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53 Interesting Things to Do in Your Lectures
Tips and Strategies for Really Effective Lectures and Presentations
By Anthony Haynes, Karen Haynes, Sue Habeshaw, Graham Gibbs, Trevor Habeshaw
Allen & UnwinCopyright © 2012 The Professional and Higher Partnership Ltd
All rights reserved.
Structuring the process
3 Ground rules
4 Student's questions
Lectures are used by teachers for an extraordinary variety of purposes. Their relationship to other course elements such as reading, tutorials, assignments and practicals differs markedly from one course to another. What it is sensible for students to do during such different lectures also varies enormously. However, students may respond as if a lecture is a lecture is a lecture, and behave identically in entirely different situations which demand quite different learning activities. To brief students at the start of a lecture is to tell them what sort of a lecture it is to be, and what sort of learning activity it might be sensible to undertake. Briefing students not only influences their behaviour so that they make more appropriate and effective use of your lecture in their learning, but also has an impact on their perceptiveness and discrimination as learners. They will begin to recognise that different learning tasks make different demands and start extending their repertoire of learning responses accordingly.
We offer a variety of different briefings here to illustrate what we mean:
a 'The reason I am lecturing in the way I am is that I want you to see some live examples of the applications of legal principles to specific cases. I'm expecting you to learn the principles from your text books, and to learn to apply legal principles by tackling the legal problems I've prepared for you which we will discuss in tutorials. In this lecture what I want you to pay attention to is the way I go about tackling such problems. I want you to be able to do it like me. There is only any point in noting down the details of the cases if this helps you to understand and remember the legal arguments involved. OK?'
b 'Your text book deals with these calculations of forces in rigid structures perfectly adequately, but you may find it difficult to follow on your own. I'm going to use each of these lectures to go over one chapter: to explain the methods and notations the text book uses, and to highlight particular problems or interesting bits. You could probably manage without these lectures. You certainly can't manage without going through your text book very thoroughly. I'm lecturing to make your work through your text book that much quicker and easier. You should make notes in your textbook as I go along, rather than take full notes.'
c 'You are only going to get a grip on the social psychology of groups by reading, and reading quite widely. I've given you a substantial reading list; read as much as you can but you will find the reading hard going. The authors I've chosen all use different language and make different assumptions even when considering the same phenomenon. The theoretical perspectives from which writers approach topics are very varied and greatly colour the way they write. So the purpose of my lectures is to try to stop you from getting lost when you start reading. I'll familiarise you with the terminology and highlight some landmarks along the way. I want you to consider my lectures as maps to a strange land. Take the sort of notes you'll find helpful to have next to you when you're reading.'
d 'This lecture introduces you to dialectical materialism. It's a difficult concept and one that underpins much of what the remainder of the course is concerned with. Now I could just give you a neat definition to write down or some quotes from Engels for you to copy. But that wouldn't help you much. Instead I'd like to talk around this concept and just try to explain it as best I can; I want you just to try and understand it. Don't bother taking any notes; just listen and think. I'll be asking you to discuss some aspects of dialectical materialism later in the lecture.'
Briefing is concerned with the overall function of the lecture and is therefore distinct from Flagging(see 2) which is used to draw attention to the nature of specific actions you might take within a lecture.
Flagging is explaining what you are doing, and why. Teachers often introduce an activity or the next stage of a session without flagging it, assuming either that students already know what it is they are supposed to do and what they are supposed to get out of it, or that students don't need to know: all they have to do is follow instructions. But people's ability to undertake tasks depends crucially on their understanding of the task – and not just their understanding of what the task is, but of why it is a sensible or useful thing to do. Many of the suggestions in this book may need thorough flagging the first few times they are used or students may feel hesitant and reluctant to engage in the suggested activity.
For example, you might want to introduce a break into your lecture – something you haven't tried before – and say, 'OK, stand up, stretch your arms and give a big yawn'. This is likely to be met with embarrassed giggles and not much movement. To flag this would be to explain, 'You've been sitting still in this gloomy, stuffy room for 40 minutes now. It may help you to be comfortable and to stay alert for the next 20 minutes if you use the next minute to move around a bit. Stand up, stretch your arms, have a good yawn, try anything you like to release the physical tension and relax your muscles. I'm going to do the same'.
If you wanted to introduce a buzz group exercise (see 38 Buzz groups) you might say, 'Now, in pairs, I want you to look at the map on the next slide and decide what Christaller's theory would have to say about the location of the towns'. For students unused to such activity during a lecture, and unused to working with one other student, and certainly unsure whether this was some sort of trick test, this might be a difficult task to get going on. To flag it might involve explaining, 'It's important that you are able to apply Christaller's theory to specific places and I need to know whether you are able to do this before I continue. So I'm going to set you a very brief task to do. It might be difficult to get going on your own so work together with your neighbour'.
It is probably better to be over-explicit in your flagging than to assume your audience already knows why you are doing what you are doing.
3 Ground rules
All lectures have ground rules though these are not normally explicit. Unless you have informed your students of the specific ground rules you want to operate they will probably assume that conventional ground rules are operating. These conventional ground rules may include:
a The responsibility for the success of the lecture is entirely the teacher's, who will do all the preparation, all the real work during the lecture, and make all the decisions during the lecture about its content and process.
b The lecture topic will relate directly to the syllabus and to likely exam questions on it.
c The student's role is to sit quietly and listen: interrupting is undesirable and talking with a neighbour is absolutely banned.
d The teacher will lecture uninterrupted for 55 minutes.
e No work, other than listening and taking notes, is required of the student.
f Attending lectures is a solitary, unco-operative, even competitive, activity: students work for themselves.
g If the teacher wants to know if students are attending, bored, interested, comprehending, or whatever, she will have to ask a specific student: such information is not to be offered spontaneously (which would offend the teacher) or in response to general questions addressed to the whole class (which would offend students suspecting creeping).
h Only geeks sit at the front.
You may feel that these ground rules are not those you would like to operate. In this case you may need to take some time at the start of the course, or of specific lectures, to make your own preferred ground rules explicit.
You could say, 'On this course the lecture periods will be rather different from what you are used to. In them I expect students to tell me if they think I'm going too fast, if they need a break, and so on. So if you feel you just can't listen any more and your writing hand is aching, it is perfectly OK to ask me to stop for two minutes to catch up and rest. I'll expect such suggestions from you'.
Students' assumptions about ground rules may be soundly based in their experience of many conventional lectures. You will need to be very explicit about your own ground rules, refer to them repeatedly, and behave appropriately (e.g. by accepting a student's request for a break, in the example above) for students to start operating according to your ground rules. More radical changes in ground rules (e.g. concerning sharing of responsibility for preparation, or concerning the acceptability of direct comments about the quality of your lecturing) may need to be introduced gradually. Some other suggestions in this book (see 4 Students' questions and 35 Now look at me when I'm talking) concern the operation of specific ground rules.
4 Students' questions
Students are often confused because some teachers allow them to ask questions during the lecture, some allot time for questions at the end and some only accept individual questions when the rest of the students are packing up and leaving. They are particularly confused because teachers don't usually explain what their practice is when they first meet the students. Students who are not given any indication to the contrary will tend to assume that they can never ask questions in lectures.
It is very helpful to students if you not only make it clear what your attitude to questions is but if you also support this statement with appropriate behaviour. That is, if you say that it's all right for them to interrupt the lecture, don't look annoyed when they do; if you say you'll take questions at the end, allow time for them; if you say you'll answer individual questions, give those individuals your full attention when they approach you.
This is a specific form of Ground rules(see 3).
See also 'Are there any questions?'(53).
Some teachers rush into lecture rooms and start speaking immediately, only to find that they feel disorientated, the students aren't ready and they need time to set up presentation media. It is worth pausing before you start your lecture and giving yourself time to orientate yourself by looking round the room, rehearsing silently the names of some of the students, chatting briefly with those at the front, cleaning the whiteboard, checking your audiovisuals, or arranging your notes.
It's also helpful if the introduction to your lecture is such that students don't need to start writing straight away but have their own orientation period at the start whose function is to remind them what it's like to be in one of your lectures as well as to introduce the lecture and link it with the previous week's work.
You can even begin to orientate your students before the lecture starts by displaying a slide of the total lecture programme or the structure of that day's lecture or by playing a CD or DVD which will provide a context for your lecture: baroque music for a lecture on baroque, for example, or a scene from the appropriate play for a drama lecture.
If you explain the principle of orientation to students and they see the point of it, they will learn to orientate themselves without your help. They can do this before the lecture by looking through their notes or reviewing the previous week's work with a friend.
If you decide to introduce quiet time into your lectures, you can make the connection and point out to your students that one of the purposes of quiet time is that of reorientation (see 43 Quiet time).CHAPTER 2
Improving student's notes
8 'Now write this down
10 Displaying your notes
12 Looking at students' notes
Note-taking can make heavy demands on students' attention and leave them little opportunity to think about what is being explained. Also students' notes are seldom comprehensive and completely accurate. Both these problems can be ameliorated by students sharing the task of note-taking in some way.
At the end of a lecture, or after each major section, students can simply swop their notes with their neighbour and read through them to see if major points have been covered, factual details recorded correctly, and so on. It may take only a couple of minutes for students to undertake such a check and then correct their own notes.
To help attention, students in pairs can do deals with each other to take turns in note-taking. One has the responsibility to take full notes while the other is free to attend to what is being said and to think about it. After a section of the lecture is complete, or half way through, or after alternate lectures, these roles can be reversed. At the end the notes are exchanged to create a full set. In this way students are free to attend to at least half the lecture material.
One problem with note-taking in lectures is identified by the cynical description of lectures as methods of transferring information from the notes of the teacher to the notes of the students without passing through the heads of either. It is perfectly possible to take verbatim notes without thinking about them, or even being aware of what they might be about, as any audio typist will tell you. While note-taking in this way may increase the likelihood of producing an accurate set of notes for subsequent reference, it does not do much for learning. And subsequent reference may not be of much use if there was too little thinking going on to make sense of what was being recorded. The basic dilemma is that to a certain extent the aims of understanding what is being said, and recording what is being said, are incompatible goals. The more likely you are to achieve one goal, the less likely you are to achieve the other.
One way around this dilemma is to separate the two goals and achieve them in sequence rather than attempt to achieve them in parallel: by only allowing note-taking to take place from memory after a section of the lecture is complete. To illustrate how this might work we will describe an agricultural engineer we have observed teaching. He forbad note-taking while he was talking in order to gain the students' attention and used visuals to illustrate what he was explaining (the way a seed drill worked). After about 15 minutes of such explanation he stopped, displayed the diagrams he had built up and explained so far, and said, 'Now I'd like you to take notes on what I've explained so far. Draw diagrams, list points, do whatever you want to record the key points and any details you think you'll need later on. You can have as long as you need. You'll have a chance to check whether you have forgotten anything or got anything wrong before I go on to the next thing'. After the 5–10 minutes the students needed, he then used a method for allowing students to check and improve their notes (see 6 Swop).
In practice this results in:
a far higher attention during explanations as students know they will have to remember and write notes in a few minutes. Attention is devoted to listening and thinking rather than being split between thinking and note-taking;
b more questioning from students who, instead of copying down what they don't understand, need to make sense of the explanations if they are to remember them and take notes from memory;
c smoother and faster explanations which do not have to keep being held up to allow the last point to be copied down verbatim by the slowest note-taker in the group;
d notes which are brief and which only pick out the main points in a form which makes sense to the student rather than extensive copied notes which do not discriminate between key points and trivia, and which are structured in the teacher's way;
e a learning check. Looking at students' notes taken in the conventional way can tell you whether students have perceived the important points, but can't tell you whether they have learned them; f learning during the lecture. Students are not always conscientious or effective in learning from their notes after the lecture;
g improving the students' listening and comprehension skills.
Asking for notes to be taken from memory is likely to shock and alarm students the first time and they may initially be very bad at it (which in itself says something about the level of learning which takes place in conventional lectures). The introduction of this method requires proper explanation (see 2 Flagging) and an adequate opportunity for students to check that they have remembered and noted down the important points. Time consuming note-taking, such as the drawing of complex diagrams and tables, can be avoided by the use of handouts (see especially 17 Uncompleted handouts).
Excerpted from 53 Interesting Things to Do in Your Lectures by Anthony Haynes, Karen Haynes, Sue Habeshaw, Graham Gibbs, Trevor Habeshaw. Copyright © 2012 The Professional and Higher Partnership Ltd. Excerpted by permission of Allen & Unwin.
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