Lectures. Wow.

“A lecture is an event where the notes of the professor pass to the notebooks of the students
without going through the brains of either.”

The NYT published an article describing the insufficiencies of using a laptop to take notes during lectures.  Just not enough ‘learning’ oomph.

And lots of people jumped in….entirely missing a key point.

Lectures and learning. Especially if learning means ‘a permanent change in thinking or behavior.’

Recently wrote an entire blogpost about this.  And I completely agree that sitting and typing during a lecture is a very poor way to receive the distribution of information.  If the point is to distribute information.  

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The problem is NOT the laptop.  It’s the teaching strategy.  Of course direct instruction absolutely has a place as a tool in education. According to Hattie, direct instruction has an impact size of .6.  That’s substantial.  Scaffolding and classroom discussion have impact sizes of .82.  Don’t see those in too many lectures.  Lectures are a pure example of distribution of information.  Professor solely has the information.  Distributes it to the students, laptops or not.  Students have the information until it’s time to give it back via a test.  End of story.  Learning? 

A more robust use of laptops is to create better learning experiences other than typing during lectures.  A youtube video could replace the lecture.  Flipped learning could handle the lecture.  How about about using the tools to create?  Critically think?  Communicate?  And most importantly, collaborate?

It’s not about the tool.  It’s about what one does with it.  And to use it to simply take notes during a lecture is a waste of time.  Glad a study confirmed it.


Fightin’ words.

Started reading Start. Right. Now.: Teach and Lead for Excellence by Todd Whitaker, Jeffrey Zoul, Jimmy Casas.  The authors start off discussing the importance of living and breathing mission statements.  “We believe in the power of mission statements that are created with intention and communicated and acted upon regularly. The organizational mission statement should succinctly answer the questions,’Why do we (as a classroom, school, or district) exist? What is our core purpose for being?’”

It’s easy to see the power of these words, especially when these leaders drive home the clear point that words without action are just words. “Even with a compelling mission statement in place — one that is known by all members of the organization, communicated regularly among many in the organization, and used frequently as a driving force for decision making — having an overarching description of why we exist is still not as important as the consistent behaviors each team member exhibits as they go about their jobs.

That got me thinking.  We have mission statements in all of our schools.  We have a district mission statement.  And further, we have 4 strategic goals as a district.  The establishment of these goals was one of the first things our new superintendent, Kevin Alfano, did.  He hired a group to facilitate a rigorous process of interviews and questions.  Teachers, administrators, parents, business people, community leaders, association leaders, classified staff, students, etc. 14 different groups of people.  At the conclusion of all of this work, 4 goals emerged.  Academic Excellence.  Transition Readiness.  Parent, Family, Community Engagement.  High Quality Work Force.  Now these 4 goals are definitely not just words.  They live in our mission statements.  We bounce all of our ideas, goals, and plans off of them.  They give muscle, motion, and meaning to our mission statements.

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And even with all of that, I am not sure every single educator could talk about the mission statements and the 4 strategic goals.  I’m not convinced they live everyday, in the classroom.  They’re far better than I’ve seen in my 30+ years in this district.  They’re closer to our daily thoughts and efforts.  But they’re not quite there yet.

What is there?  Fightin’ Words.

At least two of our building leaders have rallying cries.  Or what I’m calling Fightin’ Words.  They use them ALL the time with their teachers and students.  Everybody knows them in the whole school.  One is, “Whatever it takes.”   His colleague’s words for his staff and students are, “We’re all in this together.”  Both of these leaders then act and expect their colleagues and students to also act, based on these words.  The words are alive and kicking everyday.  Come decision time, they’re not reviewing the mission statement, they’re looking at their fightin’ words.  Are we doing ‘Whatever it takes’ as we make decisions and take action at one place.  Are we ‘All in this together’ when we’re making decisions and taking action at the other place.

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Talk is cheap.  Words have power and require action.  Reminds me of this great idea.

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So I’d ask each of us, including and especially myself, “What are your fightin’ words?”  Where does the rubber of the mission statement and strategic goals meet the road of the classroom or school?

Whatever it takes.  We’re all in this together.

I never learned about photosynthesis.

Time and experience are wonderful things.  Learning is also a wonderful thing.  My working definition of learning is ‘a permanent change in thinking or behavior.’  It turns out I never actually learned about photosynthesis.

And here’s why.

There’s an old saying about lectures. “A lecture is an event where the notes of the professor pass to the notebooks of the students without going through the brains of either.”

When I was a freshman in college, I had a course called BioSci 102.  It was held in a big, two tiered auditorium.  Probably 600 students at least.  The professor was wonderful and engaging.  That’s what I remember about him and the class.  He was engaging.  I can’t honestly say I learned anything that became permanent.

The students took notes as he lectured.  It was in this class that I discovered I could pay $10 to buy official lecture notes.  The university paid a former student in the class to attend, take notes, then make them available for other students.  I signed up.  I didn’t even have to go to class to get the notes anymore.  It could hardly have mattered less.  Come time for the test, I studied someone else’s notes well enough to do well on the test, then whoosh, the information was gone.  A big part of the test was on photosynthesis.  Like almost all of the test.  The lecture notes were absolutely beautiful.  Lovely drawings, arrows, quotes, fabulous.  And nothing about photosynthesis became permanent in my thinking.

Fast forward to now.  Did a google search on photosynthesis.  Google reports,  “About 19,800,000 results (0.63 seconds)”.  Hmmm….that’s a lot more information than one professor talking and someone taking notes.  Let’s narrow that search to just videos.  “About 597,000 results (0.26 seconds).” 597,000 videos on photosynthesis….in .26 seconds.

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If we decided it was mission critical in a class for kids to LEARN about photosynthesis, meaning the information became permanent in their thinking or behavior, I bet a lecture might be the last way to have kids learn.  My college lecture experience was a perfect example of education as a distribution system.  Professor has information.  Distributes it. Students have it for awhile, then give it back via some kind of test.  The end.

In a discovery system, probably using technology, students could be in groups of 4.  The teacher has identified 4 excellent videos about photosynthesis.  The students, with headphones on, each watch a different video about photosynthesis.  They have a large piece of butcher paper in front of them, on which each takes notes as he/she watches her/his own video.  When all videos are done, the students go around the table and share what each learned about photosynthesis.  They generate a list of questions, honing their questions to their top three.  Then each table shares its top 3 questions.  The class finalizes a list of top 5 questions and kids find answers for those questions.

I bet I would learn about photosynthesis that way.