Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Benefits of a Classroom Lecture

I can't tell you how many times I have heard educational gurus say that students do not learn from lectures. Granted, in a history classroom lectures need to be balanced with close analysis of primary documents and other lessons in historical thinking, but I have always found lectures to be an effective means of delivering content.

I believe we have discussed this before here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home. See here and here.

Over at Brainstorm, Mark Bauerlein calls our attention to a new study that suggests students who listen to lectures do better on standardized tests.  Here is a taste:


“Contrary to contemporary pedagogical thinking, we find that students score higher on standardized tests in the subject in which their teachers spent more time on lecture-style presentations than in the subject in which the teacehr devoted more time to problem-solving activities.”

It wasn’t a large difference–one percent of a standard deviation–but the difference went up when the authors stuck to students who had, the authors write, “the exact same peers in both their math and science classes.  Among this group of students, a shift of 10 percentage points of time from problem solving to lecturing is associated with an increase in test scores of almost 4 percent of a standard deviation–or between one and two months’ worth of learning in a typical school year.”

The authors guard against drawing too firm a conclusion from this study, noting, for instance, that TIMSS emphasized factual knowledge, while other tests, such as PISA, emphasize problem solving.  But a softer conclusion they offer with confidence:

“The results suggest that traditional lecture-style teachign in U.S. middle schools is less of a problem than is often believed.”

2 comments:

Janine Giordano said...

Don't you think this might be more correlation than causation? Upper middle class boys and men do better on standardized tests and do better with lectures. They also tend to do better in math and science, over time.

I love lectures when they're good, but I can't think of more than one professor I've ever had who was good enough at it that it made it worthwhile. To me, learning is about a "call and response." Those people from higher class backgrounds and positions of male privilege often feel like they will have a chance to respond at some point, even if not in class. However, a lot of people from working class and female dispositions have not always had the luxury of knowing that this opportunity is open to them...

To me, making lectures demand a response (and thus taking away their "true lecture" quality) is a way to combat systems of privilege alive in the classroom.

Thanks for the post! Interesting things to think about!!

John Fea said...

Interesting things to think about indeed. Now if I can only find those sons of privilege in my classes at Messiah College. I have been teaching for 12 years and by far and away the most active and engaged students--whether lecture or discussion--are female students.

I live in a world where the male students sit in the back rows with their baseball caps on backwards. I wish they responded to lectures, discussions, or ANY kind of class activity in the way that you describe, Janine.

I have a middle-school daughter and the same thing is generally true in her classes. In fact, she had a history teacher this year who did a lot of lecturing and she absolutely loved it. She felt she was actually learning something as opposed to doing group work in which she ended up having to carry the load for the (mostly male) slackers.

I lecture about 2/3 of the time in my U.S. survey course and about 1/5th of the time in my upper-division courses, so I am by no means wedded to the lecture as my sole pedagogical approach.

Great to meet you in Philly last week! Sorry we didn't have more time to chat.