Philosophy of Teaching Series: Postulate #7

Here is the elaboration of Postulate #7.

7. Oral communication, teacher-to-learner, is best reserved for guidance rather than detailed content. Other forms of communication greatly exceed the capacity of speech for substantive material.

Study after study has made clear the limitations of oral communication in imparting the merely informational. When spoken at a normal pace, the bulk of a lecture delivered before note-taking students is lost on them. Consider the absurdity of trying to listen to one complex idea while simultaneously trying to scribble down the essence of the idea that preceded it out of the mouth of the teacher. The problem is made all the more manic by teachers who feel they must “cover” the material of a given topic or chapter in the time institutionally allotted. To such lecturers, student questions are disruptions and annoyances to be discouraged by being dispatched as quickly as possible. In the mind of some, technology has come to the rescue with PowerPoint, and now the complexities and subtleties of a serious subject can be rendered as staccato bullet points. And as the bullets come flying toward their targets arrayed before them like sitting ducks, whatever charm the traditional lecture might have had completely vanishes. So many lecturers simply read off the bullet points during their so-called lectures that it’s clear the machine rules even the erstwhile autocratic teacher. Relying upon a machine, he speaks like one.

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If not lecture, then what should a teacher do before his students? Questions, answers, discussion, discursive explanations and elaboration, and focused attention on the specifics of substantive materials assigned to convey detailed content (i.e., books and the like). I would be a waste of time to merely restate or “go over” what has already assigned if all that is being done is to duplicate the same materials. Explanation? Yes. Clarification? Absolutely. Repetition? Not for adult learners.

[Here is the original article, “My Philosophy of Teaching” (opens in new window).  For all the articles in this series, click on the Teaching Philosophy link below or under Categories to the right.]