Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Lectures and Liveliness

While in the school of education, the social studies majors took enough history courses to be just two shy of an independent B.A. in history. Some courses were riveting, captivating, and some were monstrously dull. All of them were lecture-based. As these were the last history courses most of us took before becoming teachers ourselves, they greatly influenced how we approached teaching the subject in the classroom. As the saying goes, "Teachers teach as they were taught." While we came out being rather knowledgeable about history, we also came out wanting to lecture to classes having not even done much of that ourselves and not knowing a great deal about teaching otherwise. In short, I wasn't really sure what giving a lecture was or what it could be.

Last year my debates about kinesthetic and teacher-centered learning were in the trash can after two days along with everything else I'd thought about and planned for leading up to my first year- the compelling lectures, the "lab of democracy"...everything. As I was clawing my way to stable ground I had to abandon the few tools I'd brought with me for something that would deliver any instruction to my students. All of those ideas went briefly to a back burner and then into the back of a storage closet that I wouldn't even look at until weeks after the entire school year was over. I was less concerned with determining how much I was lecturing and more concerned with getting students to do a lick of work.

After student teaching I had plans when approaching my first classroom about turning it into something like a history laboratory. A place where all the space- walls, ceiling, floors- would be utilized to create as much "living history" as possible. I envisioned building walls that slid around the classroom to act as extra bulletin board space or the Berlin Wall, to divide the class into two groups when necessary to promote competition, etc. I wanted several time lines strung across the ceilings holding artifacts from each unit of study and a real graffiti wall where students could use the space to express whatever (appropriate) sociological ideas they had when we delved into the roots of American history. I'd seen pictures of the classrooms of other teachers that came out of my school of education who turned their workspace into a workshop for social studies and I wanted to create something to blow them all out of the water. History was to be anything but a series of lectures where a guy stands at the front of the room and reads from his notes.

After I stood back up at the end of last year and dusted off my rump, I got to thinking about teaching again, but with a far larger dose of reality to go on. Something I didn't see back in the school of education was that well-placed lectures are educational. Perhaps students won't retain enough of it to score high on a quiz of every detail, but to lecture effectively, to tell a story and get students to listen to an adult for more than five minutes at length, is something majestic and difficult- and it can certainly be educational. To be quite honest I can't recall much of the information presented to me in the most inspiring lectures I've attended. The point was less the specific pieces of information given and more the motivation I felt leaving the hall where I listened to someone speak. It was less about learning line-item facts and more about wanting to do something- having the very real desire to act- once I left the lecture hall. That is what a large part of education is supposed to be about- not just learning facts to spout when it's convenient and appropriate but gaining the desire to do something meaningful with your life.

At this point in my second year I'm not sure what I want to do with the idea of the lecture, but I still feel it definitely has its place in the classroom. Granted, I don't think it should be the most common mode of instructional delivery, nor even used on a very frequent basis. When students are listening at length to what you have to say where I teach (and perhaps most places), you get the feeling that the time cannot be wasted and that you damn well better utilize it to drive home a larger point about social studies and life in general.

Today's Wine: A generic red from an Asian fusion place up the street. I've been a bit dry this past week- perhaps in anticipation of a trip to Italy that begins the minute school is out this Friday.

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