alongside lectures so students have the opportunity to think deeply about the content is riddled with interrelated concepts that need exploring the facilitate understanding. Some of the benefits include:

  • Clarity of concepts, processes, and reasoning 
  • Confirmation on formulas, applications, and any specific problems 
  • Testing of understanding to determine areas where improvement is needed
  • Dedicated time for reflection

Preparation for Recitation Class

To get the most out of a recitation class, there are a few things that students can do:  

Prepare

Go over notes from the lecture before recitation class and write down any questions, concerns, or concepts they are struggling with.

They should do the same with homework, assignments, and even past quiz questions. 

Note-taking 

Note-taking skills are vital to be able to evaluate the areas and concepts in which a student wishes to improve.

They should make sure they have a preferred method of note-taking that works for them and allows them to keep up with the pace of the professor during the lecture. 

Some helpful note-taking styles are Harvard and Cornell.

Communicate 

Proper communication with the instructor and professor is essential.

If a student has a lot of questions they should email before the class to try to get out in front of the challenges they are facing so they can attend the next class up to date on their understanding of the content.

Participate

Students should do their best to be fully engaged in the class.

This means adding value by sharing their understanding of concepts which they fully grasp and asking about concepts about which they are unsure.

Students sometimes need to be reminded that if they have a question about a subject, it is likely that other students in the room do as well.

Follow up

Sometimes a recitation class will create more confusion about a topic than it solves.

This is nothing to be embarrassed about.

Students should follow up with their and seek clarification on the points that made the content more difficult to understand.  

Final Thoughts

The recitation class is a powerful tool that colleges use to give students in large classes the opportunity to dive deeper into the content in a guided setting with their peers.

When implemented effectively, it can be a highly effective resource for students who benefit from learning in a smaller setting.

The best recitation classes are shaped by the feedback of the students within it.

Students who wish to make their recitation class better should communicate with their TA and let them know what strategies work best for them.

A good TA will be receptive to constructive feedback.

They know that they are there to help their students.

Dr. Patrick Capriola

Dr. Patrick Capriola is the founder of strategiesforparents.com. He is an expert in parenting, social-emotional development, academic growth, dropout prevention, educator professional development, and navigating the school system. He earned his Doctorate in Educational Leadership from the University of Florida in 2014. His professional experience includes serving as a classroom teacher, a student behavior specialist, a school administrator, and an educational trainer - providing professional development to school administrators and teachers, helping them learn to meet the academic and social-emotional needs of students. He is focused on growing strategiesforparents.com into a leading source for high-quality research-based content to help parents work through the challenges of raising a family and progressing through the school system.

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