The Unbearable Lightness of Lecturing

I tried to lecture last week, I really did. The topic was Ancient Greece, the class in a classroom with all the gear. I had some good not-too-much-text slides from last semester. I was enthusiastic and colorful. They were interested and paid attention. But I got behind for the first time this semester, and realized coming out of class if I hadn’t lectured, I wouldn’t have gotten behind.

I also should have known better. This class did very poorly on their first exam. Realizing that a lot of the poor performance areas were based on material that was read rather than spoken, and knowing that only half the class has completed college English class, I had given a 1-point extra credit question on the day I returned the quiz. This question was designed to access something they had been active discussing in class (modern cinematic manifestations of Homeric themes, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings). Yet they did poorly on that also, most unable to connect the themes to the movies.

You just don’t lecture to a class like this. Piling more information onto that already not being assimilated is futile. I have to assume that very little learning is taking place outside the classroom, for whatever reason: apathy, poor reading comprehension skills, high surf, deficits of attention, economic strife, a disappointment with the world. Class time then becomes critical, not for relaying information, but for processing it.

Groups need to work with the material, not reviewing it textually, but creating things from it. Then they need to present it and have it critiqued immediately so that their minds are on the subject when they receive feedback. We also need time for me to pose questions and wait for multiple inputs as they do some thinking. Usually I do this in the projects with laptops, every other Wednesday. Now I think this needs to happen on Mondays, too. I did it yesterday, giving each group two works of art, one Hellenic and one Hellenistic. We’ll see on tomorrow’s exam what happened.

I tell every class that what I do in the room depends on them. This is how that works. For this group, it’s more important to spend focused time on a few key skills and topics than to fly over in an effort to truly “survey” Western Civ to 1648. Sometimes target bombing is bettter than fly-bys. We’ll see how it goes…