17 March 2014

Lecture Experiment at Summit Public Schools

A couple of weeks ago I attended the LearnLaunch conference in Boston. In one of the sessions, Diego Arambula from Summit Public Schools told a great story:

In one of their blended learning classes the students were taught by a team of teachers and given flexibility to choose the activities they felt would best help them learn the subject. One of the activities the teachers introduced was optional lectures. Strategically scheduled shortly before tests, the lectures gave students a chance to review material and solidify understanding.

At first, the lectures were quite popular – probably due to their proximity to tests. However, they found that the scores of those students who attended the lectures were not significantly different from those who chose not to do so. The students must have sensed the lack of impact because attendance at the lectures dwindled.

When lecture attendance fell to 3-5 students, scores of those who attended suddenly shot up. Arambula asked the teachers what was happening? The teachers said that with so few students attending, they didn't really deliver a lecture. Rather, they asked the students what areas they were struggling with and they concentrated the time on those particular issues. In other words, the lectures turned into teacher-led study groups or small-group tutoring sessions.

Eventually the teachers abandoned the lecture format and opened a "help bar" at the back of the classroom. Staffed by at least one of the teachers, students could go to the bar just about any time for one-on-one or small group assistance.

There are a bunch of things to learn from this vignette. Here are a few:
  • Summit was prepared to measure the effectiveness of the optional lectures (and presumably any other learning option they offer).
  • The teachers and staff are as much in a learning mode as the students. They discover what works and adjust in those directions.
  • Tutoring and small group instruction is tremendously effective even when it accounts for a small part of the student's learning experience.
Finally, Summit established an environment where innovation like this is natural and encouraged.