Breaking the Lecture-Culture CyclePosted by AVID Center on 11/4/2019
By Craig McKinney, AVID Staff Developer and ELA Instructional Specialist, Plano ISD
When I was in college, the prevalent paradigm of learning involved students sitting and listening while professors professed. Lectures were the norm. If the class wasn’t too large, there might be a “class discussion” format, which meant that a handful of bold students answered questions or made comments while the majority of students watched the back-and-forth of the conversational tennis match. If students wanted personal interaction, professors kept office hours during which students could pop in and ask questions or engage in academic conversation. Access to professors was easy since few students seized the opportunity to have the office-hours experience.
In talking with college students and professors, I hear that not much has changed since then. Professors—many of whom have no formal training in pedagogy but are experts in their instructional field—default to lecture-style instruction. And why wouldn’t they? It’s how they were taught. So, the cycle perpetuates itself. Professors profess. Students take notes and listen.
The cycle also has a trickle-down effect. Some high school teachers who teach AP®, early college, or college-preparatory courses decide that the best approach is to emulate the college experience by (you guessed it) lecturing while students take notes. So now, even more students are sitting and being lectured at.
One of the problems I see in this is that college is no longer the only place one can go to listen to a great lecture. A few clicks on my computer or smartphone will take me to a worldwide symposium of outstanding speakers—renowned experts in their fields. It would be haughty to presume that our lectures can compete with what’s out there on the web. College today (and college-in-high-school) can’t sustain a lecture-based culture. What are we doing, then, to make college a substantially different experience from what students could get for free by browsing the internet?
The answer lies in authentic interaction among learners. In order to ignite minds, educators at all levels must engage students. Instead of putting the puzzle pieces together for the students while they watch (or instead of allowing a handful of students to put the puzzle together in a full-class discussion), educators need to build in opportunities for every learner to process the content—to summarize, analyze, reflect on, question, predict, connect, synthesize, and evaluate whatever it is they are learning.
That’s where AVID® comes in. The same strategies that have been engaging students for decades can be employed with great success to help learners of any age access rigorous content. All learners need the chance to talk to one another about their learning, to try out the academic vocabulary of a discipline, to learn to think in discipline-specific ways, to engage in debate, to present their learning to others, to generate wonderment questions, and to practice writing as a learning tool. They also need to be taught how to read challenging academic texts across the disciplines. WICOR® works at all levels of school because the combination of writing, inquiry, collaboration, organization, and reading allows students to approach the learning from multiple directions and deepen their understanding in ways that reflect what is known about learning and about how the brain works.
The time is now to reexamine what learning should look like in college and in advanced high school courses. Pedagogical discussions need to accompany academic conversations among faculty members. Let’s make it so that the postsecondary experience provides a transformative educational experience unlike what one can get from watching a bunch of TED Talks and YouTube videos at home in their pajamas. Let’s retire the lecture-only culture, break the cycle, and reimagine what learning can look like in high school and beyond.
Learn more from Craig McKinney at AVID National Conference, where he’ll present a session on Igniting Minds Through Authentic Engagement. Register soon, as early bird pricing ends Friday, November 15, 2019.Craig McKinney works as Coordinator of Professional Learning for Plano ISD in Plano, Texas. He is an AVID staff developer, curriculum writer, and co-author of AVID Writing for Disciplinary Literacy: A Schoolwide Approach. Read more by Craig at his blog Craig Talks Teaching.