To Lecture Or To Do Something Else

“Is lecturing underrated?” asks Scott Elias at the onset of a recent post. I’ve reached my saturation point on this whole issue — the answer resting so conspicuously somewhere in the middle — and Scott’s post lets me disembark this train appeased by the knowledge that moderation still reigns somewhere.

Among other sturdy points, Scott notes that when we hear the word “lecture” our minds burrow rather instantaneously to the lobe where we store that clip of Ben Stein droning through eyelids half-closed, “Bueller? Bueller?” and not to the many times we’ve sat in the audience of a gifted speaker capable of making her extensive experience real to us.

In a week, many of the same folks critical of my enthusiasm for presentation design and public speaking will be in Georgia at NECC 2007, sitting in large crowds at keynote lectures decidedly not learning through social networks. Whether they are learning passively is almost entirely up to them. Some of the same folks will, themselves, be lecturing at keynotes and breakout sessions of their own, likely snapping bulleted lists off in PowerPoint, a hypocrisy that defies explanation.

They’ll walk out of those keynotes, each one, reflexively constructing a hierarchy. That one was good. That one was boring. That one’s gonna make 150 kids’ lives a lot better next year.

It’d be super if these diehard social learners would connect this reflexive ranking to their own teaching. It’s foolish to suggest our students aren’t ranking us the same way. Perhaps we could then resolve to take steps towards more compelling lecturing, and speaking, if only for the circumstances, however rare they should be, when lecturing, speaking, and presenting are appropriate.

This summer, after I get desaturated from all this, I’d like to put a few items on that agenda. Scott’s got you covered ’til then.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. Yeah, that’s why I walked out of NCTE last November–too many lectures by people who ought to have known better (either how to do a better lecture, or that the material they were presenting would’ve been better served in a different format).

  2. I can get away with pure presentation style, because I’m an energy ball, but what’s so funny is that I get really self-conscious and sick of the sound of my own voice after about 15 minutes tops. (If I’m off my game — and I know it — it’s after about two minutes.) I really prefer workshop style or Q&A style, but it’s tough because at a NECC, people often expect you to just talk at them.

    Go figure.

  3. I guess that’s mostly my point: It’s all about the presentation. As Dan has eloquently pointed out on several occasions, a flashy slide deck incorporating all the whiz-bang visuals will only get you so far. After that, the content and the presenter had better be good.

    Writing my latest post on this issue (, it struck me again how all we’re really talking about is a paradigm shift in the tools that are available to bring content to our students. Where once an effective teacher made use of a blackboard and a class set of slates, a few years back I made use of a TI-83 projector and a class set of graphing calculators. Today, all the blogs, wikis, or class sets of laptops money can buy will not do anything to rescue a poorly executed presentation.

    Dan, I know you’re tired of hearing about it, but for me, I think writing those posts about lecturing and reading your “Please stop” post from last week really struck a chord. So thanks for indulging me while I catch up and synthesize all of this for myself.

    It will definitely make me think twice before presenting for the first time in front of the faculty and staff at my new school.