Lecturing

One of the articles for the class I am taking is on lecturing. I’m not sure I want to read it, since I do a lot of “lecturing.” Okay, what I mostly do is pick topics and sections from the book that I think are useful and skim those out loud, giving the students the high points and letting them know that the book has more on the topic.

So first, what is a lecture?

A lecture is an extended presentation in which the instructor presents factual information in an organized and logically sequenced way. It typically results in long periods of uninterrupted instructor-centered, expository discourse that relegates students to the role of passive “spectators.” The lecture presents the material to be learned in more or less final form, gives answers, presents principles, and elaborates on what is being learned. Normally, the lecturer may use reference notes, may use visuals (to enhance the information being presented), may provide students with handouts to help them follow the lecture, and may respond to students’ questions as the lecture progresses or at its end. (Johnson, Johnson, and Smith 1998)

Why do we use it?

Their answers are:
It’s simple.
It’s flexible.
It’s efficient.
And it makes the instructor important.

Okay, without reading any farther yet, what is the problem with that? I want simple. So do my students. (Although it is simple for the teacher, perhaps not for the students.) It is flexible. I don’t think my students care about that. It’s efficient, though; they do care about that. And while my students probably don’t want me to be important, I am supposed to be necessary to the classroom since I get paid to teach. (Not much, but some.)

Skipping a section I find too touchy feely, we go on to something worthwhile.

When is it reasonable to lecture?

To disseminate information… for me that particularly means to introduce an area. Which is what I use it for in Freshman Comp I. In Freshman Comp II and Brit Lit it is “to communicate a large amount of material to many students in a short period of time.” That’s where I want to give them the benefit of my 100 hours of study on the topic so that they don’t have to do 100 hours of study. I think they and I agree that’s a better use of everyone’s time.

To present information that is not available elsewhere… Hmm. I’ve already said that for Freshman Comp I go through the book. But do I need to have two reasons if I have one?

Expose students to content integrated from a variety of sources… That’s also included in their discussion of disseminating information. But it works for me, too.

Expose students to information too complex for them… I am wondering why they need to know it if it is too complex. But I guess when I am explaining how to interpret poetry, that might count.

Demonstrate/model strategies for the students to use later… Originally I skipped this. But then later on in this post I discuss it in terms of showing my students how I read and giving them ideas on how to make their reading more understandable.

Expose students in a brief time to several points of view… That’s what the readings we do in our book is useful for. And then I kibbitz.

Arouse students’ interest in the subject… I don’t think I’m that good a lecturer.

“Teaching students who are primarily auditory learners. To learn from lectures, students need to be skillful listeners who can organize information acquired auditorially.” On this one I think that what I do for Fresh Comp I is useful even if the students aren’t auditory. I point out where in the book the information is and which sections are most useful.

I will say that most of my early class time now is spent in this lecture/reading mode. But after the second week, most of the work is writing, working in groups, doing research, and writing. (It is a writing class, after all.)

The first problem with lecturing is that students’ attention to what the instructor is saying decreases as the lecture proceeds. Research in the 1960s by D.H. Lloyd, at the University of Reading in Berkshire, England, found that student attention levels during lectures followed the pattern of (a) five minutes of settling in, (b) five minutes of readily assimilating material, (c) confusion and boredom with assimilation falling off rapidly and remaining low for the bulk of the lecture, and (d) some revival of attention at the end of the lecture (Penner, 1984).

I can see that. I think that the readings we do in class don’t count as lecture. They’re essays the students would have to read on their own, but we read in class and I comment as we go along. Then the students have to answer factual, strategy, and generalized questions. I have had many students tell me that the reading I do in class gives them a better handle on how to read on their own because I am showing them my reading strategies. (And, even if I do say so myself, my reading strategies are excellent.)

The second problem with lecturing is that it takes an educated, intelligent person oriented toward auditory learning to benefit from listening to lectures. Verner and Cooley (1967) found that in general, very little of a lecture can be recalled except in the case of listeners with above average education and intelligence.

We certainly can’t expect our students to always be educated, intelligent, and interested. (That last is implied.)

The third problem with lecturing is that it tends to promote only lower-level learning of factual information. Bligh (1972), after an extensive series of studies, concluded that while lecturing was as (but not more) effective as reading or other methods in transmitting information, lecturing was clearly less effective in promoting thinking or in changing attitudes. A survey of 58 studies conducted between the years of 1928 and 1967 comparing various characteristics of lectures versus discussions, found that lectures and discussions did not differ significantly on lower-level learning (such as learning facts and principles), but discussion appeared superior in developing higher-level problem-solving capabilities and positive attitudes toward the course (Costin, 1972). McKeachie and Kulik (1975) separated studies on lecturing according to whether they focused on factual learning, higher-level reasoning, attitudes, or motivation. They found lecture to be superior to discussion for promoting factual learning, but discussion was found to be superior to lecture for promoting higher-level reasoning, positive attitudes, and motivation to learn.

I guess it’s a good thing there’s a bit more discussion in my lectures than in some. How do you get students involved in a discussion of something they don’t know anything about though?

Maybe when we are discussing poetry, I could ask them what strategies their teachers have given them for reading poetry. We could discuss how useful they have found those to be. Maybe I could give them some of my strategies for reading poetry, particularly discussing how I chose the poems for the class and why. (I do some of that anyway, but maybe we could shut our syllabi, open the book, and have the students skim for possible poems to read. I might find some other good ones that way. It would also be a way to show what “non-prepared” reading of a poem might look like.)

Lectures can waste student time by telling them things that they could read for themselves. That’s under the fourth problem with lectures. May I just say here that this is true if the teacher says exactly what the book says. It is true if the teacher says everything the book says. But in Freshman Comp I, I highlight information that they need to know that is discussed in more depth in the book. (And even if I give a quiz on it, they won’t always read it- or if they do, they won’t always understand it.) In Freshman Comp II there isn’t a lot of lecture opportunity in the book.

The last two problems are 1) students don’t like it and 2) students aren’t able to understand it/take notes from it…

Oh well. I’m sick of lecturing, aren’t you?

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