But they need to listen to lectures in college; don’t we need to prepare them for that too?
I’ve heard the argument plenty of times. Sure, all that fun and engaging stuff you’re doing is awesome, learning by doing, etc, but we need to make sure they’re ready to get lectured at in college. (When I taught middle school some people said the same thing about getting lectured at in high school.) This seems to particularly resonate with folks who aren’t teachers or who are new to teaching. Not sure why.
I disagree, pretty strongly. A few reasons:
- I’m skeptical there’s some special skills called “listening to a lecture” that students need to practice for a few hundred or thousand hours (by getting lectured at) in order to develop. Sure, we should think about students’ attention spans, but I’m skeptical lecturing at kids is the most useful way to improve a kid’s attention.
- If students are going to be lectured at in the future, it’s probably most important that they have a broad base of knowledge and skills so that the lecture makes sense and connects with their prior knowledge. I’m going to build that base of knowledge the best way I know how.
- If college is some dystopia of endless lectures, it underscores the urgency and importance of building students’ curiosity and love of learning so that they are in a better position to pursue their passions, regardless of the quality of some subset of their education.
- Colleges are changing faster than many folks think. Not that they’re changing very fast, but they’re changing. We’re talking about aiming behind a moving target. No sense preparing students for the past.
I was asked recently if I lecture. I don’t really know how to answer that question. Do I explain things, model ideas and strategies on the board, point out connections, and teach by telling? Absolutely. All the time. But I don’t think that has to be the defining characteristic of my teaching. In my class, students do math. I use that math to elicit what they know and don’t know, and based on that knowledge I may choose to deliver some explicit instruction. Maybe for two minutes at a time, maybe for twenty.
I don’t see a lot of value in talking in absolutes here. “Lecture” seems to imply that the teacher talks for the whole period, maybe bold students are willing to ask questions, and that’s the lesson. Proponents of lecturing seem to view the alternative as hippy-dippy projects, or aimless discovery learning. My teaching hangs out in the middle. Sometimes I deliver information. Sometimes I ask students to figure something out. Sometimes I ask students to practice a skill. This can happen in any order based on what tools I think are most useful that day. There’s no magic bullet, no one right answer. That intellectual work of figuring out what is going to work tomorrow for my students is probably my favorite part of the job.