Earlier this week, I spent some time ranting about teachers who are banning laptops and other forms of technology from their classrooms. And, yes, it is possible for learning to happen without the use of tech tools. Good teachers who use research-based learning theory have always found success whether they use technology as part of their instruction or not.

But it seems as if those supporting the ban of laptops (and iPods and cell phones and other forms of evil technology) are also supporting a more traditional form of instruction. A return to a time when teachers controlled access to information and when that information was handed out in finite chunks via 60 minute stand and deliver lecture sessions. You know what I’m talking about:

  • No student involvement
  • Exclusively teacher centered
  • Purely fact regurgitation
  • Audio-based
  • No problem solving or mystery
  • Expository rather than narrative
  • Lives on the first floor in the three story house

So perhaps it will seem a bit strange that I might suggest that a lecture now and again is a good thing.

But a recent article in the National Council for the Social Studies journal Social Education provides some interesting research and strategies that support the idea that lecturing, when done well, can encourage high levels of learning.

Jason Stacy, the author of The Guide on the Stage: In Defense of Good Lecturing in the History Classroom, is not suggesting that the typical, traditional lecture is good for kids. In fact, just the opposite:

The problem . . . is not lecturing, but bad lecturing.

So he offers some great ways to incorporate what he calls Interactive Lectures into history instruction.

Building on the constructivist learning research of Jean Piaget and others as well as recent work by Sam Wineburg, Stacy provides three basic Interactive Lecture models. This week’s Tip will focus on the first model that Stacy calls Problem-Centered. I’ll share the other two models as Tips over the next few weeks.

(And while each model differs in approach and technique, I would suggest that all three models incorporate what some call the 10-2 strategy. The 10-2 strategy has the instructor taking 10 minutes for “didactic” lecturing on specific facts and then providing two minutes for what Stacy calls “buzz sessions” – small group and whole-class discussions around a question or problem. You may have heard this as the Chunk and Chew strategy.)

The Problem-Centered Model?

Begin your lecture with a question or problem that must be solved. Stacy’s question? “Was Andrew Jackson a democrat or a despot?”

This deceptively simple prompt allowed me to spend some time discussing the definitions of each option. Also, it asked students to consider a rather forced dichotomy as the first step to showing the complexity of the question.

The problem provides a framework for providing factual information while activating prior knowledge.

In the context of this problem, these facts were suddenly problematic. Was the Trail of Tears the result of a president who listened to the will of the population and, therefore, an example of a good democrat? Or was Native American removal an example of a despotic leader who oppressed a minority to cater to the will of the majority? Is it some combination of the two? This problem, presented in this question, infused the facts with multiple possible meanings.

This gave Stacy wonderful opportunities to stop and engage kids with both facts and problems during the lecture. This can, and should, lead directly into primary documents, debates, Think/Pair/Share discussions and presentations of solutions.

Other possible problems or questions:

  • The Cold War wasn’t cold or a war.
  • Why was the Civil War unavoidable?
  • The Brown v. Topeka Board of Education Supreme Court decision didn’t go far enough.
  • Were European explorers good or bad?

This form of Interactive Lecture provides “immediate meaning” to facts, allows you to model historical thinking skills and gives you the chance to let kids interact with content in a more narrative fashion.

Next week? Comparative Lecture

Have fun!

Update April 8 Interactive Lectures II – Comparative Lecture, Interactive Lectures III – Thesis Driven Lecture

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