To Lecture or Not To Lecture?

Reverse instruction is not an entirely new idea to me. I’ve heard about it before, and I, unknowingly to me at the time, have implemented some aspects of reverse instruction into my daily teaching practice. I would argue that reverse instruction is a perfect fit, especially for math and science, and even more so, in the upper high school classes.

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What I’ve Done

This is going to sound very traditional, but in my 11+ years of teaching, I think it works, and the kids (well, most of them) agree with me, according to feedback surveys I have given them at the end of the year. Every class, I typically assign reading from the science textbook (a reasonable length for the age of my students) for homework, and the students have a short quiz on it first thing the following class. It keeps them accountable, and it gives them more time in class to ask questions and work on solving problems and doing experiments and/or projects. And I really think that the students get a lot out of it.

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But I still lecture…less than I would if they didn’t have a reading for homework, but I still lecture, and I make the kids copy my notes during class. And of course, they ask why?

“We already took notes for homework, so why do we have to do it again?”

A little repetition never hurt anyone, right? I guess it depends on what our goals are. Although I do my best to create a mostly student-centered classroom, I feel that most students still need some direct instruction. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems to work. My “lectures” are more interactive than they would be if I didn’t assign a reading. Students have had a chance to see the content before class and begin to process it. The processing can take time, and sometimes for some students, A LOT of time. Usually, my students come to class with questions, and not just basic questions but thought provoking ones. And I think this is because they have had some time to think about the information that has already been presented to them in the reading.

What I’m Doing

In addition to what I have described above, I have started something new this year. When we take notes during class, I allow my students to chose whether they would like to copy my class notes during the lecture OR annotate their own notes that they took for homework. Previously, students have complained that they take notes for homework AND in class.

“Miss, why are we taking the same notes twice?”

Now that I am giving them the choice between writing down my notes or annotating their own, they are wanting to copy my notes, and they’re not complaining about it! Interesting 😉

What I’m Going To Do

Something else I have started thinking about doing this year, specifically for my DP Chemistry students, is allowing them the choice between reading the textbook pages OR watching a series of short videos about the same content. AND taking notes on one of the two. Richard Thornley has made some amazing videos for DP Chemistry, so I wouldn’t have to create my own (huge plus!). And I’ve already watched the majority of the videos he has created.

In the end, I am still “lecturing” to some extent. I can’t let it go, not just yet, but I am lecturing less, and we now have more time in class for problem solving, which is such an integral skill, especially in DP Chemistry. I am also trying to move toward a more project based learning approach in my grade 9 science classes, so reverse instruction frees up more time for that as well.

What aspects of reverse instruction are you using in your classroom? What’s working? And what’s not working? How can I let go of my lectures for good? I warmly welcome your comments below 🙂

2 thoughts on “To Lecture or Not To Lecture?

  1. Hi Pam,

    I like your balanced approach to tech usage in your class. I agree that tech has it’s place in some elements of classroom life but not in others. Technology can definitely be a distraction at times and you clearly have good practices in classroom to manage focus in your classroom.

    When I read articles about how much more effective it is to write notes by hand instead of typing them I wonder if it is just that we haven’t been able to develop this skill effectively as students yet. I mean we have been taking notes by hand for a long time. Taking notes by hand has certain limitations that make it more effective. The one that I read about most is the fact that you are limited by what you can write and so you have to narrow your notes down to just the most important points. There is a tendency for students who take notes on a laptop to type almost everything so they don’t pull out the key points very well. They blindly type as much as they can without really thinking about it. During Ron Ritchard’s visit many of us live Tweeted (I am not sure this is actually a thing??) and I thought that Twitter was a great way to take collaborative notes. By following the hashtag I was able to see what my colleagues felt were the most important points of his talk in 140 characters or less. This makes me think that perhaps what we really need to do instead of banning laptop note taking is to teach them how to do it more effectively. One of the reasons we teach kids how to use tech is so that it is the what they will use in the classroom and the workplace of the future. Just a thought (from a guy who can barely read his own writing and hates writing notes).

    I also agree that some tech free time is good for our overall wellness. Teaching kids to unplug regularly has many positive consequences. We know that we shouldn’t sleep with our devices nearby. When I am working on my computer for long stretches of time I frequently need to get up and get away from my screen but I think study breaks are a good idea even when tech is not involved.


    1. Hi Andrew! This is a great point, and I never really thought about it like that 🙂 Thanks for sharing! I agree with what you had to say about the “collaborative note taking” approach that we have used with Twitter during our Professional Learning (PL) times. I also enjoy reading what everyone else is thinking about during our PL via Tweets. I am sure that “note taking” in its many forms will continue to change and evolve 😉

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