Last week we began to develop a taxonomy of lecture types, the idea being to outline a basic toolbox of tactics to use in class planning. Today we add a few more tools to the kit. (Like the first, credit for much of this post’s inspiration and execution goes to Peter J. Frederick, “The Lively Lecture.” College Teaching, Vol. 34, No 2 )
- The Hodgepodge: Paying attention to the same thing for an hour can challenge the doughtiest of attention spans, which is why changing things up, shifting the energy and interaction patterns can greatly improve your students’ learning during class. This effective lecture type is marked by an alternation of clearly defined activities, each of which changes the center of energy and who is talking to each other. For instance, the teacher begins with a 15 minute lecture that outlines the broad issue, and follows this with a 15 minute discussion of its implications, which sets the stage for another mini-lecture on the next stage of the matter. In the final part of the class, smaller groups could confer with each other and propose solutions to the problem that has come to shape during the lesson. This type of lecture can be used in classes with hundreds of students – for instance, instead of formal small groups, simply ask your students to speak for a couple of minutes with their neighbors and then solicit a few volunteers for feedback. Such a lecture treats students not just as passive recipients of “facts,” but as active thinkers in your discipline.
- Textual Healing: Here’s a fundamental (yet typically underutilized) academic skill, one rarely seen in lectures: the close reading of a text. “My students can’t read analytically!” is an oft heard complaint about the state of undergraduate education, so why not provide a model and teach them? Working from handouts, PowerPoint, or bringing their own copies to class, students can accompany the professor through a close analysis of a selected text. This type of lecture is particularly conducive to be combined with the Hodgepodge, above. When a particularly equivocal passage is reached, the teacher can throw it to the students, who work through the text portion in small groups: “What does Nietzsche mean here?”
- The (Not Really) Free for All: Many instructors have qualms about using small group activities, particularly in large, difficult to monitor classes. By relinquishing complete control about who is talking in class and what they are saying (a.k.a. letting students speak to each other), the instructor is taking a risk. If you let go of the reins, the horse may bolt! But remember, increasing student participation need not mean you letting go of those reins entirely. In a debate, for instance, students can be assigned a side to support based on where they sit (the aisle down the middle of the seats is a good, clear divider). And don’t forget: clear tasks are vital. “The left side of the room will come up with five reasons 1989 was a revolution, and the right side of the room five reasons it was not.” Students who sat on a side they disagree with would be forced to imagine the other side of the issue, and in so doing challenge their own preconceptions and come to a deeper understanding of the topic at hand.
These are just some suggestions – this is by no means a complete list! What other lecture types are in your pedagogical toolkit?
This post was written by Stephen A. Walsh.