Because I am flipping my classes, i don’t lecture very often about content anymore. But I recently decided to lecture in three Civics classes about things from two chapters on the U.S. Congress that were going to be on the Congress test . I had been telling the students for over a week of my plan to give a review lecture for at least half the period.
The reason I had been telling them to plan for my lecture is because they have become used to the flipping routine. They know they are responsible for their learning. They come into class, fire up their computers, and check out what’s due for the day and the week at the class website, and they each decide how they are going to attack it. They are used to this time being “theirs.” So I told them that this day, in the Congress unit, some of the time would be “mine.”
So when I launched into the half-period lecture, I felt rather hurt and offended. The majority of students had their faces in their computer as I was explaining the way that Congress operates. I felt rejected, the object of the class giving me “the silent treatment.” But inwardly, through my human sense of rejection, I was actually glad. I knew I could require their attention. I knew I could say, “Okay, let’s all close the computers and put the attention this way.” But I did not say that. I know that many of these kids were listening, just capable of doing two things at once. The collective message I was getting from many of them was, “Hey, we got this! It’s nice that you want to talk about some of this, but we’re on it!”
Eric Mazur of Harvard, a highly respected teacher, honored with several teaching awards as a student favorite for many years, realized his success at teaching was “a complete illusion, a house of cards.” (Harvard Magazine article.) In a Harvard Magazine article entitled “Twilight of the Lecture” Mazur talks of his realization that the lecture method gave students knowledge that was pedantic and did not help them in real world situations. He learned to tap into opportunities for student collaboration and giving students opportunities to become responsible for their own learning. He found what I was finding out in my decision to step out of the center of the class. It is a necessary gravitation if the conative domain is to be activated. I was actually excited through my feeling of being rejected that students were so willing to continue working on their own. Go ahead, make my day! by squashing my pride and sense of importance, by continuing to work on your own while I was up front pontificating.
I am writing today’s post as my World History students are taking their test on the ancient Americas,Mayans, Aztecs and Incas. I made the decision today to let them work with one partner as they take this test, and to be able to use their notes. If you were in this room right now you would feel the learning, you would feel, hear and see the collaborative energy. “Why do you think it is ‘A’, I think it is ‘C’.” Kids are turning the pages of their notes, engaged in some higher level conversations. A teacher friend just came into my room to get something from me and I asked him to observe what was going on in the class. He could see the collaborative energy, the academic atmosphere. I will enter the grades for this test as “formative” rather than “summative” because of my decision for the collaboration. As a teacher the categorization of this test makes little difference to me. I am feeling … joy! at what is going on.
I don’t mean to paint a Utopian or Pollyanish picture here, there are still students who slack, still imperfect grasping of content, lack of growth, failure to achieve academic potentials. But there is also no question that there is an obvious increase in students’ senses of responsibility, and their recognition that their academic destiny is in their hands. The teacher missing in the center of the class opens the way for the formerly hidden student to appear. Passive learning through teacher lecture can migrate toward active learning through student conation. It is more than theory.
Where now? More on that in the next blog…