Dan Meyer pointed me towards what Tom Sallee calls “The Two Lies Of Teaching.” I’ve slightly reworded them to enhance the problem:
- If I say it, they have learned it.
- If I don’t say it, they can’t learn it.
Saying It ≠ Learning It
Let’s tackle the first lie first.
When you’re up speaking in front of a group, it’s so easy to assume that they’re hanging on your every word. The reality is we are incapable of hearing as fast as people speak. We can’t hear everything someone says, let alone remember, let alone understand.
Does this sound familiar?
- You give clear, detailed directions about a task.
- You say: “Okay, now go!”
- Students look at you suddenly and say “Wait, what are we doing?”
“Wait, what?” is a clue that, although I’ve said it, somehow they didn’t even hear it.
It’s easy for me to get frustrated when kids don’t hear me, but take a look at this information from Columbia:
According to some recent studies, an instructor generally says 100 – 200 words a minute and a student only hears 50 – 100.
Listeners are not physically capable of hearing everything a speaker says. Assume students can only hear 50% of the words you toss out.
And, as we all know, it’s super easy to zone out when listening to someone talk. The study finds that students are attentive about 40% of the time during a lecture. So really, listeners only hear 20% (that’s 50% of 40%) of the words you say.
My students only hear one out of five of the words that I say.
Hearing ≠ Remembering
But it gets worse because we certainly don’t remember everything we hear.
Students retain about 70 of what they hear in the first ten minutes of class — and just 20 percent during the last ten minutes [of an hour class].
At the end of an hour, students retain 20% of the 40% that they hear. That’s 8%. Two out of 25 words.
There are three takeaways:
- Give fewer verbal directions.
- Don’t talk so much.
- Talk less.
Just because you said it, does not mean they learned it. In fact, the more you say… the less they learn.
Continue reading this series about Talking Less and we’ll look at ways to get around this problem.