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02/05/2013

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Wendy Anderson

I really enjoyed this piece! On more than one occasion I've found myself, er, inadvertently experimenting with note-free teaching -- that is, I managed to waltz off to class with my notes still sitting on the printer (and some reason not to pull them up from Dropbox or Gmail). I've found that I teach very well with no notes in those cases where I have already spent time that morning organizing my thoughts into notes or updating those notes; essentially, I need the preparation but not the notes. Teaching with no notes and no preparation, on the other hand, is... doable but a lot harder.

Kate Blanchard

Eric, you are lucky to have had such a helpful colleague at just the right time! I have often felt a bit sheepish about writing down a bunch of names and dates that I myself can't commit to memory. You have nicely articulated why, AND made me feel somewhat less guilty about relying more heavily on the kind of knowledge that comes more naturally - less detailed, more intuitive. Most of my students take only one REL course, of which they'll remember hardly anything, so it's good advice to prioritize what I ask them to learn.

Terri Elton

Nice reflection Eric!

Eric Barreto

Hi Tony,

Thanks for sharing your experiences. I always find that knowing the struggles and successes of others in the field makes all the difference. My guess is that many of us "neurotic academics" (I like that term! It seems to apply to me well!) are not going to ditch our notes entirely but knowing that they are helps rather than the ultimate source of everything I know and want to teach has been liberating to me. Thanks again.

Tony Finitsis

Hi Eric,
I would just like to say how true your bog felt for me. During the first year of teaching I was holding on to my lecture notes like dear life. It took a full year for me to be able to leave the notes on the desk and stand on my own two feet.
Of course I'm too much of the neurotic academic to even dream of walking into a class without them (the world may as well stop turning!) but I know when and how to put them down now.
By the way thumbs up for your colleague who asked a very simple yet totally disarming question.
Congrats to you too for having the guts to go with it. It sounds a lot easier than it actually is.

Eric Barreto

Hi Kent

Thanks for the helpful comments. I think the freedom I feel when I have those moments in class when I go "off script" are deeply satisfying. It seems more natural in some sense, and it does feel like a conversation a lot more than me reading a transcript to my usually patient students. I completely resonate also with the way that repeating classes brings a sense of familiarity that enhances my teaching. Then again, I sometimes have to ask my students to stop me if I've already shared the same story or anecdote with them. I'm turning into "that" professor!

I leave my notes entirely behind only rarely. I especially do this when I'm teaching at churches. However, what I have found is that limiting my lecture notes to, say, a single page provides some of that freedom we're looking for without having some anchor to which we can return. In my own discipline, having an open Bible, and students who have prepared to engage the text is more than enough to fill an hour of really good teaching.

I too would like to hear from others about written lectures. I only very rarely do this, partly because writing a full-blown lecture takes an incredible amount of time. However, I have a suspicion that there certain topics, issues, and contexts that would call for lecture. Any other thoughts?

Kent Brintnall

Thanks for this, Eric. The reminder about what is central and key to teaching well is important. And, certainly, it often seems that those moments when I go "off script" and just try to get students to see what is amazing, or inspiring, or troubling about the material are the moments when they get most excited . . . or, at the very least, the moments they stop texting and checking Facebook and make direct eye contact.

This also explains why repeating the same class can sometimes result in better teaching. With more familiarity with the material, with the course more deeply "in one's bones," the class becomes more of a conversation.

How do you decide when to leave your notes behind? Does it have to do with your familiarity, or with what you want students to do (textual analysis, broad historical understanding, etc.)? And, as I'm just beginning to experiment with the formal, written lecture, I'm wondering how you try to determine when it has been effective or successful (if ever).

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