Right up front, I plead guilty to poaching. My crime is even more serious because I’ve poached these ideas from my dear pastor, Reverend Paige Williams. Last Sunday, she introduced her homily by noting that Americans’ taste in television shows has markedly changed during the last few decades. In the early years of TV, the most popular shows were soap operas. Americans apparently enjoyed peeking into the secret lives of others, albeit fictional others. Later, talk shows became more popular. We wanted to see real people, or at least people purported to be real, interacting with hosts on shows like Mike Douglas or Jerry Springer.
Currently, reality TV—a misnomer if ever there was one—offers an even more “authentic” experience for the viewer, as we watch people survive a hostile environment, cook gourmet meals, dance, lose weight, or become pop stars before our very eyes. If the challenges involve duplicity between participants, snarky comments from judges, and emotional outbursts, so much the better. Best of all are the shows that let us, the viewers, determine the outcome of a competition by voting. We’re no longer content to sit and watch.
Rev. Williams noted that we now have an expectation of participation, and drew a very nice parallel between the mundane experience of watching TV and our spiritual lives. Leaving the theology in her expert hands, I’ll focus on how her mnemonic—P-I-E—can help us structure classes that enhance our students’ learning while offering a more pleasurable learning experience.
P is for Participation. Once upon a time, class participation meant raising your hand to answer a question or offer a comment during discussion. That’s a start, but a great class will offer students a way to solve a problem. Better yet, we can allow learners to help other students in the class master a concept. Sitting and listening to me hold forth for two hours is no one’s idea of fun. When I get out of the way and give my students the chance to teach one another, the energy in the room goes way, way up.
I is for Interaction. For some teachers, asking, “Does anyone have any questions about what I just covered?” constitutes an invitation to interaction. But really, how often does anyone take us up on that? Pausing to present a question for students to answer is an improvement, as it may elicit more response. But not all interaction has to happen within the classroom. I use an online learning platform that requires students to complete out-of-class assignments that emphasize material that has just been covered in class. These assignments include drag-and-drop exercises and videos coupled with questions that provide instant feedback. The digital homework and reading assignments provide personal interaction with the information, allowing even the most timid or insecure students to interact at their own pace.
E is for Experiential. OK, I’ll admit that this is a dunk shot for anatomy & physiology teachers. “Here, hold this model…Let’s cut this up!… Look at this microscope slide….Type this blood sample.” We have an almost unlimited array of activities that invite learners to experience the concepts we’re teaching. The wonderful frontal cortex, which allows us to imagine events without actually having to experience them personally, allows me to provide stories of real people who have had problems with the parts of the body we’re learning about. Vicariously experiencing the challenges confronting the parent of a sick child helps to make the material more relevant while introducing an emotional element that may enhance memory.
I’m not at all sure that I’m a better person for having been to church last Sunday, but Paige’s sermon may have helped me to be a better teacher.