No. More. Lectures.3 min read

The first time I ever heard a lecture from a teacher, like a 45 minute one, was in sixth grade geography class. This teacher was funny, enthusiastic, and knew what he was talking about.

And I was bored out of my mind.

And this was only the first of thousands of lectures I’d sit through in my life as a student.

And I spent many many of them drawing, goofing off, shooting spitballs, sleeping, taking “notes” on my laptop in college, or just sitting numb and counting how many holes are in each ceiling tile.

And out of those countless lectures, I can specifically remember…. 3 of them?

It didn’t matter how great the speaker or teacher was, sitting and listening could not keep my attention. I thought there was something wrong with me, like why didn’t I find these presentations as compelling as everyone else?

But now I’m a teacher, and I realize I’m alone in this at all.

Most students do not like sitting through lectures.

Now I get it, you might say— sometimes life is boring and kids need to learn how to work and persevere despite being bored.

And I agree. But this is more than boredom.

A researcher gave a 20 minute presentation in a lecture hall in front of a large group of students, and then tested them right after to see what parts of the lecture they remember.

You’d expect them to remember most from the last part of the lecture, what was freshest on their minds.

But it was exactly the opposite, and the most information was retained from the first 5 minutes, and the last bit was almost completely forgotten.

It’s the human attention span. Study after study shows that we just don’t have much of them.

And yet the primary teaching method for the last 150 years requires it.

Perhaps this is why only 37% of American high school students are ready for college when they graduate.

63% are not.

20% of students don’t even graduate high school in the first place.

I think part of the blame goes to lectures.

A teaching method that doesn’t actually teach.

Now, there is a time and a place for everything, even standing up and giving information in a lecture.

But not a long one. Because it doesn’t matter how great you are speaking, or how complex the subject matter is that you teach, long lectures are ineffective.

What if instead we try discussions, and simulations, or hands on projects, and activities that let students find the answers and teachers help guide them in the right direction.

Practices that engage us butterfly-chasing, mind wandering students.

And we can sprinkle direct instruction in there when necessary.

If learning isn’t memorable, it’s not really learning.

There’s a reason TED talks are so short.

I think it’s time we do the same thing with lectures.

37% not college ready


Attention span:

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Trevor Muir

I believe every student has the potential for greatness. And I believe every educator can be equipped to unlock that potential.