Engaging a classroom full of people is difficult. It doesn’t matter if those people are 6 or 60. There are always going to be some who think a topic is boring, some who aren’t paying attention, and some who seem to be doodling the entire time. That being said, there are some teachers or presenters who engage their audience better than others. Who are somehow able to make interesting even the most boring of topics. How do they do it? How can we apply these skills to other aspects of life?
An effective teaching style depends entirely on the topic you happen to be teaching. For instance, letting a kid play the French horn for an hour would be really effective in band class. Less so during a History class. Having students free-draw for a half hour might be really informative for an art lesson. Probably not so much when you’re trying to teach them algebra. Lecturing for an hour would be effective while teaching a concept-heavy subject like neuroscience. However, kids would quickly become bored in the writing class. Actually…come to think of it, an hour’s worth of lecturing is boring no matter what class you’re in. It doesn’t matter how interesting the material is or how funny the professor. If you’re sitting for an hour and only listening, you’re probably going to space out a couple times. We’ve all experienced it, and I know the doodles in my notes can attest to it.
Most professors and teachers know this at some level (they were all students once) and some do a better job of realizing it than others. For instance, my current Educational Psychology professor has told us a number of times that students learn much better when they’re engaged and not just listening blandly to lecture. Do you know what’s really funny? The first time she told us that was in the middle of a fifteen minute long lecture. She pointed to the concept on the slide she had prepared and then moved on to the next topic. There was no real time spent on it. No discussion. Just a bland reference to another prevalent concept in Ed Psych.
I feel kinda depressed to say it, but that experience has been fairly average throughout my college career so far. Ed Psych is easily not the most boring class I’ve been in. For some reason, some professors seem to really enjoy hearing the sound of their own voice and some seem not to know how to fix the lack of attention their students are giving them. I wouldn’t be surprised if those same professors routinely mentioned how dull their students seemed on any given day. They realize what’s happening – they’re smart people – but they don’t quite know how to solve the problem.
Now, don’t get me wrong: there are definitely interesting, engaging professors out there, and even the ones who are boring in class are really fascinating to talk to in person. But, there seems to be a little disconnect between the boredom I know these professors experienced as students and the boredom some of them are causing now. One of the off-hand comments my Ed Psych professor made a couple classes ago is illuminating, “We’ll have a really lecture-heavy day today, but I want to get through it so we can have a good discussion next time.” She knows lecture is boring, but she still sees it as a necessary evil. Never mind the fact that she’s probably forgotten mostly everything she’s ever been lectured. Never mind the fact that her students probably learned more from fifteen minutes of discussion than they did during an hour of her slides and talking.
If I were to bring these ‘probable facts’ to her, (I don’t actually know if any are true…If this was an academic paper, I would totally fail) I can imagine the counter-argument she would give. It would likely be some form of “We need to get through the material. We have a lot to cover and the quickest way to do that is to lecture about it.”
My counter-counter argument would be something along the lines of. “That’s true, but that doesn’t mean you have to have fifteen and twenty minute blocks of you talking. There are any number of ways you could split it up.”
“Like what?” She would ask.