Study Suggests that Classroom Lectures Aren’t Very Effective, But My Students and I Love Them

Let’s just get it out of the way–I love lecturing in my classroom. My students love it as well. In the words of one of my former students, “When my English teacher lectured, that’s when we could really see his passion, and his passion motivated his students.” A fun fact about my former student: she said the words above while giving a mock Ted-Talk at UC Berkeley where she is double-majoring in legal studies and philosophy. Lecturing is when I get to talk to and with my students; it’s when I get challenged intellectually by these young, bright minds. I love lectures, and I can’t deny it.

Now that we have clarified my love of lecturing, I must confront the reality of lectures as a teaching and learning structure–they are conducive to passive learning. I can’t get away from that reality, especially when I ask my students to recall a particular portion from my lecture days later. Most of the time, they cannot remember more than half of the lecture, and those moments have deeply saddened me. According to Youki Terada’s article “Students Think Lectures are Best, But Research Suggests They’re Wrong,” Terada says, “Strategies that require low cognitive effort—such as passively listening to a lecture—are often perceived by students to be more effective than active strategies such as hands-on experimentation and group problem-solving.” In other words, my students love my lectures for reasons different than my own love for lectures. 

I have always been an auditory learner. I grew up in a deeply religious household where I was accustomed to listening to hour-long sermons almost every day of the week, so I built stamina and improved my ability to focus on a lecture-style sermon for long periods of time. When I reached college, I excelled in classes that were based heavily on lecture and performed poorly in classes that were centered around group work. To be frank, lecture-based courses were what the majority of university courses that I took. I never considered sermons at church, or lectures in the classroom as periods of passive learning. One of the ways I learned to deal with really long lectures was to constantly question what the preacher or professor was saying. I was never one to respond “Amen” to a preaching; I was too busy coping with the hour-long sermon by questioning most of the content that was preached. My students, however, have not learned to question a speaker, especially not their teacher, so most of them appreciate my long lectures because they get to doze off; daydream while I pontificate on social issues. 

So why do I choose to lecture? I choose to lecture for two specific reasons. First, students are not taught listening skills anytime during their K-12 career. They are taught how to read and write, but never how to listen, so I use lectures as an opportunity to teach listening skills. Secondly, I want my students to start building stamina so that when they get to college, they stay in college, and don’t drop out simply because their professors talk for hours and they have not been taught ways to deal with that. For the most part, it has not been very effective in my classroom. Students who come into my classroom with strong listening skills are actively engaged in lectures, but students who come in with underdeveloped listening skills seldom improve those skills, even after receiving scaffolds. Although I think there is benefit in lecturing, I have decided to base the majority of the learning activities that happen in my class around small group work and collaboration, and self-indulge in lectures only about four times in a year. I know that it’s not the most effective strategy, but it’s my guilty pleasure, and my students don’t mind it. I love lectures, and I can’t deny it.

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Robel Espino

Robel Espino

Robel Espino is an education specialist assistant, worked as an after school instructor, and serves as a youth leader in his local church. A first-generation college graduate, Robel attended California State University, East Bay in Hayward, CA, and received a degree in English Literature. Robel is an Oakland native who received k-12 education in the cities of Oakland, San Pablo, and Richmond, CA. He is a husband, and a father of a four-year old.

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