Monthly Archives: January 2014

Mary Willingham speaks to Huffington Post

Follow up from last post.

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Mary Willingham: the courageous and subversive act of pedagogic research

I hadn't heard of Mary Willingham until today. Her story has been the US education news for a few days now.

One of the risks of researching something is that you often find something out. When that research is into what actually goes on in a university the results can be unpalatable. Pedagogic research is often looked down upon, but in many respects it is the form of research that requires most courage.

Mary Willingham works in the Center for Student Success and Academic Counseling at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Over the course of her experience she came to notice that many student athletes were struggling with basic reading skills. She could have said nothing at all or merely harboured prejudice based on anecdote; instead her research into the reading levels of student athletes (and publication of the results) has brought condemnation from her university senior management, including according to CNN a demotion.

Those us in the UK (and elsewhere in the world) find it difficult to understand the concept of a university in which sports are such a great deal. Games are televised and watched by thousands of people. 80,000 plus seater stadia are not unknown. Athletics is seen as both a money spinner and community outreach. Some universities and college accept students who would not otherwise be qualified based on their abilities in particular sports. The [American] football coach is often the highest paid employee at the whole university. The Chronicle of Higher Education forums are a source of many stories about pressure from sports coaches to be lenient on students who have not done the work required or not done as much as they should.

But sports is not really my point here.

Mary Willingham’s experience illustrates that research into the activities of the universities, especially learning and teaching can be a courageous, even subversive act, which may have high personal costs. Real courage on the part of university management would be to encourage and applaud research into those things which happen every day in our universities.

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Over 100 things to think about when lecturing (from 1937)

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Today I have been thinking about lecturing. A couple of years back I was struck by Chekhov's short story “A Boring Story”, (1889) a first person account of an elderly and unwell medical professor, which includes his reflections on lecturing, which he regarded as something of a trial.

This morning I came across A Critique of Poor College Lecturing (1937) in which a psychology professor asked 300 students how he could improve his lecturing. The students came up with over 100 questions the lecturer needed to ask himself. Although somewhat daunting and clearly from a previous age of higher education there is much of value here. (The figures at the beginning of each point indicate the number of students who suggested this question or something like it).

James D. Weinland A Critique of Poor College Lecturing (1937)Journal of Educational Sociology , Vol. 10, No. 5 (Jan., 1937) , pp. 307-315 Article Stable URL: Not open access 🙁

Regarding Subject matter

10.  Do  you  wander?

5.  Do you  stick  to  the  subject?

5.  Do  you  talk  over  the  heads  of  the  students?

3.  Is  your  treatment  too  complicated?

3.  Are  you  always  talking  of  general  theories,  never  specific?

2.  Do  you  lecture  too  technically?

I.  Is  your  subject  matter  poor?

I.  Do  you  believe  in  making  your  explanations  brief  ?

I.  Do  you  lecture  continually  on  the  same  thing?

I.  Do you  give  constructive  information  or  do  you  tend  to  confine your  criticism  to  destructive  ideas?

I.  Do you  sometimes  fail  to  speak  about  the  assigned  lessons,  allowing  the  class  to  wonder  what  it's  all  about?

I.  Do  you  arouse  curiosity  about  the  next  lecture?

i.  Do  you  talk  more  about  the  subject  matter  than  about  yourself?

i.  Are  you  original?

i.  Do  you  understand  the  subject  matter  yourself  ?


I4.  Does  your  lecture  have  unity  and  plan?

I4.  Is  your  emphasis  on  the  correct  or  wrong  part  of  the  lecture?

8.  Are  you  clear  on  the  points  discussed?

4.  Do  you  connect  your  topics?

2.  Do  you  make  clear  the  chronological  order?

2.  Do your  statements  have  clear  antecedents?

i.  Do  you  clear  up  each  topic  before  attacking  the  next?

I.  Are  your  phrases  jumbled,  incoherent?

i.  Are  notes  to  be  taken  down  announced?

I.  Do you  repeat  conclusions,  if any?

I.  Do  you  repeat  too  often?

I.  Are  you  too  slow  in  making  headway  in  presentation?

i.  Is  the  discussion  of  important  topics  too  rapid?

I.  Can  your  class  keep  the  pace  you  set  in  covering  the  work?


12.  Are  you  enthusiastic?

I2.  Do  you  show  an  inferiority  complex?

8.  Do  you  have  a  feeling  of  superiority,  swelled  head?

8.  Do you  show  force  and  vigor?

7.  Do you  talk  hesitatingly,  too  many  pauses?

7.  Are  you  overearnest  and  overemphatic,  too  serious?

5. Do you  speak  with  notes,  as  though  reading?

4.  Do you  speak  in  a  formal  manner?

3. Do  you  speak  directly  to  the  class?

3.  Are  you  friendly?

2.  Are  you  interested  in  the  subject?

2.  Do you  speak  to  the  group  as  a  whole  or  a  selected  few  just  in  front of  you?

2.  Do you  adapt  yourself  to  your  audience?

I.  Are  you  so  interested  in  the  subject  that  you  expect  everybody  else to  be?

I.  Do you  act  as  though  you  wish  the  lecture  were  over?

I.  Do you  make  yourself  one  of  the  class  or  a  mere  talking  machine?

I.  Do you  feel  at  ease  and  make  the  class  feel  at  ease?

I.  Do you  act  as  though  you  were  very  clever  and  your  class  very dumb?

I.  Do you  smile?

I.  Is  your  appearance  correct?

I.  Is  your  bearing  sloppy?

I.  Do you  have  some  dignity?

I.  Do you  look  asleep?

I.  Are  you  absent-minded?

I.  Do you  take  yourself  too  seriously?

I.  Are  you  in  too  much  of  a  hurry?

I.  Is  your  manner  indifferent?


58.  Is  your  voice  monotonous?

28. Do you  talk  too  fast?

23.  Do you  enunciate  clearly?

i6. Is  your  voice  loud  enough?

I2.  Is  your  voice  too  low?

8.  Is  your  voice  too  loud?

7.  Is  your  voice  raspy,  harsh?

4.  Is  your  manner  stuttering  or  uncertain?

4.  Is  the  tone  of  your  voice  unpleasant?

3.  Do you  have  vivacity  of  tone?

2.  Is  your  voice  shrill?

2.  Do you  lack  articulation?

2.  Do you  control  your  voice?

2.  Are  there  too  many  extremes  in  the  pitch  of  your  voice?

2.  Do you  fail  to  open  your  mouth  in  attempting  to  speak?

I.  Is  your  voice  weak?

I.  Do you  show  emphasis  with  your  voice?

I.  Do you  speak  too  slowly?

I.  Do you  speak  through  the  side  of  your  mouth  or  swallow  your words?

I.  Are  your  words  too  drawn  out?

I.  Do your  words  run  into  each  other?

I.  Do you  have  an  ascending  or  descending  inflection  of  voice?

I.  Do you  always  emphasize  the  same  part  of  every  sentence?

I.  Do you  speak  with  feeling?

I.  Do you  speak  continuously  without  a  break?

I.  Do you  "hem"  and  "haw"?


7.  Is  your  pronunciation  correct?

7.  Do you  use  big  words?

7. Do you  slur  difficult  words?

5.  Do you  have  a  large  vocabulary,  variety,  and  can  you  find  the  right word?

2.  Do you  say  "ah"  and  "ugh"?

I.  Do you  use  flowery,  literary  language?

I.  Do you  repeat  pet  phrases?

I.  Are  your  sentences  too  long?

I.  Do you  use  many  big  words?

I.  Are  you  wordy?

I.  Does  your  vocabulary  distract  the  listener  from  the  subject?

I.  Do you  have  relevancy  in  word  power  to  situation  or  mood?

I.  Are  your  lectures  always  started  in  the  same  humdrum  manner,

such  as:  "The  lecture  today  will  be  on

I.  Are  your  lectures  memorized  or  the  result  of  a  thorough  knowledge of  the  subject?


23.  Do  you  use  good  illustrations-in  place?

4.  Do  you  use  new  examples  or  stick  close  to  the  book?

3.  Do  you  make  statements  of  fact  without  illustration?

2.  Are  your  lectures  stereotyped  and  monotonous  or  do  they  offer  an interesting  story  ?

I.  Are  your  examples  clearly  given;  i.e.,  their  connection  to  the  principle  explained?

I.  Can  you  write  legibly  on  the  blackboard?

I.  Do  you  rehash  the  book?

I.  Do  you  use  blackboard  illustrations?

I.  Are  your  blackboard  illustrations  clear?

I.  Do  you  keep  illustrations  up-to-date?

I.  Do  you  bring  in  curious  information  and  the  odd?

I.  Do  your  statements  leave  doubt  or  questions  in  the  minds  of  your  audience?

I.  Do  you  ever  relate  any  personal,  outside  experiences  of  your  own?


II.  Is  your  body  position  correct,  head  erect,  do  you  speak  out,  use gestures?

6.  Are  you  nervous  or  shy?

6.  Do you  fiddle  with  objects,  twirl  your  watch  chain  around  your finger?

3.  Do  you  move  around  during  the  lecture  and  thus  keep  the  student's

eye  occupied?  (Best  to  move  around)

2.  Are  your  actions  such  that  interest  follows  them  instead  of  the lecture  ?

I.  Do  you  look  out  of  the  window  for  inspiration  while  lecturing?

I.  Do  you  stand  in  one  corner  of  the  room?

I. Do  you  have  disconcerting  habits  of  walking  about?

I.  Do  you  walk  up  and  down  and  so  disturb  the  attention  of  the  class?

I.  Does  your  constant  playing  with  chalk  distract  attention?

I.  Have  you  irritating  habits,  do  you  look  at  your  watch  too  often?

I.  Do  you  have  a  mental  handicap?


25.  Do  you  use  a  little  humor?

3.  Are  your  jokes  poor?

3.  Are  your  attempts  at  humor  painful?

I.  Do  you  try  to  be  too  funny?


4.  Can  you  keep  order?

2.  Are  you  irritable  at  small  noises?

I.  Do  you  become  impatient  and  sarcastic?

I.  Have  you  noticed  the  temperature  of  the  room?

I.  Are  you  extremely  stern  in  disciplining  your  classes,  thus  making the  students  feel  like  kindergartners?

I.  Do you  scold  too  frequently?

I.  Do  you  sound  irritable?

I.  Are  you  fairly  strict  with  the  class?

I.  Do  you  continually  call  down  students  for  their  lack  of  cooperation?

I.  Do you  lean  toward  favorites?

I.  Are  you  too  lenient?

I.  Do you  give  too  much  "blarney"?


5.  Do you  ever  call  for  discussion?

5.  Do you  give  an  opening  for  questions?

2.  Do  you  question  and  get  reactions  from  the  class?

2.  Do you  hesitate  in  answering  questions?

2.  Do you  answer  questions  immediately  or  wait  until  the  next  class?

I.  Do you  allow  any  one  person  to  ask  too  many  questions?

I.  Are  you  frank?

I.  Do you  try  to  answer  a  question  when  really  you  do  not  know  the answer  yourself ?

I.  Do  you  have  an  antagonistic  attitude  toward  questions?

I.  Do you  refuse  to  explain  points  unless  the  whole  class  so  asks?

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Happy New Year and update

2013 has been a year of positive and welcome change on the job front. On the home front things have been less than straightforward, and since September I have been a weekly commuter living in Brighton during the week and returning to Southampton (and the family) at weekends. Currently the situation is complicated further as our proposed house purchase in East Sussex has either stalled or fallen through completely. We decided to go ahead with the sale of our house in Southampton and just before Christmas my wife and I and our two sons has temporarily moved in with my parents—they are still in the family the home and have space for us, but being further away from Brighton than I started was not exactly Plan A. The move all took place very quickly and I have had to apply for a school place for my eldest son in my parents’ village. Moving twice (or three times) was the thing I wanted to do least but it seems that the way it’s going to be.

I’m not a victim in this of course. I am fortunate to have loving parents who are both willing and able to take us in for a short time. I have a good job I enjoy and have the advantage of the house sale in Southampton having done through making us ‘chain-free’ in estate agent parlance. My main gripe of the past few months has been cursing the English house buying system which allows either party the opportunity to pull out until the last minute. Despite this, my mental health has vastly improved over the past few months.

I’ve just reached this third paragraph aware that this is more of update on my own situation than a useful post for anyone else. I won’t over analyse anything and just leave it here.

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