Something to be said for the lecture

Published 9:27 am Thursday, November 5, 2015

I had the pleasure of going to Minnesota last weekend to cheer on Michigan as we fought the Gophers for the Little Brown Jug.

The night before the game, my brother took me to a gathering of Michigan alumni form the Twin cities area. We met the Athletic Director, Jim Hackett, who shared his plans for all sports at our alma mater.

Among the guests were several players from the 1960s, and I think it was a real treat for them to hear our memories of their football days as we listened to their own stories about specific games and even plays.

After the reception, my brother and I tried hard to remember some of those old Wolverines. I finally had to grab my phone and use Google to assist my memory.

Technology is a wonderful information retrieval aide, but I always feel better when I can recall names and events straight from my brain. I recently read an essay in the Sunday New York Times, by Molly Worthen, called “Lecture Me, Please.”

The writer makes the point that there is real learning value to the increasingly unpopular teaching method of lecturing and note taking. Of course, that method was the common style of learning for all those old alums who gathered in Minneapolis last Friday.

Worthen makes the excellent point that once we write something down as we listen to it, it stays stored in our memory better. If the lecture is well-organized and well-delivered, we also have a lasting impression of the points the teacher is making. We make connections in our brains to prior knowledge and experiences, and the lecturer’s words are processed in our thoughts. Lectures also teach us how to listen, which we all know many people have a hard time doing these days.

I’ve written before that it’s harder to stay focused nowadays than ever before. I’m willing to bet that not many college students can stay away from their phones or iPads during a lecture that they may not be that interested in.

Indeed, I’ll congratulate any of you who have stuck with this column of mine so far.

Yet, I think it’s important for us in education to teach kids how to take notes. It’s important to value knowledge that you own, not that which you need to look up using a search engine.

Of course, lecturing cannot be the dominant teaching method. Co-operative discussions, projects, research and inquiry, as well as hands-on tasks, all engage learners very well. But, we should teach note-taking and we should make sure students can listen and pay attention while someone teaches them. That’s also part of being “college ready” and “adult-ready.”

And, it was clearly a pleasure to seethe Jug return to Ann Arbor!


John Jarpe is the superintendent of Brandywine Community Schools. He can be reached at (269) 684- 7150.