Students write. We comment. Nancy Sommers can help us do so more thoughtfully and skillfully. Her new book continues the work of her landmark essay on responding to student writing. Her new rule? When we comment, we should focus on the students, not just the writing, and we should only try to “teach one lesson” at a time.
We often hear only the pro- and anti- positions in debates about lecturing. I want to advocate a more nuanced perspective: There is no such thing as lecturing. There are many different things that get lumped together under that one term.
If anyone tells you exactly how to teach based on research, they’re misusing the research. The research does not offer blueprints for how to teach, detailed instructions on what to do and how to do it. But it does offer maps. Using these maps requires certain skills.
Lecturing came first. It has always been with us. Active learning came later. It has been on the scene for a relatively short time. Right? To the contrary, while lecturing has a medieval history, active learning has an ancient one.
Research suggest that students are not learning nearly as well as they should or could. Three books on the learning crisis stand out: Derek Bok’s Our Underachieving Colleges (2007), Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s Academically Adrift (2010), and Rebekah Nathan’s My Freshman Year (2005).
In a culture with few serious readers, professors belong to a privileged reading class. We are literate to nth degree. When we read the scholarship on teaching and learning, we put our high levels of literacy to use for immediate and practical good. Unfortunately, too often we do not do this as much as we might want or as much as we should, for a variety of legitimate and not-so-legitimate reasons. Why not? Obstacles abound.
That many of us read the scholarship on teaching and learning may largely be explained by its utilitarian value, i.e., we read because doing so may prove useful in improving our teaching. However, beyond its “use-value,” many of us read because doing so fits the ethos of professorship. To wit, we value reading, curiosity, lifelong learning, critical thinking, evidentiary reasoning, capacity for sustained effort, and quality.