|1||Teaching and learning|
1.2 also described some of the limitations of lectures. Lectures can convey factual information. You probably want your lectures to do more than this. You want to convey understanding, not just knowledge. We tackle this issue here.
How can you help each of them to share your understanding, to the point where they can stand a reasonable chance of passing the course? In summary:
What makes this story a good story?
It starts with a real situation. The story goes on to find problems and questions in that situation. Finally it says how the problems will be solved, the questions answered.
It is relevant to you, it engages your attention.
It hangs together, makes sense, involves a logical progression of facts and ideas. It has a conclusion.
Is this the only kind of story?
No, there are lots. Each subject has its own kind of story. You'll need to develop the skill of finding the stories in the topics you teach. But typical good stories include:
These are simple stories. They can get more complicated. You can combine them in various ways.
You should try this for a presentation you will give soon. See if you can find the story. To check if you have found the story, try telling it in the very simple way suggested above. You should be able to summarise the story in a couple of minutes, in a sequence of a few key points and ideas. Try different ways of telling it: question and answers, problem and solutions, thesis and antithesis.
If all you get is a list of facts, you don't have a story.
Whatever the subject, you need a story. In physics (or any other subject) as in fiction, what makes a story a story rather than a list is the relationships.
Talk of a simple story may suggest that only simple materials can be dealt with this way. Not so: it's the structure of the story which has to be simple and clear, not the contents. The content, the argument, the analysis, the ideas can be as complex as they need to be. But the underlying story still needs to be simple and clear.
Couldn't the big picture simply be the story? Sometimes, but not always. To understand the story you may need to understand each step. If some of the content is difficult, giving the audience the story at the start may confuse them. Giving them the big picture is supposed to help.
The big picture for this first word might be:
|1||What makes a successful presentation?|
|2||What makes a successful explanation?|
|a clarity about 'understanding'|
|b a good story|
|c the big picture (like this!)|
|e check they've understood|
Students at a lecture which opened with this big picture might not instantly understand it all. The big picture doesn't aid understanding by explaining. Rather, it helps students feel secure that there is a structure. And, as the presentation develops, they can see where they are. They can measure their progress on their journey by comparing what youíre saying with the plan you've given them. They can say to themselves things like, 'OK, I see, she's finished talking about how you have to tell a story and she's moving onto why it's important to tell the students the big picture.' Having the big picture is very reassuring for students (and also for the presenter). You should sketch the big picture for a presentation you're going to give in the near future. Sketch it as a simple list, or as a hierarchical list, or as spider diagram, or as a list of short questions, or as whatever works for you and your students and your subject -- but sketch it!
Health warning: If you can't find the big picture, you have a serious problem. If you don't find the big picture before you give the presentation, you will then share this problem with your students. A clear big picture is a powerful prophylactic against the educationally transmitted disease of incomprehension.
The learning outcomes
Look back to the aims and learning outcomes for the course on which you are teaching and for the session which you are planning. They may include things like:
In each case, there is clear scope for using concrete examples.
Learning is an intensely active process. In a presentation, we learn by comparing what we know with what we are being taught, by engaging with what we are being taught, always by making links.
The teacher needs to help the learner make these links. Vivid, concrete examples have lots of links and hooks to engage with our interest and our current knowledge. Abstract ideas, by contrast, can be rather smooth and slippery. A presentation which moves repeatedly between the abstract and the concrete is more likely to be assimilated into the memory and the understanding.
Again, take a presentation you will give. At each step in the story, or for each major heading in the big picture, identify or develop some relevant, engaging, concrete examples. As we've done here, you could make the examples themselves form a sort of story, all based around the same theme. Or they could be different. See what works best.
By such techniques, and by looking at and listening to the class all the time you are presenting, stay alert to possible signs of incomprehension -- glazing eyes, nodding heads, mutterings of discontent, poker games in the back row.
When you see, hear or sense such signs, stop and check. The end of the presentation is far too late to find out that everyone stopped understanding you after the first five minutes!
There will be more on getting and using student feedback in "first words" 4.1 and 4.2.
This may all sound rather difficult. It is. It's also essential for good teaching, and especially for good lecturing. Bad lecturing simply presents information, in some form which makes sense to the lecturer. The long steps away from bad lecturing involve, to use a metaphor from film and television, zooming back, from a close-up shot of the subject matter to a much wider shot which also embraces the learners and their needs. The methods suggested in these first words will help you to make this shift of view, and hence improve your practice.
Last modified: Wednesday, 27-Jun-12 10:24:19 BST