Two Op-Ed pieces in Sunday's New York Times draw opposite conclusions about what directions classrooms should be heading in.
In "Lecture Me. Really" Molly Worthen extolls the virtue of that much-maligned, decreasingly fashionable mode of teaching, namely, the lecture.
Those who want to abolish the lecture course do not understand what a lecture is.At least as far as the humanities are concerned, Worthen argues, lectures are essential:
essential for teaching the humanities’ most basic skills: comprehension and reasoning, skills whose value extends beyond the classroom to the essential demands of working life and citizenship.Lectures provide exercises that few of todays students get elsewhere: in sustaining attention, in continuous listening, and in organizing and synthesizing information. These are hard tasks for all students, but, in our grit-'n'-growth-obsessed mindsets, all the more reason for lectures. As Worthen notes:
Some research suggests that minority and low-income students struggle even more. But if we abandon the lecture format because students may find it difficult, we do them a disservice. Moreover, we capitulate to the worst features of the customer-service mentality that has seeped into the university from the business world. The solution, instead, is to teach those students how to gain all a great lecture course has to give them.One particularly valuable way to gain this is through note taking. Note taking forces you to organize and synthesize the material as it comes in:
Studies suggest that taking notes by hand helps students master material better than typing notes on a laptop, probably because most find it impossible to take verbatim notes with pen and paper.And where verbatim is impossible, spontaneous synthesizing and summarizing are essential.
As Worthen points out, taking notes on a lecture is not passive; nor is the lecture a passive "declamation of an encyclopedia article." Here it's worth repeating her earlier statement: Those who want to abolish the lecture course do not understand what a lecture is.
My only quibble with Worthen is that I wouldn't single out humanities courses as uniquely suited to lectures. Much of what she says here applies to courses--and learning--in general.
I have a few more quibbles with another Op-Ed in Sunday's paper, one entitled "The Best Jobs Require Social Skills." Stay tuned for a follow-up...