Saturday, September 14, 2013

Students' Top Choice: Lecture to a Small Group

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, the results from a survey on how my students feel they learn best indicated that as a whole, the class would prefer to learn through a teacher lecture to a small group of students (as opposed to a teacher lecture to the whole class). As a result, I try to make sure that a mini-lecture is always one of the options they can tap into to master their learning goals.

This is a different style of lecture for me. Normally I would plan a SMARTBoard lesson complete with review questions from the previous day, a chance to address the new learning goal, introduction, explanation, example questions, SMART Response clicker questions, conclusion, homework questions. Throw in some applicable or humourous graphics for "engagement." 

In a 75-minute class, I would bank on my lectures taking 20-30 minutes, longer if there were many questions from the class (but usually there weren't). Lots of work for me beforehand; students would dutifully write it all down (or not), the room was mostly quiet for that time, and then they would all have the information they needed to master the material. Right?

(Did I mention that I felt like my teaching just wasn't cutting it in recent years??)

Enter the mini-lecture. 10 minutes at most, focused on one single learning goal. No frills, bells, whistles or funny pictures. As we get organized at the beginning of the class, and the students get settled into their tasks for the period, I ask them if anyone would like to hear the mini-lecture on a given learning goal. Anywhere from three to eight hands usually go up. We cluster around one of the large tables in the class, me right in with them with a 3'x2' white board and a handful of markers, and away we go...

Learning Goal 1: I can determine when a relation is a function.

I give them the definition of a function (writing it on the white board and then holding it up so that the students wishing to write it down can do so). I give them an example and a counter example. I introduce them to the three methods of telling if something is a function: inspection, mapping, and the vertical line test. I give quick, off-the-top-of-my-head examples for each. And that's it. We're talking JUST the bare bones here.

But here's where the magic happens (and this is not planned magic - these are things that just kind of happened). In these smaller, informal groups, with general student noise in the background, students are suddenly not afraid to ask questions. I can poll the group: "Is this a function?" and wait for the students to chime in, counting the yays and the nays out loud with them before revealing the answer. The students help explain things to each other, since they're not "interrupting" me at the front of the room. And I can get them to provide me with the examples or the counter examples.

A quick check in with other students in the class, and then I ask if anyone would like the mini-lecture on the next learning goal. Another handful of students cluster at another large table, and away we go again. The next day I might do the same mini-lectures for different groups of students depending where they are in the unit.

The students get so much more out of these little lectures - including the confidence to then try practice questions on their own or with their classmates - all with less prep work on my part. This is revolutionary for me, and would not be possible if it wasn't for the other 2/3 of the class taking the learning into their own hands working through either the textbook or the BYOD resources. Posts on some of these other resources to come.

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