Student-led class activities too often waste class time and are ineffective

May 24, 2019 — by Christine Zhang

“We will be preparing for your presentations next week. Be sure to plan with your group members about each of your roles in the project.”

In both humanities and STEM classes, student presentations are not frequent but by no means unheard of. Teachers occasionally assign projects requiring their students to lead the class, whether it be for a class discussion or for a research project presentation. For example, an English teacher could ask his or her students to lead a class discussion by presenting a literary analysis of a chapter in a novel.

In general, teachers should not allow their students to facilitate class discussions or present new information to their classes. Not only does this hinder the learning of other students who want to listen to a qualified teacher, but it is also unfair to expect inexperienced students to properly lead a class.

Even if the students have done sufficient research on their topic, they might only present surface-level information, leaving out key details that the teacher may have wanted to mention.

Having to listen to these student-led discussions or lectures is also unfair to students who sincerely want to learn about the topic being presented. Instead of learning the material from an experienced, knowledgeable teacher, they are forced to listen to their unqualified peers.

Time is also wasted in class for students preparing presentations. Teachers often give time during class for students to work with their group members, which would be unnecessary if they had stuck to more conventional assignments instead.

If the project is for students to present their own work to the class, then there is no point at all for the presentation since it should be enough for the teacher to grade the student’s work without it. A traditional written assignment would be more practical especially if the project’s main focus is just for the student to build on and apply their prior knowledge.

It is understandable that teachers might want their students to develop public speaking and communication skills, of course, but they should do so in a way that does not waste time for the rest of the class.

There are also flaws if the teacher’s main objective is for other students to gain a new perspective on the course material. Many students end up zoning out during their peers’ presentations anyway, which defeats the purpose of the project. Some students would rather focus on their own thoughts than listen to their classmates talk about a genetic disorder or their poetry project.

Additionally, these presentations may be cluttered with distractions. With students leading the class, there is always the possibility that their friends will make jokes and disrupt the presentation solely for personal amusement.

Although student presentations can be fun ways to break up the monotony of typical lessons, the complications they ordinarily pose heavily outweigh this one benefit. However, there are ways that teachers can make student presentations more effective.

First, teachers should make sure that they give their students a concrete topic as well as key points to cover if they expect their students to teach the class.

A few days before the presentation, teachers could also ask students to turn in an outline. This way, teachers can ensure that there will not any glaring flaws when the students are in front of the classroom.

During the presentations, teachers should also occasionally jump in to add details or information that the students failed to mention.

Even with these techniques, though, student-led presentations tend to waste more class time than they are worth, and students will generally get more out of their teachers teaching than their peers.

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