Should teachers lecture? Part 2

Part 1 is here.

A second thing I realize when I hear people dismiss lecturing as a valid method of teaching is that what they are rejecting is very different from what I consider an effective lecture.

What should a lecture be?

The podcast I listened to talked about needing to do more than lecture because students need to learn “more than facts and formulas” . What kind of lecture only gives students facts and formulas? Even the example used in the podcast, about physics lectures, was about lectures used to teach students problem solving techniques, which is a lot more than facts and formulas.

When I lecture, I am concerned that my students pay close attention to how I am thinking about the material. I am modeling for them how I hope they will think about it.

I tell them to look in the textbook for facts and formulas. Textbooks are polished, static things that can be trusted to always say the same thing and (usually) say it accurately. Lectures are different. Lectures are dynamic. They take place in time, so you can hear the reasoning process unfold in front of you. They are interactive. (At least a little bit: even a lecturer who leaves no time for questions will read the faces of his listeners and adapt what he is saying accordingly.)

The podcast said “people learn better when they’re actively engaged. A lot of the information in a typical lecture comes at people too fast.”

That probably explains why I like lectures better than the average student. I listen to lectures very actively. I’m always dialoguing with the speaker in my head. My notes are full of questions I want to ask about later. In addition, I reorganize the material as I hear it. My notes are also full of summary statements, attempts to capture the main point of a lecture as I listen. Finally, I make lots of connections in my notes to other material: “this is like such-and-such an idea in the other course I’m taking”.

I listen fast, by which I mean, I keep up easily with people’s spoken words. In the interests of full disclosure, one of my most consistent weaknesses as a teacher is that I speak too quickly for my students to follow. I have to work at slowing down for them. (I hate it when people speak too slowly. When I’m listen to audio recordings, I often put the recording on fast forward and listen to it at an accelerated pace if I can. I only wish all audio players gave me that ability.)

All this only works if the lecture is not just an information dump. The point isn’t to read the textbook to students or recite facts for them to copy and think about later.

Actually, I don’t even like my students to take notes very much. In certain classes I actively discourage it. Often when they are busy writing down everything I say, the important stuff moves from their ears to their fingers without visiting their brains along the way. I tell my students that it is important to be thinking with me as I lecture. I try to provide handouts and utilize the book enough that they don’t feel the need to record everything.

I don’t think that a lecture is always the best way to teach something. It depends on the material, as one commenter said, and on who the teacher and the students are too. We should try to learn good alternatives to lecturing. In the next part, I’ll talk about one non-lecture approach I would love to figure out how to use, not so much to replace my lectures as to enhance them.

 

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1 thought on “Should teachers lecture? Part 2

  1. I have had one class with you and am taking a second.. There is a HUGE difference in the way I learn (or the way I think others would learn best) in the two different subjects : Algebra and Philosophy. As stated in the first part of this, philosophy is something that needs to be discussed; lecturing and expecting students to just sit and listen is *I think* NOT a good way to learn philosophy. Where as algebra is a subject that I learn as I go, so watching the problems written on the board and how they are solved and writing it all down, that works best for me. I’m not sure how someone could learn algebra from just hands-on. That would be like giving an algebra problem to a 5 year old and expecting them to figure out how to solve it just by manipulating it. Don’t we have to know the solution or at least how to arrive at the solution first? But then I can’t really picture a hands on method for algebra anyway, simple math – sure, but not algebra. lol…

    As for lecturing in general.. or even just teaching methods.. The question is, what do you want the students to walk away from this class with? What kind of knowledge, what application of it.. how are they supposed to use this knowledge in “real life”? Some classes are meant to prepare students for life outside college, and some classes are “just” information that may or may not be used (depending on the major of the student). I think if classes are taught by teachers who are enthusiastic about their material it will tend to spill over onto the students. And honestly, the students that aren’t learning well from a “typical lecture” are probably the students that aren’t paying attention in the first place. Yes everyone has their own learning styles, but if you really WANT to learn from the class, you make an effort. You ask questions (thus the lecture may turn into more of a discussion), you ask for examples (now the lecture has some demonstration or hands-on parts to it). You ACTIVELY learn.. sitting in class and starting at the wall.. you probably aren’t going to learn anything.. and then wonder why your grades are so bad..

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