Thursday, January 08, 2009

One Easy Step Towards Interactive Teaching

I've said before that classes are more interesting to students if you can make them more game-like, i.e. to give the students some interactivity (if not actual decision-making) rather than just lecturing at them.

If you're a teacher who is used to just speaking at your students and want to break yourself of the habit, here's an easy experiment for you to try in your next class:

1) Look over your lesson plan, and pick out one thing that is ambiguous, unknown, open to interpretation, or otherwise has no "right" side or answer. (Example in a biology class: the definition of the term "life".)
2) Design an open-ended question about the thing you chose. (Continuing the above example: "How would you define the term life?")
3) At some point in your lecture, ask the question to your class, and wait for the students to try to answer. If it takes a few seconds before you see any raised hands, that means they're actually thinking about your question, which is a good sign (or it means they're asleep, which is a sign that you've been lecturing for too long). Sometimes students will raise their hand to elaborate on (or even disagree with) a previous student's answer; encourage this, as you're creating an interactive dialogue among your students. If one student gives an answer and no one else feels like adding to it, challenge it yourself; play devil's advocate. But if at all possible, confine yourself to a role as moderator; if you chose a good question, your students will do your work for you.

You might notice a few things about this method:
  • It gives your own voice a much-needed rest in the middle of a long lecture :-)
  • Your students will actually be paying close attention.
  • Your students will actually be thinking. In class, no less.
  • As often as not, one of your students will say something particularly insightful that makes you think.

If you try it and like the results, increase the number of questions. Personally, my classes are usually about two hours, and I shoot for a goal of at least three discussion-questions per class. But if you're not used to it, you can work up to this one question at a time.


Anonymous said...

It is so surprising to me that anyone who has ever taught a class is not aware of classroom participation. In order to learn a student has to be alert. well noted !..............ocho ball

ellF said...

At least when I was in college, the benefit from a good discussion amongst my classmates with the professor acting as a moderator was why I bothered attending classes, rather than simply reading the material on my own and seeking out written responses to it.

Things may be different at a secondary school level, but by the time a student is in high school I suspect they can engage in discussion at least once in a while. It's interesting that you characterize this as a game-like element, though -- perhaps I am biased, but I tend to think of what you're describing as being simply good engagement of an audience, rather than something unique to gaming.

Anonymous said...

Interesting idea. I ask many questions, but I never thought about using open-ended questions on purpose. I will give it a try. Cheers.

Paul Livsig