Wednesday, February 27, 2008

How do I get less lecturing and more learning in my classes?

On Friday the Chairman of the AUCA Board of Trustees, William Newton-Smith gave a talk on "The Idea of the University" here. One of the things he stressed is that there should be "less lecturing and more learning." I agree with him and would love it if I could find a way to practically implement this goal. One of the recurring problems I have found teaching is getting students to actively engage in class discussion. When they do speak they inevitably ask good questions or make pertinent comments. The problem is that not enough students do this often enough. So I find myself lecturing when I think the students would actually learn more if instead I facilitated a discussion between us. Now one of the problems may be that English is not the native language of any of my students. But, I think there is more going on here. Any comments or suggestions on this matter would be most welcome.


Anonymous said...

Give them several questions at the end of a class period that you want them to be able to answer in the next class. The trick is coming up with questions that will spawn discussions rather than just lead to dead-end answers.

One thing I do is make a note of what sorts of topics, and frames, generate a good discussion in one class. Then I try to structure questions for the next class that are similar.

If everyone is just sitting there staring at me after I ask a question, I call on a couple of the more confident students, who usually have something to say. Then I try to get the other students to build on what's been said.

Sometimes, all of this fails and I still have a crummy discussion.

Kristina said...

Have you considered group work where the students would work in 3-4 people per group on a project that they would present to each other later? Students seem to enjoy talking amongst themselves and to keep them on task, make sure they are discussing it in English so you know they ARE talking about their project. At first I didn't like group projects but it is something they seem to enjoy. Just a thought.

chim said...

When I was an undergrad I always found that I did the most learning when I tried to disagree with my prof. I found myself doing extra homework (eg. reading through journal articles and scanning countless wikipedia pages) so that I had a more solid foundation to challenge the views of the prof.

I think one of the biggest problems for young undergrads is that they come from a highschool background that teaches them to learn what a teacher tells you, and not think critically about the information given. Getting students to realize that there are perspectives in history outside those of the professor I think is an important first step.

J. Otto Pohl said...

Thanks for all the advice Walt, Kristina and Chim.