Stop Talking AT Students

March 15, 2018

Let’s talk about something that will probably annoy a large swath of teachers at the secondary level, along with a majority of post-secondary professors: please stop using the lecture method as your main instructional strategy to convey information to students.



  1. It is ineffective and research does not support it.
  2. Instructional time is sacred and it should be used for more engaging opportunities.
  3. It is lazy (for teachers and students).


It is an ineffective pedagogical strategy

Author Graham Gibbs from the Times Higher Education noted that, “More than 700 studies have confirmed that lectures are less effective than a wide range of methods for achieving almost every educational goal you can think of.” Indeed, a recent study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science states unequivocally that “active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics” and that students fail courses where lectures are used by over 55% as opposed to those classes where students are included in active learning environments. Ultimately, when teachers provided activities and learning experiences that required students to be actively involved, student exam performance increased about 6%.


Upon review of the various ways in which we learn and process information; to teach in a way that largely caters to one modality is “educational malpractice” (to steal Rick Wormeli’s phrase from Episode 13 of the podcast). For over 30 years, Howard Gardner has been at the forefront of research on multiple intelligences, which I believe not only supports the overall removal of lecture as a pedagogical tool, but also in a learning environment proves that one size does not fit all. Lectures do not support the various ways in which students process and apply information in any meaningful way.


Although they are sometimes used synonymously, it is important to understand how very different multiple intelligences theory is from “learning styles.” In 2013, Gardner addressed this in a piece in the Washington Post: that his work on multiple intelligences is antithetical to how people describe the term “learning styles.” In referencing multiple intelligences, Gardner states: “A belief in a single intelligence assumes that we have one central, all-purpose computer—and it determines how well we perform in every sector of life.” By using lecture as a teaching tool goes against all the current brain research in how humans process, analyze, and draw conclusions from the information presented. In his parting words, he states emphatically one of the ways teachers can cater to the multiple intelligences humans possess: “Pluralize your teaching. Teach important materials in several ways, not just one…In this way you can reach students who learn in different ways. Also, by presenting materials in various ways, you convey what it means to understand something well. If you can only teach in one way, your own understanding is likely to be thin.


Instructional time is sacred

How much time does your lesson involve students actually applying the concepts they are learning? If most of your instructional time is devoted to talking at students with no accompaniment, then you must ask yourself: “Is this valuable for students? Why can’t they just watch this lecture on YouTube? Why can’t they just read it in a textbook? What is your role in student learning?” Research indicates that the average teacher devotes somewhere between 20%-50% of time to instructional matters. You might think this as an aside, but consider how wasted instructional time adds up: let’s say that for the last three minutes of class each day, Teacher A does not ensure students are learning or doing anything, just because your lecture is finished and you have nothing else to talk about – if we calculate that for an entire school year: three minutes X’s five days per week = ~15 minutes per week of lost instructional time, or ~60 minutes per month! Multiply that by the nine month instructional calendar (~180 days) = 540 minutes of lost instructional time (or 12 full 45-minute class periods)! That is 37% of a child’s instructional time in a classroom, lost!


It’s lazy for both teachers and students

What kind of teacher preparation is involved with lecturing? In the best scenario, a teacher creates a PowerPoint presentation includes words, explanations, diagrams, images, etc. In this same situation, students may be provided a guided note sheet. However, in most situations, many teachers who rely on lectures may have the aforementioned presentation, but students are instructed to “take out a piece of paper” to write down…something…anything…does anyone check? Bueller? Probably not. What kind of student preparation is needed? Not much. They show up, maybe take some notes, and listen half-heartedly if they like and trust the person in front of them.


The alternative to this is a student-centered, carefully planned, and orchestrated lesson that involves students, and requires them to actively participate with each other. This takes time and effort on all ends by all parties. Teachers need to carefully think about what and how they are planning (just look at this Studying Skillful Teacher planning guide! It’s hard work!). In such an environment, it requires them to:

  • actually talk to another student about something they might not initially want to talk about.
  • use academic language that they may use infrequently.  
  • deeply think and process what is being asked of them by the teacher.
  • question their own beliefs about a preconceived notion!


There are infinitesimal ways in which to convey information (linked here and here) as a teacher that produce better results, are better for kids, and are more fun – do the right thing and stop using lectures!


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