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Using Your Lessons Beyond the Classroom

Emily Anne Gibson shares tips on how to make the most out of what you learn in class. logo

My shelf full of textbooks (© Emily Anne Gibson)

"The classroom should be an entrance into the world, not an escape from it." -- John Ciardi

The average college student takes at least five courses a semester and spends a good deal of their time sitting in a classroom. We read, we write, we take notes, we participate in class discussions, and what of it? The truth is, it has no business being a class if it doesn't give students something we can really use, whether it's bestowing practical knowledge for our craft or giving us new ways to look at the world. I've had my own experiences in taking a lesson out of its classroom context.

1. DRAMATURGY II: PRESENTATIONS Learning it: After creating a mock casebook for John Logan's Red, I presented my research to the class and got criticism on my presentation skills. I also got to watch how others presented, and definitely saw a lot I wanted to make sure I did (and did not) do.

Using it: The experiences I had in class prepared me to be interesting, engaging, and receptive to questions when working with actors and creative teams. On my first dramaturgy assignment, the director asked me to give a presentation on the play and the historical material, and I felt super prepared.


Learning it: Over the semester, I wrote critical responses to over 30 pieces of non-fiction, including the work of my classmates. We then congregated and discussed our thoughts in a discussion led by our professor.

Using it: I've always had opinions, but after spending 15 weeks having to articulate them on paper and defend them against another dozen people's, I feel so much better about my abilities as a critic. After seeing a show, I can use the communication skills I developed, and I can construct an opinion that is specific - we never used "I liked it" or "I didn't" in that class, and I try not to when I'm talking about a show I've just seen.


Learning it: In the first dramaturgy class I took at CMU, I was introduced to a number of different theories: feminist, Marxist, post-colonial, etc. We talked about them as lenses that we can use alone or in combination to look at things in different ways.

Using it: As a dramaturg, this foundation in literary theory has been indispensable. Every time I read a play, be it for class, for production, or for personal interest, I find myself pulling out my theory-lenses and going deeper into the text. It's changed the way I read on a daily basis, and it's led me to think about things in ways that I never would have otherwise.


Learning it: In one history class in particular, which I took last spring, I had between 150 and 200 pages of (dense) reading per class meeting. This history class taught me how to skim a text in a way that is helpful. I'm not in any way advocating neglecting your homework, but we all know that getting things done means prioritizing. I learned to carefully read the first few paragraphs, and then go through with a highlighter in hand. I skim it all, but I slow down when I find: key words, new names, new locations, and summary sentences. Then I round it out by making sure to thoroughly read the last few paragraphs.

Using it: I have continued to use this method, especially when I'm doing preliminary research. I've used this skimming technique browsing Jstor, to weed likely articles from unlikely articles and also to familiarize myself with a topic or refresh my memory of something I've read before.


Learning it: I learned about the importance of keeping up with the theater world outside CMU. We were assigned to read and comment on articles about anything from theater in Pittsburgh to tech accidents at the Tony Awards.

Using it: I know where to find good information and how I can keep up with the professional world while I'm in school, which I've been striving to do ever since. I still check the blog ( and the sources I discovered from it.

So, have any of you learned things in class that you've put to good use? (I hope the answer is yes!) Share your experiences in the comments below!


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