Indiana University Teaching Handbook
Adapted with permission from Farris, 1985
Lecturing is often equated with college teaching. This is rapidly changing, however, as university instructors have begun to recognize that not all students benefit from lecture, nor is lecture the most efficient way to disseminate information. Originally the lecturer read to an audience because access to written material was limited, and many of the learners were illiterate. The printing process, digitized information, and general literacy have dramatically changed the lecturers function.
Lecturing still has its rightful place among dozens of other teaching techniques, but the question one has to ask is, Which technique will do most to help students learn? Some topics lend themselves much more naturally to lecturing than others. The lecture is valid for these reasons: to provide structure and organization to scattered material; to help pace student learning; to reinforce assigned reading by providing an alternative perspective or source of information; and to use the public speaking opportunity to motivate students.
Adapted with permission from Middendorf & Kalish, 1994
Being in the same room with someone saying something is not equivalent to learning it. Students must engage the material to retain it. Also, given that students' attention span is around 15 to 20 minutes long and university classes last 50 to 75 minutes, you need to do something to control their attention. Lectures should be punctuated with periodic activities. Many IU instructors report that when they intersperse short lectures with active engagement for students for as brief a time as two to five minutes, students seem to become re-energized for the next 15- to 20-minute mini-lecture.
Planning a Lecture
Adapted with permission from Farris, 1985
When you start to plan a lecture, first consider your audience. Undergraduate students represent a broad cross-section of backgrounds and skills, and as a result may arrive at college with varying levels of competence. You neither want to talk over their heads nor to patronize them. You will be more effective if you try as much as possible to draw on knowledge they already have or appeal to experiences that, by analogy, suit the topic.
Before preparing the lecture, ask yourself: how does the lecture fit into the course as a whole? What are your objectives? Do you want to provide the students with an overview of the subject, give them some background information, or provoke them into further contemplation?
Once youve decided that the nature of your topic is indeed suitable for a lecture and have considered both your objectives and the knowledge level of your audience, you still want to make sure that what you need to cover will fit within the time allotted. A typical instructor lament is that there is so much material and so little time. Good organization will enable you to eliminate irrelevant material so that you may cover important points more thoroughly. One award-winning IU faculty member told us that I believe in the few things approach. Rather than going through a lot of topics, I cover a few in great depth. Having students stay with a few topicsÖ provides a longer-lasting learning experience than jumping through a lot of different things (Middendorf et. al., 1990).
Another IU professor tells us that in 20 years of teaching a large introductory lecture course, he has gradually eliminated 75 percent of the material he tried to cover. He thinks it is much better for his students to really learn a little than for them to be buried under too much.
Analyzing the Audience
A lecture should be designed with the students perspective in mind. What are students current knowledge, assumptions, biases, and, perhaps, misconceptions about the topic? In planning the lecture, you will need to find a way to build on the knowledge students bring, and also provide a means for students to reflect upon their biases and misconceptions. The lecture overall should be planned to answer the question, How will students understanding be different at the end of the presentation?
Generating an Outline
Once you have determined your subject and what your students needs are, formulate one general question that covers the heart of it, one you could answer in a single lecture. Take time to write it down and study it. Then generate three or four points that you could develop to answer this question. Note these down under the question. You are now gazing at your lecture outline.
Your next task is to define the elements of your key points and generate effective examples or analogies for each. Examples generated on the spur of the moment in class tend to be trivial; if prepared in advance, examples can both illustrate a particular point and broaden students understanding of the subject. Think the examples through carefully and consider ways to illustrate them with chalkboard diagrams, slides, overhead transparencies, demonstrations, or case studies, any of which can increase students understanding and interest.
Choosing Learning Activities
To effectively teach concepts, we must tell our students the generality or rule and give them specific and carefully considered examples. However, that is not enough. If they are to learn the concept in a usable way, we must provide them with a chance to practice using it. For example, in an anthropology lecture on ethnocentrism, students could be asked to list foods from other countries that they find disgusting. Then, you could give them a list of things Americans eat that are unacceptable to people from other cultures (biscuits and gravy!). The value of this type of exercise is that it helps students to make connections between ideas and to create structures of meaning out of what otherwise might be merely a large number of unrelated facts.
Reviewing the Material
Adapted with permission from University of Nevada, Reno
Demonstrating that you know more than your students is easy; teaching is more difficult. Keep in mind that how you relate the material to students will determine your effect as a teacher more than will your ability to generate perfect, complete answers to every question students ask.
However, you will need to develop comfort with the material you are teaching, even if you are confronting it yourself for the first time. Ideally, you will be assigned to a course in the area of your particular expertise, but you should still review material to refresh your memory, and you might try explaining it to someone else as a way of anticipating students questions and problems.
Delivering the Lecture
Your lecture will be more effective if you remember a number of points about the style and clarity of presentation. The following suggestions can help ensure that your lecture is clear and well received (adapted with permission from Cashin, 1985).
- Speak clearly and loudly enough to be heard. This may seem obvious but undoubtedly we have all sinned against this prescription. Talk as though you are talking to the person sitting in the very back of the room. Perhaps in the very first class you should suggest that people signal you if they cannot hear, e.g., cup a hand behind an ear.
- Speak slowly. Most of us tend to speak more rapidly when nervous, and this makes many lectures difficult to follow. We also do not notice how fast we are speaking unless it is pointed out or we hear ourselves on tape. Slow down.
- Avoid distracting mannerisms, verbal tics like ah or you know, straightening your notes or tie, etc. Use a videotape early in the semester to help you identify mannerisms that you want to shed.
- Provide an introduction. Begin with a concise statement, something that will preview the lecture. Give the listeners a set or frame of reference for the remainder of your presentation. Refer to previous lectures. Attract and focus their attention. Try a broad question to students or a survey of opinions to help draw student attention to your presentation.
- Present an outline. Write it on the chalkboard, or use an overhead transparency, or a handout. Then be sure that you refer to it as you move from point to point in your lecture.
- Emphasize principles and generalizations. Research suggests that these are what people really rememberand what you probably really want to teach.
- Repeat your points in two or three different ways. Your listeners may not have heard it the first time, or understood it, or had time to write it down. Include examples or concrete ideas. These help both understanding and remembering. Use short sentences.
- Stress important points. This can be done with your tone of voice. It can also be done explicitly, e.g., Write this down; This is important; This will be on the test.
- Pause. Give your listeners time to think, and to write.
- Change activities frequently. The average adult attention span is 15 to 20 minutes, so change activities several times in a class. Many activities provide a change of pace: stop and ask questions; have your students discuss a point with one or several others, and then get several groups to report to the whole class; have them write for a few minutes; or have them work a practice problem using a method you have presented in your lecture. By adding a change up to your lecture, you can revitalize your students attention and thus give them renewed attention several times in one meeting, rather than just at the beginning.
Questioning in the Classroom
How to Ask Questions
Adapted with permission from Hyman, 1982
By learning how to use questions effectively in the classroom, instructors can accomplish a number of interrelated goals. First, by engaging students in a question and-answer dialogue, the usual one-way flow of information from instructor to students is transformed into a more interactive process. Students become more active participants in their own learning. In addition, skillful questioning can encourage students to engage in higher-level cognitive processes (analysis, synthesis, and evaluation), thus helping to develop their capacity for critical thinking. The current literature suggests several tactics that may assist teachers in improving the use of questioning in their teaching.
- After asking a question, wait for a response. Do not answer the question yourself; dont repeat it, rephrase it, modify it, call on another student to answer it, or replace it with another question until you have waited at least three to five seconds. Studies show that the average wait time is as low as 0.9 seconds, which is clearly not long enough. Students need time to think about the question and prepare their responses. With a wait-time of three to five seconds, students respond more, use complex cognitive processes, and begin to ask more questions.
- Ask only one question at a time. Do not ask a string of questions one after the other in the same utterance. For example, ask, Compare the skeleton of an ape with that of a human. Do not ask, How are apes and humans alike? Are they alike in bone structure and/or family structure and/or places where they live? A series of questions tends to confuse students. They are not able to determine just what the teacher is requesting from them. Napell (1978) states that videotape replays reveal an interesting pattern when the teacher asks a series of questions. Hands will go up in response to the first question, and a few will go down during the second, and those hands remaining up will gradually get lower and lower as the instructor finally concludes with a question very different from the one for which the hands were initially raised.
- Collect several answers to your question, even if the first student to answer gives a perfect response. Not all students think at the same speed, and you want to encourage those who were not first to continue reflecting. Often, the third or fourth answers will add dimensions that the first answer missed.
- When student questions are desired, request them explicitly, wait, and then acknowledge student contributions. For example, a teacher may wish to solicit questions about the plays of Shakespeare, which the class has been studying. The instructor might say, What questions or clarifications of points need to be raised? or, Please ask questions about the main characters or the minor characters, whichever you wish at this point, or In light of Sallys allusion to Lady Macbeth, I invite you to ask her some questions for embellishment or clarification. Avoid soliciting questions without a context, as in the classic, Any questions?
- Indicate to students that questions are not a sign of stupidity but rather the manifestation of concern and thought about the topic. Be very careful not to subtly or even jokingly convey the message that a student is stupid for asking for a clarification or restatement of an idea already raised in class or in the text.
- Let students try out their answers by quickly discussing them in pairs or by writing for a minute or two. They are much more willing to share their answers with the class when they have had this opportunity.
- Use a variety of probing and explaining questions. Ask questions that require different approaches to the topic, such as causal, teleological, functional, or chronological explanations. Avoid beginning your question with the words why and explain, and instead phrase your questions with words which give stronger clues about the type of explanation sought. Thus, for a chronological explanation, instead of asking, Why did we have a depression in the 1930s? try What series of events led up to the stock market crash of 1929 and the high unemployment in the 1930s?
Answering Students Questions
When answering a students question, keep in mind your goals for that days class. If the question moves the class toward that goal, you will want to give a complete answer or to redirect it to the class for discussion. If the question is not pertinent, you can tell the student where he or she can find an answer or offer to discuss it after class.
New instructors are often at a loss when they do not know the answer to a question. But it is not necessary to be able to field every question, and students can sense when an instructor fakes an answer. Instead, the instructor can offer to find the answer (and then should be sure and follow up) or suggest to the student where he or she can find the answer to the question.
Rewarding Student Participation and Providing Feedback
Adapted with permission from Hyman, 1982
In responding to student questions, a number of guidelines can positively reinforce good student responses and facilitate further discussion.
- Praise the student in a strong, positive way for a correct or positive response. Use such terms as excellent answer, absolutely correct, and bulls eye. These terms are quite different from the common mild phrases teachers often use such as O.K., hmm hum, and all right. Especially when the response is long, the teacher should try to find at least some part that deserves praise and then comment on it.
- Comment specifically about that students response. Tell the student why it is a good answer. For example, suppose that a student has offered an excellent response to the question, What function did the invasion of the Kuwait serve for Iraq? The instructor might say, That was excellent, Pat. You included national political reasons as well as mentioning the Iraqi drive to become a pan-Arabic leader. This response gives an excellent rating to the student in an explicit and strong form. It also demonstrates that the instructor has listened carefully to the students ideas.
- Build on the students response. If the instructor continues to discuss a point after a student response, he or she should try to incorporate the key elements of the response into the discussion. If you do not acknowledge that this is the students point, you risk being seen as co-opting the students answer. By acknowledging the students response, the teacher shows that he or she values the points made. By referring to the student explicitly by name (e.g., As Pat pointed out, Kuwaits political status . . .) the teacher gives credit where credit is due.
- Avoid the Yes, but . . . reaction. Teachers
use Yes, but . . . or its equivalent when a response is wrong
or at least partly wrong. The overall impact of these phrases is negative
and deceptive even though the teachers intent is probably positive.
The Yes, but . . . fielding move says that the response is
correct or appropriate with one breath and then takes away the praise
with the next. Some straightforward responses are:
- Wait to at least a count of five with the expectation that another student will volunteer a correct or better response.
- Ask, How did you arrive at that response? (Be careful, though, not to ask this question only when you receive inadequate responses, ask it also at times when you receive a perfectly good response).
- Say, Youre right regarding X and thats great; wrong regarding Y. Now we need to correct Y so we can get everything correct.
- Say, Thanks. Is there someone who wants to respond to the question or comment on the response weve already heard?
- These four alternatives are obviously not adequate to fit all cases. Indeed, it is generally difficult to field wrong or partially wrong responses because students are sensitive to teacher criticism. However, with these alternatives as examples, you will probably be able to generate others as needed.
Teaching Outside your Field of Specialization
Adapted with permission from University of Nevada, Reno
If you are assigned to teach outside of your specialty, youll have to work to stay at least a week ahead of your brightest students. Remember that you are not responsible for knowing all the answers; dont feel compelled to apologize for your lack of knowledge. If you cannot answer a question or you have made an error, admit it, but tell your students where they may find the answer or offer to look it up . . . and then do it. (This is good advice for teaching within your own field as well.) University students are usually forgiving in nature, but the one thing they will not tolerate is subterfuge on the part of an instructor.