Don’t Lose Sight

I’ve been working on a different post but this one seemed more context-appropriate and I am giving another pass over Kinji Imanishi’s A Japanses View of Nature: The World of Living Things. The next post will explore Imanishi’s contribution to ecology and the introduction of niche construction before it was popularized biology by Waddington and Lewontin in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The semester is about to kickoff and that means another batch of students (some new, some old) coming into our classrooms. Some of us have been in our labs or at our fields sites doing research for the summer. Some of us taught. Some of us took a break. But now it’s time to flip the switch and prepare for 15-16 weeks of carrying out one of the most important and necessary social responsibilities in our society: teaching.

Every semester, my students and I talk about their experience with learning in their university classrooms, what they expect, and what they think would better suit them. I hear stories about their professors being disengaged from the class, simply lecturing through material, and not taking students with them on the journey through the course material and expecting them to find their own way.

This is unacceptable. A teacher (whether it be primary school, high school, community college, vocational school, university, etc.) should focus on critically engaging students with the content of the course, not simply throwing it at them like wet paper, hoping something sticks.

Research continues to show that actively engaging students improves understanding and retention (Adams et al. 2015; Frame et al. 2015; Joshi et al. 2018). Traditional lecture format also has a socioeconomic bias (Costello 2017; Wright et al 2016). Students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds tend to do more poorly in traditional lecture format classrooms but flipping the classroom, actively engaging the students, creating space for students to communicate with one another in small group formats and problem-solve collaboratively has much more broad benefits for students across various identities.

Furthermore, students diagnosed with ADHD tend to perform better in active classrooms versus traditional lecture format classes. Lewontin, Rose, and Kamin (Not in Our Genes) discuss this in chapter 7 (“Adjusting Society by Adjusting the Mind”) in which they argue that classroom structure (referring to traditional classrooms) are in part to blame for ADHD and shifting blame and framing the learning difficulties as a natural part of the student, the education institution exculpates itself as a contributor to the student’s lack of success. The consequence, as we all know, is to prescribe some pharmaceutical to the student to make them more manageable. I’m not here to argue for or against the efficacy of using Adderall to treat ADHD but placing the onus on the student doesn’t address broader social contributions to the symptoms.

So, as you gear up to take responsibility for another group of students in the coming weeks, please consider how you can best engage your students in the critical thinking skills that are so necessary for whatever field you or the students are in. They will get so much more out of your classes. By standing in front of your students and talking for 50-75 minutes, you are leaving a larger number of them on the side of the road and privileging others. By shifting the structure of the classroom, it makes it more accessible to more students.

Get the students thinking, get the students talking, have them solve problems, have them ask questions and it will do you well.



Adams, A. E., Randall, S., & Traustadóttir, T. (2015). A tale of two sections: An experiment to compare the effectiveness of a hybrid versus a traditional lecture format in introductory microbiology. CBE—Life Sciences Education14(1), ar6.

Costello, M. (2017). The benefits of active learning: Applying Brunner’s discovery theory to the classroom: Teaching clinical decision-making to senior nursing students. Teaching and Learning in Nursing12(3), 212-213.

Frame, T. R., Cailor, S. M., Gryka, R. J., Chen, A. M., Kiersma, M. E., & Sheppard, L. (2015). Student perceptions of team-based learning vs traditional lecture-based learning. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education79(4), 51.

Joshi, K. P., Padugupati, S., & Robins, M. (2018). Assessment of educational outcomes of small group discussion versus traditional lecture format among undergraduate medical students. International Journal Of Community Medicine And Public Health.

Wright, C. D., Eddy, S. L., Wenderoth, M. P., Abshire, E., Blankenbiller, M., & Brownell, S. E. (2016). Cognitive difficulty and format of exams predicts gender and socioeconomic gaps in exam performance of students in introductory biology courses. CBE—Life Sciences Education15(2), ar23.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s