What About Lecturing? Recent Study States Not As Effective

“To lecture or not to lecture” – that seems to be the question that has received much attention in recent years.  It is similar to topics such as the positive/negative effects of drinking red wine, eating chocolate or eggs in that the pendulum swings back and forth with each and every individual study that is produced and published.  The most recent study is a new analysis of multiple research studies from the University of Washington and recently published by the National Academy of Sciences. This report finds that undergraduate students in classes with traditional lectures are 1.5 times more likely to fail than students in classes that use active learning methods. A great summary of this report appears in Science and titled “Lectures Aren’t Just Boring, They’re Ineffective, Too, Study Finds.”

One article that appeared regarding lectures in the Journal of College Science Teaching focused on Are Lectures a Think of The Past whereas another was titled Effective Strategies for Engaging Students in Large-Lecture, Nonmajors Science Courses.  Another great read on the topic is by Eric Mazur who is at Harvard University where he states that “[t]he trend toward “active learning” may overthrow the style of teaching that has ruled universities for 600 years” in Twilight of the Lecture

Now while these particular examples as well as the report that was produced are focused on lecturing at the college undergraduate level, the reality is lecture happens at all levels albeit in different durations of time and in all subjects. Most times when the topic of lecture comes up as an instructional strategy it is paired with an alternative strategy and over the years educators have encountered peer to peer instruction, cooperative learning, and a variety of other types of presentation and/or engagement styles with flipped learning being one of the more recent ones.

So the question that is posed this month relates to a discussion of YOUR favorite active learning method for classroom instruction or as Mazur hints at your personal style for overthrowing the traditional style of teaching – lecture!  What one strategy or approach to instruction have you found to be effective, engaging, and your tried and true approach? These strategies may have educational research to support their use or simply your own anecdotal experiences and action research within your classroom.




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  1. Vicki Massey
    Posted June 25, 2014 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    I love using Kagan Cooperative Group strategies to get students up and talking to each other. If the students are talking about the content they are remembering it. It takes a very subtle shift in teaching practices to change to a classroom where students do most of the talking. Students should be tired at the end of they day because THEY have done so much talking!

  2. Kathy Renfrew
    Posted June 27, 2014 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    Whenever I think about instructional strategies I used in the classroom two come to mind immediately and I have a third I am contemplating. One of them is Karen Worth’s learning cycle that is discussed in detail in Science and Literacy: A Natural Fit. The second strategy comes from Roger Bybee and BSCS and is affectionately known as the 5 Es. Let me define those Es: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate and Evaluate.

    I have recently used the 5 Es in a 4th grade science classroom. I implemented those 5 Es as part of an instructional sequence I created to celebrate an NSTA Outstanding Trade Book.

    Engage is my hook. I say to myself “What can I do or read to engage the student in the science content? Do I have a good question that will draw them in and ask more questions?
    During an Explore time, I provide students with the opportunity to explore the materials and becoming more engaged in the content. Students do investigations during this time where they are making observations, predictions, collecting, recording and analyzing data and then drawing conclusions from that data.

    At this point the majority of students will still need more information to have a good understanding of the concept. Now, there are many choices. Maybe we watch some video clips followed by a scientist meeting. We might read some complex text together. We would then have a scientists’ meeting. This meeting is to make sense of all that we have. I am in the Explain phase now.

    Onto Elaborate, I have found this too can take many forms. It might the time when new questions are being asked, researched, and discussed. Maybe students are now ready to engage in argument from evidence. This might be where the engineering component comes in. Maybe that engineering is applying the science that came earlier in the cycle.

    The last E stands for evaluation. It is at the end of the cycle but formative assessments have been occurring through all the other Es. There are on the spot assessments with changes in instruction as a result of the information gathered by the teacher. You may have a summative assessment here at the end of the instructional sequence or maybe it is a place for another formative assessment.

    So that is one of the ways, I would approach instruction. If you go back to that explain phase, there is some direct instruction located there but it isn’t the whole plan.

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