When I really hear someone it puts me in touch with him. It enriches my life. It is through hearing people that I have learned all that I know about individuals, about personality, about psychotherapy, and about interpersonal relationships. –Carl Rogers
Years ago I attended a lecture given by psychologist Carl Rogers. The lecture was held in a huge auditorium, and despite an audience of at least 1000 people, I was impressed with Rogers’ knack for personalizing his message and involving his listeners.
Here’s one innovative thing he did that made a big difference…you might want to try it the next time you lecture. As we entered, each audience member was given three cards…one green, one yellow, one red. Rogers asked us to keep one of the three cards visible to him at all times. If we were following what he was saying, we were to display the green card. If we were getting lost, the yellow. If we found ourselves disagreeing with or objecting to what he was saying, the red.
I recall being very impressed with how Rogers adjusted his lecture to the response of his audience. When the sea was green, he plunged right along. If the sea turned yellow, Rogers would linger, explaining more fully, giving more examples or more evidence. On the few times the sea turned a bit red, he would pause, empathizing with why some might not be in agreement, perhaps even generously offering examples of objections that had been lodged against his idea by other psychologists, then sharing his thoughtful, respectful refutations of their positions.
Some educators argue that a lecture is not an “active” method of teaching…but in the hands of a master communicator like Carl Rogers, it surely was.
–Skip Downing, Facilitator, On Course Workshop Skip@OnCourseWorkshop.com
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I read with interest the example of how a lecturer can modify his lecture to the needs of the audience and readily respond to the request for other methods of preventing passive learning.
My lecture groups – in physics – typically are only about 100 students, generally in a reasonably ‘cosy’ lecture theatre where the back row is not too far away. Because I believe in developing as many ways for students to learn as possible, of which the lecture series is but one way, I pre-prepare the lecture notes and the students purchase them at the beginning of the semester. I can thus devote my whole lecture time to explaining and exemplifying as well as delivering information and developing proofs.
Nevertheless the students could still easily become passive learners and so I pepper my lectures with challenging questions in which I invite the students to discuss – sometimes argue about – the topic in hand with their colleagues. I have spent some time learning my student’s names and I have a ‘cheat sheet’ of their photographs and so, after the discussion I am able to invite students to respond to the question I posed with reasons for their answer.
The response I receive is encouraging and I often hear students after the lecture continuing the discussion on the questions asked.
–Robert L. Taylor, Physics, Victoria University of Technology, Australia
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In my lectures I use a cooperative learning strategy called “turn to your partner”. At various times I stop lecturing and give the students a mini assignment, reinforcing the lecture, that they complete in a pair, or I ask them to compare notes so they can both be sure they have all the information. Using this simple technique has made a BIG difference in my classes.
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A skill that is necessary to teach to students is active listening and how to gather information from listening. “In” and “Out” thinking is one tool to help students become more metacognitive about their thinking. Have students draw a line down the center of the page and write “in” on one side and “out” on the other. Studies show that people are only fully engaged for the first 18-30 seconds someone is speaking to them before “out” thoughts start creeping in. Students write key ideas, concepts, and things that are important for comprehension on the “in” side. Any “out” thoughts such as “What am I going to have for dinner?” can be written down on the “out” side. Once a student can acknowledge “out” thoughts, she can leave them because she knows they are written down and can go back to them later. This tool has been useful when trying to get students to pay attention to their “in” and “out” thoughts. Also teaching students how to use a graphic organizer while listening is useful to help them bracket their thoughts. I do “cold” listening activities with my students; we listen to a passage together and use a graphic organizer such as a T-chart to decide where key information should go.
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My favorite approach to lecturing is not really a technique, rather a philosophy: I draw a very fine line between lecturing and storytelling. Since my original field is history, most content I have dealt with has been appropriate to the idea. Now that I am doing 20 minute after-dinner presentations to drum up support for literacy, I tell true stories about our adult learners. I plan these stories carefully, starting with a hook that relates the “character’s” problem to the audience, and proceed in a fairly dramatic fashion to a climax or punch line. Then I draw out the point by asking the audience questions, rhetorical if there isn’t time, discussion-starters if there is. I also freely throw in anecdotes about myself that relate, to personalize the presentation more like friends talking. My best advice to anyone who speaks before an audience of any kind is to join Toastmasters.