Let’s stop teaching like it’s 1899

vintageclassroomHave you seen the picture? You know, the sepia-toned one with all of the kids sitting in desks in straight rows, representing American public schools 100 years ago?

Or the newer version, the stock photo that got many of us riled up at Education Secretary Betsy DeVos?

Because no, of course we don’t teach like that any more.

At the ASCD Empower conference last weekend, I saw that picture so many times, in so many different versions and venues, it became a cliche. Every speaker made the same point: We still teach like this, and it’s a problem.

We need to stop teaching like it’s 1899.

If you know me, you know these presenters were preaching to the choir.

But here’s a few fun facts I picked up from my fellow active-learning evangelists.

From Wendy Ostroff, a developmental psychologist and researcher who trains teachers in California:

  • Students lose their curiosity as they progress through school — because we don’t encourage inquiry. Curiosity is one of the main predictors of success in life, college and career. “Extra curious people learn more and perform better.”
  • If we want curious students, she said, “Teachers and administrators also have to be curious and engaged. … Are teachers teacher-scholars? Experimenting? Trying new things? We need to be playful learners.”
  • And also: “One of the #1 stressors for our students is boredom. Boredom is very stressful.”

From Alexis Wiggins, author of The Best Class You Never Taught:

  • Nobel prize winner and Stanford Prof. Carl Wieman (the 2004 U.S. professor of the year) experimented on his own classes and found that only 10% of his students could answer questions taught just 20 minutes prior in a lecture. What people learn from lecture — “it’s just really small.”
  • More and more institutions, now including Dartmouth’s Geisel Medical School, are banishing lecture completely in favor of inquiry, discussion, and other forms of active learning.

From Jon Bergmann, one of the founders of Flipped Learning:

  • “[Robert] Marzano studied 2 million classrooms — that’s a pretty big sample size — to see what instructional strategies are being used. 58% lecture. This was K-12 data. 36% practicing problems. Only 6% were more cognitively complex tasks.” High school was worse than lower grades, he added, and social studies was worst of all.
  • “The single biggest change that has to happen is a shift from passive to active learning.”

Bergmann went one step further and asked, in reference to our continued reliance on lecture: “Why are we being casual about what any other profession might label malpractice?”

Harsh words, yes. But if we know what works — and active learning beats lecture hands down — then we need to do more of it. I couldn’t agree more.

Martha Rush is a teacher, blogger, author and speaker. Visit NeverBore.org or join the NeverBore LLC Facebook group for more information. @MarthaSRush