Teaching by the Lecture Method
Although lecturing is, as Gleitman notes, often dismissed by educators, it has nonetheless provedto be an extremely durable method of instruction. Obviously, lecturing does have its advantages.Lectures are, in fact, an efficient means of conveying a body of information, especially whenthere is either too much or too little printed information available. They can also be a veryeffective medium for conveying enthusiasm and excitement about a field, or, as Haring-Smithsuggests, lecturing may simply appeal to many because it seems as familiar as a comfortable oldshoe and thus is a fairly common first choice of beginning teachers.Although there are many situations in which most of the educational agenda will be better served by the discussion format of teaching, nearly all educators find that they must prepare lectures atleast occasionally. Because unplanned lectures are rarely an effective method of instruction, youmay find the following information helpful at some point along the way. Most of the informationthat follows is a response to the more common problems and questions beginning teachers haveas they begin trying to assemble and produce lectures.
How much material should I prepare for an hour lecture?
There are two important inherentcharacteristics of the lecture situation that you should keep in mind when you are preparing for class. The first of these concerns is the amount of verbal information that can be effectivelysqueezed into a specified amount of time. An average out-loud reading rate is about 140—160words per minute. In other words, even if you are able to read at a steady nonstop pace for nearlyan hour, the most you will be able to read is fifteen single-spaced, typewritten pages. Thus,allowing for the necessary variations in pacing, questions, and so forth that accompany a well-delivered lecture, a good rule of thumb is that the information contained in a fifty-minute lecturecan be transcribed into no more than ten single-spaced, typewritten pages.It is also important when you are preparing a lecture to remember that people have a limitedability to absorb aural information, tuning in and out of the lecture every fifteen—twentyminutes. Students cannot go back and skim through a lecture when they begin to wonder whether they have missed an important point. And they may well have! Pattern your lectures so thatmajor items appear no more frequently than every fifteen—twenty minutes, and limit yourself tono more that four major items within an hour lecture. The rest of the time should be taken up bythe examples, proofs, and anecdotes that support and reinforce the major point. You willobviously want to vary how the points are made—for example, once or twice as an abstract principle, once as a demonstration through a concrete example, and once as the summary andconclusion. Do not count on a really crucial point reaching all your students at the same time.
Is it a good idea to read a lecture?
There are some occasions when it is useful to read a lecture,such as at professional conferences and when you are addressing a group of colleagues. Despiteappearances to the contrary, however, reading a lecture is not a panacea for the stage fright thatinevitably befalls beginning teachers. Actually, reading a lecture effectively requires nearly asmuch skill as, or possibly more skill than, does a more spontaneous delivery. Lecturing isespecially ill suited to you as a beginning teacher because, when you read a lecture, it becomesconsiderably more difficult to assess your students and their reactions to what you are saying. Asa beginning teacher, your ability to assess and gather information on how students think, and thekinds of novel reconstructions of information they make, will be extremely important (SeeFerguson and Haring-Smith, for elaborations and examples of this point). If you routinely readlectures, it will be difficult for you to acquire this crucial information. Most people actually do