We know an effective lecture by how engaged we feel during the presentation. A good lecturer creates and sustains a powerful relationship between the students and the subject of the lesson. The key to building such a relationship is interaction. The students must experience a need or desire to enter into this relationship and to remain entangled.
They must want to participate. One effective technique is to orchestrate the students into an inquiry mode whereby they, for lack of a better phrase, experience questions. We can witness Inquiry-based learning in all stages of human development; yet, as prevalent as it is, its epistemology remains only partially described. Why is this? To say that learning is goal-oriented (or object-oriented) begins the "inquiry into inquiry," but what is the goal of a child's wonder? Or our own when presented with something completely superfluous to anything practical but which still somehow captivates us? The following quote offers practical insight:
In short, the aim of the curriculum is to awaken, not "stock" or "train" the mind. That goal makes the basic unit of a modern curriculum the question. Curriculums should therefore be organized around essential questions to which content selection would represent (necessarily incomplete and always provocative) "answers." All student inquiry, specific labs and assignments, and final exams would be used to ascertain the degree to which the student understands the question. -- Grant Wiggins
Following this advice, an effective lecture would begin with a question that "awakens" the students to the subject for the day. Find a good "driving" question to start off. A good driving question is one that isn't easily answered but is one that connects all aspects of the lesson together and that evokes curiosity and desire. You may need to tell a short story before asking the question in order to give it a context and to set the students up for the question. But once asked, an effective question should be "felt" by the students. The end of the lecture should then come back to this driving question in a way that allows students to demonstrate their better understanding of the problem and its relevance.
This list, especially the "cognitive objectives," provides a helpful way to categorize "what we want students to learn or perform." It is useful to keep these objectives in mind when crafting a lecture or activity, to ensure the activity chosen corresponds well with your goal.
Effective Lectures: Best Practices
- If you're teaching in a large-class setting, it becomes all the more important to know and utilize some recognized best practices for teaching. Without the personalization that comes with small classes, you have little margin for error.
- Maximize clarity and organization. Announce your daily objectives on the board and make transitions between segments of your lesson explicit.
- Do not attempt to "cover" all the material, but rather "uncover" what you can. What use is it to state out loud all the material if no one remembers it? Better to ensure students really learn a smaller chunk.
- Create a supportive environment. Memory formation occurs in the limbic system, suggesting a strong link between emotion and learning.
- Recognize different learning preferences. Students learn differently from each other, and our activities need to account for all these learners.
- Teach for long-term memory. Structure assignments, activities, and assessments so that short-term cramming would not help.
- Integrate higher-level thinking skills into learning. Target synthesis and evaluation skills, rather than just knowledge or even application, to guarantee a richer learning experience.
- Use a variety of authentic assessments. Measure student learning in a way that is true to the nature of the material. Is a test or essay really appropriate to this material?
- Promote real-world application of the learning. Student learning is multiplied when they perceive relevance to the material. Often it pays to start with a real-world problem and "work backward" to the concept/formula/etc underlying it.
- Require students to become "active learners." Lecture halls invite student anonymity and passivity, two features which work against learning. Fight both with constant and varied activities, even if it means students working alone in their chairs.
- Be an engaging speaker, especially if you only lecture. Learning rests on engagement, which requires attention. All of this is only possible when students can be convinced to pay attention to you in class.
Speak Engagingly (not like this)
- It's not usually the best idea to use lecture exclusively, but if you must do so, try to maximize your effectiveness as an engaging lecturer.
- Be conversational. Don't lecture AT them, just talk WITH them. Don't simply READ your presentation. If you can approximate the feel of a one-on-one conversation, students will pay much closer attention.
- Use your voice effectively. You should vary the speed, the loudness, and the tone of your voice. These variations can be used to great effect to signify important material.
- Achieve eye contact with ALL parts of the room. Consider dividing the room up into quadrants and vary where you direct your gaze. If possible, wander the aisles.
- Come across as enthusiastic and energetic. Allow your passion for the subject and for teaching to shine through (don't be dull or routine). A study of effective presentations found these facets important in establishing believability:
Verbal (words you say): 7%
Vocal (how you sound when you say them): 38%
Visual (how you look when you say them): 55%.
- Gauge audience reaction and adjust accordingly. Bored audiences can be brought back with voice variation and suddenly energetic presentations (see above). But you have to watch your audience to know when it's time to shift gears. Repeat points as necessary.
- Use boards effectively. Write down important material that you want students to write in their own notes. Write legibly (not cursive) and in large font. Do not speak when facing away from the class.
- Create pictures verbally. Both visual and auditory learners benefit from a mental image, which enables you to hold attention longer. Or use real pictures.
- Tell stories. Students react particularly well to teachers who rely upon their own character and history to illustrate examples from the subject matter; once boring material now seems relevant and accessible to them.
- Tailor your style to appeal to this specific audience. Undergraduates often react more enthusiastically to word problems or examples that use mass culture and pop culture references. Also, pack in as many similes, metaphors, and analogies as you can.
- Demand involvement from students in their seats. Problem-solving or brainstorming can occur individually; if possible, build the PowerPoint presentation AROUND these problems rather than vice-versa.
- Organization is critical! Make sure you have a plan for grading student assignments, organizing lectures, holding office hours, etcetera, before the semester begins. Getting behind early is even more difficult to overcome if you teach large classes.
- Consider the size of the room when constructing assignments or planning assessment: can you conceivably grade 4 pages of math problems per student, with 150 students?
- Create group assignments that distribute workload and create active learning. Group assignments help to avoid over-lecturing, which can happen in large classrooms.
- Vary your daily plans; falling into a pattern of "intro, lecture, quiz" for example, can be monotonous to students.
- Plan for ways that students can contact you, as they are easily lost among a sea of student faces. Give students options for reaching you.
- Offer course materials through the library reserve or through a "course packet" that students can either download or purchase at a bookstore.
- Arrive at class 10 minutes early and stay 10 minutes late. Hold mini office hours. It will save you time later and will improve communication greatly.
- Give students the objectives for the day.
- During lectures and class discussion, move throughout the lecture hall/classroom and make eye contact. Reaching across the aisles to engage students in eye contact will improve their attention span and feel more a part of the lecture or discussion.
- Be a smart user of technology: don't overcrowd PowerPoint slides, don't lecture using technology for more than 15-minute chunks, and be prepared to wing it if technologies fail you.
- Regularly engage students at the farthest reaches of the room, either to respond to a question or to serve as group leaders for assignments.
- Speak clearly and project: don't be afraid to use a microphone. Many rooms have this technology available. Students will tune out if they can't hear what you have to say.
- Reflect on the experience: were a number of students engaged?
- Ask yourself, do the students' performances on the activities, assignments, and assessment suggest they were able to achieve the day's objectives?
A Final Note regarding PowerPoint
PowerPoint has become a fixture in many lecture-oriented classrooms. And while this tool can be an incredibly useful tool to assist you in the classroom, it should only be relied on to supplement your delivery of content and engagement with students. There are a few rules regarding the development and delivery of PowerPoint presentations that seem to be common sense, but as Will Rogers observed and noted, "Common sense ain't necessarily common practice!"
Here are our "Top 10 DOs and DON'Ts"
- DO follow the 6 x 6 rule (no more than 6 lines per slide, 6 words per line)
- DON'T cram in too many slides and rush (or skip slides)
- DO choose templates, colors, & fonts carefully
- DON'T overpower content with animations & sound effects
- DO use grammatical parallelism
- DON'T use generic / poor quality / too many images
- DO use visuals to simplify or reinforce message
- DON'T use complete sentences or long passages of text
- DO use section dividers to "chunk" content
- DON'T use transitions between slides of same style
And just to drive the point home, with a bit of humor, watch this...http://youtu.be/P4dp8KdDCZc.
There are tons of websites dedicated to familiarizing you with advanced PowerPoint tips and tricks; here is one:
Best Practices from YouTube
The following YouTube video contain some valuable, practical wisdom related to lecturing: