I should probably have called this "Ten weird tricks about lecturing" or "Lecturing: what you learn will shock you!" to grab more page views.
But it probably won't shock you. Twitter has lost its mind over the "Lecture Me. Really" essay in the New York Times yesterday. The essay suggested that sometimes a good lecture helps listeners to bring together information in a compelling way and that taking notes might students help to assimilate information. You know, learn something.
Twitter responded with roughly this sentiment: "Lectures are evil. Did we not drive a stake through the heart of this awful practice? Everyone knows that constant interaction on Twitter is the One Best Way to teach. Students alone know how best to learn, and they know what they need to learn, too. Why are you trying to impose your terrible methods on them all the time?"
Herewith are ten thoughts about lecturing, in no particular order.
1. No one would say that lecturing is the best way to learn all the time, or that instructors should do this all the time, or that other ways don't work.
2. When I began teaching, having duly learned how evil lectures were, I did not do it. Ever. Students began to ask for lectures. They wanted some information explained, so I learned to give lectures and to make them good.
3. Lecturing is storytelling. It ought to have a point, and an organization, and interesting information bits along with the things that they have to know, which might or might not be interesting to them.
4. Pictures help. Interaction helps. PowerPoint is really for pictures rather than bullet points. Ask questions. Ask them to respond to what they're seeing.
5. If you think of lecturing as if you're telling a story, you'll keep it short. Henry Ward Beecher and Jonathan Edwards are dead. No one can hold an audience spellbound for 3 hours or usually even an hour any more. If you keep it to 20 minutes, or even less, it'll work better.
6. Brief lecture + an activity immediately after that to capitalize on what students have learned = a winning combination. Not every day, but some days. You have to mix things up in the classroom. See point 1.
7. Keep lecturing for some of the "big picture" stuff. I had some instructors who could come into a classroom, open a book, and keep us more or less spellbound (with not much interaction) by analyzing poems for three hours. That's not a sustainable model for most of us. Lecture entertainingly on the big ideas, and then follow it up with a group project or an analytical exercise about a specific poem or piece of prose.
8. Sometimes when you're discussing a poem, you'll hear students say something as though they just thought of it, even though you said it earlier. This is a good thing. It means that they're internalizing the ideas and taking ownership of them.
9. When students work in groups, they may not get all the meaning that you'd like them to get out of a piece, the kind that you would have said if you had lectured about it. This is okay. They will remember it better if they engage with it themselves.
10. Bottom line: three methods.
--Say you give 100% of some necessary information in a lecture. Students may remember as little as 60% of it, depending on the student.
--If students discuss the work in groups, they may only get 60% of what you think they should learn, but they will remember it.
--When students present their work to the class, they may only say about half of that, or 30%. But they will have a better handle on that 30% because they've worked with it or listened to it from their peers. That's why it's important to use more than one method.
Updated to add: Miriam Burstein has some good thoughts on this.