578. Lecture

When people think of teaching, they often think of someone standing in front of a bunch of people and talking. I guess one of the reasons that image is so common is that the last years of many peoples’ schooling involve a lot of lecturing. Teachers in the upper grades and in college often spend a good deal of time talking to the people they’re supposed to be teaching. The learners, meanwhile, are supposed to be listening, often writing down some of what they hear, and learning from it.
I think lectures may sometimes be effective; some people learn well by listening, and the lecture format gives people plenty of opportunity to do that. But having worked with young children throughout most of my teaching career, I didn’t spend much time lecturing. Most young children don’t learn best by listening to lectures. It was easy for me to tell when I was talking too much – children stopped listening and started fidgeting. It was possible to hold their attention by saying interesting things in interesting ways, and it was also possible to demand attention, and get some that way. But I don’t think that doing that a lot works with young children.
I don’t know whether people ever get to a point when lecturing is the best way to teach them. Yet at a certain point, most children start to hear more and longer lectures. From what I’ve seen, the transition is pretty quick; children are suddenly expected to spend lots of time listening to the teacher. The same children whose learning styles mattered in one grade have to get with the program by the next grade; if they don’t learn well by listening, they’re in trouble.
Teachers who like to talk a lot tend not to do well teaching younger children. So they teach learners who are older, and can sit still and seem to listen. Maybe many teachers in the upper grades still care about how their pupils learn best, but at least in the case of my own schooling and the schooling of my peers, how I and my classmates learned best stopped being such a big question. If we didn’t learn well by listening, we’d better learn to. And if we didn’t learn to, we didn’t do well.
I remember that when I entered seventh grade, I didn’t take long to accept the new rules, and to judge myself according to my ability to play by them. In elementary school, it was okay to learn by seeing, doing, and more, but after that, listening was supposed to be the main way to do it. I know I may be overstating my case a little, but I think many of you may remember a similar sudden change around preadolescence. All of a sudden, you had to be really good at making the teacher think you were listening. That often meant you actually had to listen.
I don’t think there was ever a time when lecturing was the best way to teach me. It still isn’t. But I guess it gets easier for teachers to get away with spending lots of time talking as children get better at looking as if they’re listening. Maybe that’s changing. But now, as I’m following children through the grades, I worry that lecture will soon start to take over. I hope not.

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