Lecture is NOT Always the Antithesis of Learning

I started my blog this summer in preparation for a radical readjustment of my teaching methods for next year. I want to employ different techniques such as mastery, layered curriculum, and project based learning. I want to move away from the traditional teaching trap I’ve fallen into where content delivery is done mostly through lectures. I am doing this because I believe it will provide the best learning opportunities for my students. I’ve done my research. I’ve seen the data. I’ve read the anecdotes. And I’ve experienced it myself as I describe in my first blog post. Now don’t crucify me here buuuuuuuuuuut…..I am a little bit annoyed with all the tweets and blog posts I’ve been reading lately that absolutely demonize lecturing. I think that occasionally and in the right context, lecture can be a good tool for learning – if you are especially good at it! There are tons of teachers that present in monotone, can’t pace properly, have boring slideshows etc…These qualities ultimately make their lectures ineffective. There are also a lot of subjects that don’t lend themselves well to lecturing and are better taught in alternative ways. However, there are educators out there that turn lecturing into an art form. I had one of these teachers when I was in high school. He taught Latin and Ancient Civilizations. He was also the smartest person I had ever met and seemed to know everything about anything. We BEGGED him for lectures. I took his courses because I wanted to listen to his stories. And we learned. We learned SO much. We loved to listen to him and in Latin class we would encourage his random tangents on topics such as the second world war. Things I never thought I ever would have been interested in – like the Byzantine Empire – suddenly became so fascinating as we heard about them through his unique voice. The only thing I remember from grade 9 English class is when he came in as a guest speaker to discuss the link between The Crucible and McCarthyism. He was clever and funny and awesome. He was the one teacher in the school who could pull it off. And not to toot my own horn, but I think I’m pretty good at it too – at least that is what I get from student feedback. I was having lunch with a former student a couple of weeks ago and she was reminding me of a lecture I had given class. “Remember when you said this and then you compared it to that and then you made that funny joke and everybody laughed?” Ummm no..I thought to myself. I couldn’t recall that particular lesson. But for my student, the way I had delivered the content had impacted her. The analogy I had made helped her understand the concept. The joke she associated with the content helped her recall the information. And it hasn’t just been ONE student that has said this to me. Several times I have had students tell me that my passion for biology comes through in my lectures and has made THEM interested in biology. And I can relate to that because the same thing happened with me and my history teacher. His passion motivated me to pursue learning history outside of school just for the sake of my own interest. I don’t doubt that had I come up with high quality activities/projects that allowed them to discover the concepts independently, their interest would have been piqued and they would have acquired long lasting knowledge. But I still think that occasionally a lecture here and there can be great to inspire interest and discussion. Especially if it’s a topic that you are really passionate about or have personal experience with. As you may know from reading my blog I don’t have a degree in cognitive psychology, a masters in education, nor have I been teaching that long…but I think (from my limited experience) some lectures can be inspirational, funny, and insightful. So I will still have one or two 15-20 minute lectures where I feel it is appropriate. You know those ones where you have their rapt attention and their eyes are as wide as saucers? What is so evil about that?

Would love to hear your thoughts on this one!


3 thoughts on “Lecture is NOT Always the Antithesis of Learning

  1. Hi again Juliana (2 comments in one day, why I love summer), I know exactly what you mean about being inspired by brilliant lecturers. There is nothing better to get me thinking deeply and for a long time than an insightful and masterfully crafted lecture. I too have had similar experiences with students returning to tell me they remembered this or that “story” that I had told in class. I know I did a great job at engaging my students to the very best of my ability. What I have been reflecting on is if the engagement is as transformative and relevant at this point in time as empowering students to connect to their own learning? I have just begun my journey down this path of change so I am figuring it out as I go.
    One thing I do know though is I don’t like absolutes (lecture is always bad) and will continue to consider all options as I grow as a learner and teacher.

    1. I think if the lecture provides engagement that can inspire/motivate students to pursue a path of learning that they otherwise may not have been exposed to, then it’s a good thing. I think great lectures can provide opportunities for students to connect with unfamiliar content/material that can then empower them to go off and explore independently and have an authentic learning experience. Agree with you about absolutes though for sure – and I think that kind of relates to the conversation on twitter that was going on earlier today about flipped learning! Lots of interesting discussion going on – a lot of debate over “semantics” though I think… Anyways, it’s funny that this blog post kind of turned out like another “Simpsons did it” moment as I saw you had commented on Karl’s blog about live vs recorded lectures!!!! And I think someone else had posted another similar post today as well! D’oh!

  2. Pingback: Better Biology – Unit 1 Reflection | msagostino

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