Is There Life Beyond The Lecture?

“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.” Chinese Proverb

Some faculty are wonderful, engaging lecturers. Some are not.

Regardless, the classroom lecture continues to be the dominant form of instruction in the college classroom today–even though all the pedagogical research I have read shows that this is NOT the best way to teach–if you want students to remember what they are learning after the class is over.

In his article “Exploding the Lecture,” Steve Kolowich examines the example and strategies of a charismatic lecturer who has turned to creating online videos. Students watch Mike Garver’s lectures on their own time and as often as necessary then come to class where they have time to discuss, engage and apply the ideas in large and small groups. Kolowich writes:

Garver remembers his supervisor affirming the young lecturer’s confidence — before blowing it apart. “He basically said, ‘Mike, that was a great lecture. Have you ever heard of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning?’ ” Garver had not. His supervisor explained Benjamin Bloom’s 1956 formulation, which divides learning into higher and lower orders and emphasizes the importance of putting learned ideas to work.

“Even though your lecture was spectacular,” Garver recalls his mentor saying, “you’re down here at the bottom of Bloom’s Taxonomy.” He challenged Garver to infuse higher orders of learning into his teaching methodology. “I have been chasing that dream ever since,” Garver says.

I too have been chasing that dream. I knew from my own educational experience that most lectures made me sleepy and that even taking good notes didn’t mean I didn’t retain the material. I learned best and most deeply by “doing” something with the material: talking about it in groups, presenting it to the class, writing about it, applying it in a service learning context, using it for problem solving.

Until recently, it was relatively easy for my students and I to hold seminars in class to discuss material by moving our desks into a large circle or smaller groups. Unfortunately, new buildings at the college where I teach cram as many students as possible into the classrooms using tables that go from one end of the room almost all the way to the other making it very difficult for us to do anything other than sit in rows at the long tables.

And I am finding, when students are in those rows, it is easy just to stay on the stage.

What teaching strategies work for you to retain information from classes beyond the final exam? What classes do you remember the most? What information from a class have you used and how did you attain that information?

(Note to my English 2 students: you can read and respond to this blog post and to the article referenced for one of your 20 reading responses. Remember to use quotes and cite your sources.)

Cultural Artifact Assignment: connects students with their own & other cultural stories

Education is all a matter of building bridges. –Ralph Ellison

Insight, I believe, refers to the depth of understanding that comes by setting experiences, yours and mine, familiar and exotic, new and old, side by side, learning by letting them speak to one another. –Mary Catherine Bateson.

Real education should consist of drawing the goodness and the best out of our own students.  What better books can there be than the book of humanity?  –Cesar Chavez

The more deeply you understand other people, the more you will appreciate them, the more reverent you will feel about them.  To touch the soul of another human being is to walk on holy ground.–Stephen Covey

Two weeks ago, I was asked to take over as a long term sub for an instructor who had a medical emergency. I was able to meet with the instructor, get copies of her syllabus, texts, and scores for the students etc.

It was up to me to figure out how to combine her teaching style with mine in a way that would equal a smooth transition and success for her students.

The first class I taught the students how to do Natalie Goldberg style writing practice and we held a council so I could learn from the students what was working for them and what they needed from the class. I then incorporated what I learned from them into a few changes in the syllabus, specifically in the essay assignments and the deadlines.

Since I don’t know the students at all, they barely know each other, and I think forming a community is of the utmost importance to build the trust required to work together in seminar discussions and on writing projects as well as for other reasons discussed in the link below, our first assignment is the Cultural Artifacts one described here:

Usually this assignment does not include a formal essay but again this isn’t a typical class. So I adapted a personal narrative assignment to the task; it’s posted below for those students who need to refer to it or for other faculty who may be curious about it. The students will also be writing an argument that analyzes a text and writing a research paper. Continue reading

How To Be A Better Writer: READ

There are two well-known ways to become a better writer:



There are two well-known ways to be successful in college:

READ from a wide range of challenging books.

WRITE about what you read.

The more you read, the better a writer you will become. As you are exposed to language and ways to use it, you can incorporate these tools into your own bag of tricks as a student and as a writer.

To this end, I am adding more reading to the English 2 class I adopted two weeks ago.

Students will be able to choose from the following books to form a “Book Club” to discuss the texts and in writing groups for the subsequent analysis and argument assignment.

The first five books on the list are by local authors–

How To Be Chicana Role Model by Michele Serros
growing up in Oxnard; in several local libraries

Sespe Wild by Brad Monsma
natural and human history of the Sespe area behind Fillmore, Santa Paula and Ojai; also in local libraries

Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard
business and life philosophy by the Patagonia founder
easy to find at Patagonia’s  headquarters on Santa Clara and Olive; local libraries

Middle of the Night Poems From Daughter to Mother :: Mother to Son by Gwendolyn Alley
narrative poems tracing the journey from daughter to mother from the perspective of 3:15am August nights; you can buy this from me, online (print or e edition from publisher en theos press),
at Bank of Books, Bart’s, Best of VC Marketplace in Santa Paula

Like a Splinter In Your Mind by Matt Lawrence
the philosophy behind the Matrix movies; available on library reserve at VC

The final two book selections are from non-local authors. The first is the one being read as part of a “One Book One Campus” initiative:

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
Widely available including in the VC bookstore

while the second is:

Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg

Students will be able to choose which book they want to read as long as there are three people in the class who will read it with them and be in their book club.

While you will be able to find these books online, I encourage you to support local bookstores like Bart’s in Ojai, VC Marketplace, Patagonia and especially

Bank of Books

Open until 7:00 pm
Mon – Thu: 10:00 am 7:00 pm
Fri – Sat: 10:00 am 8:00 pm
Sun: 10:00 am 5:00 pm

Info for Alley’s English 2 Midterm Fall 2011

The midterm exam for my English 2 students at Ventura College will have one essay question and several short answer questions which you will respond to in a blue book (available at the book store for under 50c; if you can find a “green” book, one using all recycled content, that’s even better! Photo of student with Blue Book from this site

Possible short answer questions might include a description of the writing process, a definition of what a thesis is and why an academic paper needs one, strategies you can use as a writer to convey your argument, and what reading you’ve done so far this semester has interested you the most (you’ll need the author and the title of the text!)

For the essay, you will choose ONE prompt from two, and write a 1 ½ page or 350-450 word TYPED essay in response to Mark Bittman’s article “Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?” You must quote at least TWICE from Bittman’s article and use proper format for in-text citations.

To prepare for the an in class writing exam, I strongly recommend you study the essay and do the following:

–write a paragraph summary of the article that includes the main points
–write a paragraph analysis of the article that focuses on the author’s argument
–write a paragraph response with your opinion about the article
–look up and learn vocabulary words you don’t know
–find a few quotes from the article that support your ideas

You might even pose a question or two to yourself and do a 10 minute writing practice on that topic and see how it goes. (Save your writing practice for credit and your notes for extra credit in your portfolio.)

This is a great strategy to use to prepare for any test, especially one that will require you to write an essay! Studying or reading material won’t help you remember it as well as writing about it will.

If you are not a very good typist, now’s the time to find an online tutorial!

Your final essay which should include

  • o an introduction containing a clear thesis
  • o at least ONE body paragraph (ideally, three)
  • o at least TWO quotations from the reading, cited correctly
  • o specific examples and support for your thesis in your body paragraph(s)
  • o a conclusion
  • o evidence of revisions and proofreading to clarify points and fix errors (this means after you write it and print it, you should look over it and make corrections in pencil)
  • o title

How can you earn an A? Learn how you will be evaluated here.

Good luck preparing for the test! It’s scheduled for next Weds. Oct 26 and Thurs. Oct 27 in the lab in Pod J.