Let me entertain you

How important is it to be an entertaining teacher? Kane Sandretto and Heath’s study of 17 excellent university teachers noted the importance of ‘personality’, especially enthusiasm, humour and passion.

This got me thinking about teaching as entertainment. There are plenty of examples of entertaining teachers, such as http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QNxaSct3UHs.  But how much do students learn if the focus is solely on being entertaining?

In 2013 there was an interesting blog post by James Rovira, who argues that being entertained implies passivity, and so it’s better to focus on the pleasure of learning.

Do you think this video is a good example of an entertaining teacher who has student learning firmly in mind? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sF-m3XZKvLI

For some teachers, this kind of style of teaching can look too over the top and energetic – people think it’s not their style and find it off putting. (I’ve heard it described as ‘too masculine’!) Being enthusiastic, passionate and humorous is all well and good, but what if you’re not naturally outgoing? Can you ‘fake it til you make it’?

Susan Cain, in her book Quiet (also see her TED talk), reports her discussions with Professor Brian Little (see his TED talk here). Little, an avowed introvert, is nonetheless an entertaining lecturer and award winning teacher. He says he’s able to do this because he cares deeply about his students. So it’s not a false persona – he’s skilled at self-monitoring (i.e. able to modify his behaviour to meet the ‘social demands of a situation’). Cain calls such people ‘pseudo-extroverts’, and advises that they’ll need ‘restorative niches’ to avoid burnout.

Award winning university teacher, John Croucher, found in a five year study that

there was one [student survey] question that was consistently most highly associated [with good teaching] across all subject areas over all the years. This was the one that asked whether the teacher was able to explain the course material clearly. There were a number of instances where a teacher was rated as enthusiastic, knowledgeable and well-prepared, but was still considered a poor teacher overall.

Similarly, a large longitudinal study recently reported in Studies in Higher Education found that students’ exposure to clear and organised classroom instruction was significantly and positively linked to increased deep approaches to learning and critical thinking.

So what do you reckon? Should new teachers start off by focusing on giving clear explanations and being well-organised? Will the enthusiasm and passion be easier to convey with more experience, as confidence builds?