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Let's Lecture Less

Lectures and coursework

various titles

The End of Lectures

comprehension evaluation check involving lots of interactive activities  CECILIA

Let's Stop Lecturing

Let's Lecture Less:  introducing The Interactive Comprehension Check (ICC)

By Steve McCrea   (Free Workshop for Teachers)

A typical lecture at university involves a speaker giving information to an audience.  Students take notes and then they ask questions at the end of the presentation.   Schools have depended on this method of teaching and learning for centuries.  Entire industries exist because many teachers use lectures as the primary method of communicating with students.  

Here are things we know now:

1.  Speed:  We students learn at different speeds.  (Successful lecturers continue learning, so we are all students).

2.  Methods:  We learn differently.  We have different learning styles.  We take in information in different ways (Howard Gardner)

3.  Performing Our Understanding:  Since there are many ways of taking in infomration, so why don't we use many different ways to show that we learned something?   Howard Gardner calls this a "performance of understnading."
an essay
a multiple-choice test (also known as a multiple-guess test)
a fill-in-the-blanks test
a stand up exhibition (Met Center in Providence Rhode Island)
a project (high tech high school, hightechhigh.org in San Diego, CA)
a video
a poster

4.  Motivation:  Our listening improves when we are motivated to learn.  Our listening improves when we test-teach-test -- when we ask questions first, creating gaps of understanding, then there is a desire to fill those gaps; the teaching can be unstructured or structured disocery by the student of the information, then the seond test checks the comprehension.  

5.  Project based learning is the catch phrase.  There is an engineering school in Arizona that has no courses.  The program is designed around projects.    You don't take statistics, you include statistics and physics in your project.  A high school that uses this concept is Met Center in Providence, Rhode Island.  One teacher advises 15 students in all subjects for four years.  Subjects are integrated.

6.  Participation:  when there is a conversation, more learning takes place.   Students in law school have to be prepared at a moment's notice to answer a question or give a definition and an example.  When the lecturer asks the audience to "fill in the blank," an ICC is taking place.   "

In these lectures related to Guide on the Side, the talks are less entertainment or edu-tainment.   Most people expect to go to a lecture and sit back to receive information.   The Interactive Comprehension Check (ICC) asks participants to get involved.

The word "lecture" is revered.  Many of us believe that listening to a professor speak is the premier method of mass instruction.   We believe so strongly that students need to listen to the professor that we call them the "audience."  

A performance of understanding involves the audience asking the presenter questions.

It is not rude to interrupt a presentation (except when questions can be posted at the end... but there should be a way for the participants to hit a "stop, rewind, restate" button.)  It helps the presenter know what direction the audience or people in the audience want to go.  One of the key innovations that Dr. Edwards Deming introduced to Japan in the 1950s was the red button on the assembly line.   The worker with no responsibilities for managing or supervising can hit that button and stop the assembly line if there is an issue of quality with one of the products.
So, while the presenter is presenting, why not encourage the participants to participate with questions and requests for additional information and more examples? 

In a class of 20, 200 or 2,000, there are methods to use to encourage interaction.

The skilled presenter will ask the audience to share the following information:
What do you know?
What do you want to learn?
Summary:  What did you learn today?

To speed the time and so that the audience doesn't have to listen to the individual responses, the questions can be answered on paper before the performance/presentation/comprehension check.  Everybody could have access to the questions by projecting them or by emailing the audience with the questions... 

The ideal performance of understanding is a REVIEW and a check that the audience actually understands what the presenter wanted to convey.   

In the Interactive lecture, everyone arrives in the room with the lecture already presented.   The information was available as a written article and as a video.  the audience could download or listen to the presentation on audio CD.  The lecture instead turns into a interactive opportunity.

The ideal situation:  everyone in the room knows what was said by the lecturer.   The lecture already took place on youtube.   You are trusted to walk into the room having already listened to or scanned the article.  

"Carlos, what is the capital of India?"
"Jessica, tell us why the moon has phases."

How can we improve this questioning technique?   Call the person's name after the question.

"What is the capital of India?"  (many hands are raised.  The presenter calls on a student that is looking down.  "Carlos?"
"Who can tell us why the moon has phases?  ..."  pause ..."Jessica?"

When the presenter stands up, he is  ready to re-state what he presented in the video.   But the presentation is more powerful if members of the audience stand and state what they remember from the article and from the audio or video.   in other words, the lecture is not a reading (lect = read).  The speaker is there to check the understanding of the audience.

"Steve, you sometimes talk about the dangers and temptations of edu-tainment, what do you mean?"
"Steve, where did you learn these techniques?"

A skilled lecturer will restate the question, write the question on a board and answer questions with, "Who has an answer to this question?"

The purpose of the lecture is NOT to hear Steve, the speaker, talk.  The purpose is to check the understanding of members of the audience.  The group is responsible for making sure that comprehension is there.  The presenter might not listen carefully to a participant's response, so every person in the room is ready to ask additional questions that will further check understanding.

A truly sophisticated system of lecture would involve all of these elements.  It could be called a "comprehension check session."  
Shy members of the audience would write notes and questions and send them to the front or ask other more-confident students to present the question or additional information.  

Etiquette:  Think about the least intrusive way to let the presenter know that you don't understand something or that you have a better example to help someone else understand better.   Is a short note or twitter or email message enough to show what the presenter can alter? 

A fully-multimedia session would allow the audience to project items on a screen behind the presenter to provide comic moments and to add to the questioner's ability to communicate with the audience and the presenter.

Every state of the answering connects with learners in many ways.  

The entire session is recorded so that the presenter can learn how to improve and the participants don't need to take notes (or they can later check what they wrote against the youtube upload).

Every spoken question is typed and projected on the wall to "get inside the world" of the slower listener.

Concepts behind "the Interactive Comprehension Check"

Teaching for understanding, Project Zero at Harvard.  "I gave a lecture" and "I passed out a dynamite worksheet." are examples of teacher performance. There is no guarantee that leaning took place.  "What a great teacher!  Did you enjoy the lecture?"

Some people want to receive the information live.  They don't want to look at a youtube video.  They lack time or facility to convert the video to an audio format.  They don't have time to prepare as a participant.  No problem... the lecture is available, but in small pieces.  Over the course of a 90-minute session, the presenter might talk 50% of the time, but only in response to questions.  Anyone who wants a lecture can listen to the pieces that are presented in answers to questions. 

The session of the Interactive Comprehensive Check welcomes people who have never heard the lecturer.  You can walk in cold and this will be a service to the participants who recently read or saw the youtube video.   Your lack of information will be great for the other participants to teach to.   Make the classwork real -- import at least one perosn who can be the target of transferring information by the audience.

Typically there is a textbook and the teacher lectures to help students find the important topics.

I was a slow reader in school and I usually relax and read carefully even today.
So I like it when someone tells me a summary and gives me three or four key ideas to remember.  
I remember better when there is a headline, when I can read or see a picture while the teacher speaks.  I still remember Schleswig Holstein as taught by Dr. Stunt.  I had to look up the wikipedia article because I didn't remember what part of history that region in Europe played  (yes it is in northern Germany) ... but I grasped the existence of the region.  I recall Dr. Stunt writing Schleswig-Holstein on the blackboard with chalk.

My point is this:  most principals and teachers in most schools tolerate the lecture format because it worked for them or they don't have the funds to create an interactive compression check.   
The teachers don't need to prepare anything if they are giving a lecture.   Just stand up and talk about what they know.  
It takes more preparation to connect with participants (the audience) -- especially in creating a room with technology that supports the listener.

Treat every person the same differently.   Dennis Littky
Only by setting up a board or screen where information appears can the reading learner feel comfortable.  "What did he say?" sometimes means "Can you write that down so I can be sure about what you said?"

For systems with internet connections, the cost per lecture is greatly reduced:  the video goes on youtube and students can watch it before the ICC.  
students who want access to the written word can find it on scribd.com or on the speaker's website.

It is tempting to call the presenter a lecturer or a teacher, but really we should say Facilitator or presenter or comprehension checker, the CC, or the MC (emcee), master of ceremonies.

Ideally, there will be a 7 - 30 - 90 checkup method, where the presenter or facilitator sends an email to participants one week, one month and three months after the event to check comprehension and retention.
"Hi -- Do you still remember what we talked about and can you talk about it?"  If not, there is a reminder about the youtube link to the videos from the presentation ...   The videos are each about 5 minutes long each.

It helps if the participants allow the facilitator to make ar recording of the conversation and then the facilitator sends the recording to the participant for review.   

To see ourselves as others see us... what a gift it would be.  Robert Burns.

Sources of Inspiration
CELTA training  -- "Do you understnd?"  
"Any Questions?"   Thanks to Jeff Mohamed for his adept training methods.  EnglishInternational.org
Let's get rid of those methods of checking understanding.

Comprehension check session   CCS

CCC is the Course to Check your Comprehension.

Principles of the Interactive Comprehension Check (ICC) method of lecturing.

cecilia  comprehension evaluation check involving lots of interactive activities  CECILIA  one of the sweetest names on the planet.
According to BehindtheName.com  CECILIA
Gender: Feminine
Pronounced: sə-SEE-lee-ə (English), sə-SEEL-yə (English), che-CHEE-lyah (Italian), the-THEE-lyah (Spanish), se-SEE-lyah (Latin American Spanish)  [key]
Latinate feminine form of the Roman family name Caecilius, which was derived from Latin caecus "blind". Saint Cecilia was a semi-legendary 2nd- or 3rd-century martyr who was sentenced to die because she refused to worship the Roman gods. After attempts to suffocate her failed, she was beheaded. She was later regarded as the patron saint of music and musicians.

Due to the popularity of the saint, the name became common in the Christian world during the Middle Ages. It was brought by the Normans to England, where it was commonly spelled Cecily - the Latinate form Cecilia came into use in the 18th century.

No more boring classes:  If students fall asleep in class, they are not berated.  The teacher is offered additional training and support.

No more "audio-only" public announcements 

No more surprises (the audience already has a summary of what will be said or there is a youtube video previously made available)

Let's think about other participants in the audience.  

Thank you for your attention.  Any questions?  

I deeply appreciate the stimulus that my colleague Mario Llorente gave me by encouraging me to start lecturing now.

Reading List  

Websites (schools)

BigPicture.org, the Dennis Littky / Eliot Washor organization

CHADphila.org, Charter High of Architecture and Design, Philadelphia

HighTechHigh.org, San Diego, Calif.**

MavericksinEducation.com, chain of charter schools

MetCenter.org, Providence, R.I.**

NewCitySchool.org, St. Louis (publishers of a widely used workbook for introducing multiple intelligences in academics)

Tracy.MHS.schoolfusion.us, Millennium High School, Tracy, California  Motto:  Aspire, achieve, advance

UrbanAcademy.org, New York City**  Motto:  A small school with big ideas

**These schools were profiled in High Schools on a Human Scale:  How Small Schools can Transform American Education (2003) by Thomas Toch, introduction by Tom vander Ark, Beacon Press, ISBN 978-0807032459 


Websites (reformers, publishers)

ASCD.org, publishers of The Big Picture:  Education Is Everybody’s Business (2004) by Dennis Littky and Samantha Grabelle, ISBN 978-0871209719

EdReform.com, Center for Education Reform

EdReformer.com, Tom vander Ark’s blog

edSpresso.com, newsletter, served hot with a twist

emaginos.com, Jack Taub’s site

RevLearning.com, vander Ark’s investment group

EssentialSchools.org, Coalition of Essential Schools, formed by the late Ted Sizer

GatesFoundation.org, funding for education reform

GuideontheSide.com, Steve McCrea, teacher training workshops

PZ.harvard.edu, Project Zero, Harvard University, teacher training

QBESchool.com, Will Sutherland, innovative curricula

StudentsFirst.org, Michelle Rhee (former superintendent of Washington, DC schools)

theLearningWeb.net, Gordon Dryden, New Zealand, author of The Learning Web with Jeannette Vos:  How to quit school at 14 and eventually write a top-selling book about learning.



TheStudentIstheClass.com, Dr. Abraham Fischler

2mminutes.com, Two Million Minutes, Robert A. Compton’s project

WhatDoYaKNow.com, Dennis Yuzenas, master teacher and trainer, developer of workshops integrating digital portfolios

Youtube channels


BPLearning by BigPicture.org






More Quotes

If kids can get the lectures, can get the content delivery and skill modeling as well (or often better) by computer lecture than in ?person, why do we have use precious class-time

http://www.connectedprincipals.com/archives/1534Jonathan Martin 7 November 2010

Free Training Workshop for Teachers

Subpages (1): If kids can get lectures