A Pro-Classroom Argument

I am, if anything, against how learning is delivered today. Much lesser classroom teaching, much more discussions, much more of arguments, much more of thinking and writing (this ought to turn into a separate post!) is how I would prefer learning takes place.

But, if I had to force myself to think about what about traditional classroom teaching is good…

  1. Traditional classroom teaching, where the teacher talks and the students listen for the most part, allows for a much more systematic completion of the syllabus, and reduces the burden on the teacher. Teaching ought to become easier, and therefore (assumption alert) better.
  2. The teacher is able to focus on one particular aspect for the duration of that one class, and therefore is able to prepare accordingly. Random questions and answers, taking the class off on a tangent is all well and good, but you suffer, inevitably, a loss in depth when you go wide.
  3. A one-to-many mode of teaching ensures that all students have the same notes, and are in agreement about what was taught. Group based discussions (breakout rooms is what we call these things these days) for example, leaves students unaware of what was said in the other groups. Debriefing helps, but never completely.
  4. Do we underrate “sit still and listen” these days? Yes, long classes and having to focus on the voice that drones on is easy to make fun of, but have we collectively lost the art of sitting still and listening? Might we be inculcating the value of sustained concentration by having traditional classes, and might this in fact be a good thing?
  5. If a class is going to be about listening on a one-to-many basis, does this reduce the cognitive load on the student? Freed from all other requirements, classroom teaching might free up the student to learn more, by reducing the amount of effort demanded from her?
  6. Two points about discussions and debates. Doesn’t limiting the scope for discussions and debates in class make it better, by having only genuine doubts and disagreements being raised? Forcing students to take part in a discussion or a debate, when most of them seem to not want to, can end up making them uncomfortable. It can also be a time-consuming affair, and all for points that perhaps were not worth it. On the other hand, leaving only ten minutes or so for discussion at the end will “bubble up” only the most willing, most eager and most well-thought out responses. That is a good thing, right?
  7. Is a classroom really the best place to debate and discuss? Is not the opportunity cost of having to listen to your peers, rather than the person with the most amount of knowledge about the subject (the professor), very high? Students can (and should!) debate issues raised in class – but outside.

I find myself unable to come up with more, but I’m sure there are other arguments to be made for classroom-based, one-teacher-talks-many-students-listen-based model. What am I missing?

5 thoughts on “A Pro-Classroom Argument

  1. I disagree on certain points :
    1) ‘systemic completion of syllabus and less burden on teacher’ – a systemic completion of syllabus is exactly the goal we shouldn’t pursue, a lot of times, genuine questions and diversions are put off just so that the syllabus can be completed, and for what, exams? Marks? Compared to actually ‘learning’ more about the subject?
    2) ‘being able to focus on one area’ – depth in a subject can always be recovered, students as it is study on their own to go deeper into an area, but at the cost of breadth? I don’t think so, especially in a world run by generalists, a teacher must give broader perspectives, whatever the opportunity cost.
    3) ‘discussion outside the class’ (the last point) – are we are assuming that the guy with the most knowledge.i.e. the professor, is also good at teaching and having discussions? These are two different things. What if the person is not able to communicate his/her ideas properly? Do we still then want the young lot to discuss outside the class, which usually never happens?

    Just my thoughts, I agree with all the other points!

    • And I agree with your disagreements – and in fact I have more! I was just forcing myself to think about the issue from the perspective of those on the other side, that’s all

  2. I think if we are looking for a change in the classroom dynamics then the expectations from the teacher shall also be changed. If she discusses with students more and doesn’t focus on the syllabus ( which I am okay with) and on the exam presents a question from the syllabus or outside syllabus (related to the syllabus but application based) all the students would start complaining it and call it out of syllabus..
    I myself has been a preacher of discussion and activities based teaching. I feel this responsibility of making class more interactive has to come from the system also.

    • Absolutely, couldn’t agree more 🙂
      It’s a hard, almost impossible job, changing the system – one brick at a time 🙂

  3. I have certain arguments against classroom teaching, but they have been already covered in the comments.
    But to support pro classroom teaching, I have a little yet a convincing defence. I read somewhere (without context!)
    ‘It is natural for our motivations to die at some or the other time. In order to keep them alive at all times, we need to build certain systems’
    And somewhere the classroom environment is one such system which keeps the learning motivations on consistent levels.

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