Our helicopter flight school sold coupons for 2600 introductory lessons and I’ve been trying to train the other instructors to teach a group ground school (outline). When I teach a group of 15 or 20 students, I do it by going around the room, learning each person’s name, and asking a question. If the person doesn’t give the right answer, I ask the next person. If that doesn’t work, I give a hint and ask the next person. We keep going around the room with questions such as “What happens if you have the helicopter parked on a frozen lake and turn on the engine to start the rotor system spinning?” (answer: fuselage turns in the opposite direction; this leads naturally to the next question “What would you then want to add to the helicopter?” (answer: tail rotor)).
Students stay awake because they know that they’re going to be asked a question within the next five minutes or so. The material ends up being naturally paced to the comprehension level of the class. If people aren’t answering correctly, the class slows down, people have more time to think, and I provide more explanations. At any time during the two-hour class I can tell you which students are getting it and which may need remedial instruction.
Helicopter instructors who’ve watched me teach the class assure me that they’re ready to do it themselves. I sit in the back to make sure. They stand up in the front of the room and start talking. They might ask two questions per hour of the students and they typically won’t select a student to answer, but rather let the student who is best-prepared answer. After about 20 minutes, just as education researchers have found, most of the students assumed a glazed uncomprehending look. Functionally I think it would be better to call this “live video” rather than teaching, since the same effect could be achieved by emailing students a link to a video to be viewed in a Web browser.
These are guys with 20 or more years of experience teaching helicopter students, both on the ground and in the air. They are genuinely great teachers 1 on 1. Yet they are hopeless in a group instruction setting (this was not only my (biased) conclusion, but that of our young assistants). It turns into high school all over again, with about 10 percent of students learning a lot, 40 percent muddling through, and 50 percent enduring a total waste of their time (since they quickly got lost and then the rest of the lecture was over their heads).
I’m basically giving up on the group idea because I don’t think it is possible for the teachers that we have to be effective in front of a group and we can’t accept the kind of failure-to-learn rates that are common in our public schools (the laggard graduates of our lavishly funded public schools have wrecked the U.S. economy but they haven’t wrecked any helicopters, which is a risk that is ever-present at a flight school if a student lacks proper ground schooling).
People talk about the importance of teacher training for our public school teachers, but as far as I can tell there is no way to make the lecture method work for anything that requires students to develop a conceptual grasp of a topic.
[You might ask what we’re going to do with our 2600 students. The answer is that I’ll continue to teach them in a 20-person Q&A session and the other instructors might teach them in groups of 2.]