Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Relinquishing Control

Relinquishing control over the classroom is the biggest challenge we face as educators. Most teachers love hearing their own voice. As people trained in repeating the same thing patiently, we can pontificate for hours with complete disregard for the level of our listeners' interest.

However, research in methodology of teaching overwhelmingly agrees that teacher-centered learning is a lot less effective than student-centered learning. In a big lecture classroom, it is counter-productive for the instructor to speak without interruption for more than 70 % of class time. In language learning, the class becomes a lot less effective if the teacher speaks for more than 5 % of class time. I usually aim at keeping my talking to under 3 % of the entire time the class lasts.

It took me a long time to learn to relinquish control and curtail my cherished speaking time. Blogging provides a great outlet where I can channel all of the frustration of not blabbing in an uninterrupted fashion during the classes I teach. I wish more educators realized that shutting up from time to time and letting the students participate more would be the most productive thing they can do as teachers.

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Pagan Topologist said...

I certainly agree with this, mostly. However, in lower level math courses, I often want to discuss material not in the textbook, nor easily available in a form students can read, so I lecture quite a bit. In upper level courses, I often say very little. I propose problems and let students work on them and present their work to the class at the blackboard.

Dan Miller said...

Clarissa, the best course I ever had in American political history was taught by John Morton Blum. It was also the most popular, with over two hundred students; it was necessary to hold the class in the law school auditorium. Obviously, there could be no significant class participation. The only instance I recall was on the day after Eleanor Roosevelt's death (Nov. 7, 1962); Mr. Blum asked if we would mind if he related extemporaneously his reactions to her when he had been at Hyde Park talking with her about her experiences during FDR's time. We didn't and he did.

There were three classes each week. Two were conducted by Mr. Blum and one was a seminar conducted by a post doc lecturer. There were lots of post docs and seminars had about a dozen students each; there was ample time for discussion and that's what the seminars were for. The lecture-seminar system worked very well.

Clarissa said...

Thank you for the comment, Dan Miller. I'm glad you came by.

Unfortunately, I still can't get my university to give me a room big enough to accommodate all students who want to take my course. So I haven't had an course of more than 70 students yet.

Clarissa said...

" However, in lower level math courses, I often want to discuss material not in the textbook, nor easily available in a form students can read, so I lecture quite a bit."

-Of course, math is very different from foreign languages. Still, even in math classes one often wishes that the lecturer would stop from time to time and ask the students if they have any questions. I remember I had this calculus professor in the polytechnic who would spend the entire 2-hour-long class session with his back turned to the students. His lectures were impossible to follow because he also mumbled.