Teaching and Learning From Teacher to Student

Issue 7, Volume 113

By Ankita Saha, Ada Gordon, Rhea Malhotra 

One hundred fifty-five teachers teach in the classrooms of Stuyvesant High School, all with unique styles of instruction. Some teachers utilize the textbook for their lesson plans, while others do not. Some choose to use discussion-based learning, whereas others prefer lecture-based classes. These different methods of teaching expose students to varied teaching environments and ultimately have an impact on the way that students learn.

Teachers often have to decide between using a textbook in their curriculum or forgoing one. Some students think that textbooks are helpful because they are dependable. “It’s just going to be more reliable; if it’s from that teacher’s specific experience, some of the information may be wrong,” freshman Edgar Ganahl said. “When the creative lessons have questionable information (this part is very rare), a lack of depth, or follow a curriculum differing from that of other classes, those lessons become an issue to me, and I wish for the textbook simply because the book’s curriculum follows a set and vetted curriculum with reliable information for people our age,” he said in an e-mail interview.

Other students shared that textbooks are often unreliable because they may be outdated, thus at times more challenging to understand. “Teaching from a textbook, I feel like sometimes can be really restrictive. And you’re left with these very old-timey-worded phrases, and you just don’t get good examples.” sophomore Niamh Werner explained.

However, she has strong support for textbook-dependent curriculums in AP classes. “If you’re taking something like an AP class, it’s important to have textbook readings, because if not, you’re going to fall drastically behind because there’s just so much material to cover,” Werner shared. “Everything that you’re memorizing is coming from the textbook, because it’s almost like the classes are almost supplementary to the textbook readings.”

The characteristics of AP classes may change the way teachers teach a class. Science teacher Deame Hua, who has taught both AP and honors-level biology classes, feels that her teaching methods change a lot due to the nature of the classes. “That changes the way you maybe give exams and also the speed at which we teach, building depth on certain things, not to say that, you know, go up, but that you ever focus on different things,” she said. In AP classes, teachers tend to focus on preparing their students for the final exam.

Another aspect that comes into consideration is lecture-based versus discussion-based classes. Though Ganahl agrees that both are necessary, he prefers discussion-based classes. “It’s because I’m more engaged; I’m taking better notes, I’m retaining the information. And in general, thinking about stuff is just gonna make you retain it more, you have to do that in a discussion-based class,” he explained.

The feeling is echoed by teachers as well. “Occasionally, we have to do a mini-lecture to teach a particular skill or go over a particular literary device. But for the most part, we do discussion-based lessons,” English teacher Sarah Lifson said. Discussion-based learning can allow students to teach themselves, instead of just having a teacher explain it to them. “If I’m lecturing, they might be spacing out or they may not understand. If they’re learning it by themselves, they’re creating images in their mind that connect to the materials, so that they can recall it better,” she added.

Some students like Werner prefer lecture-based lessons and think discussion-based learning does not allow her to understand specific topics on her own. “I feel like if I have to rely more on my own understanding, it helps me to focus a lot more on what I’m doing, rather than relying on other people to do it for me,” she shared. “A lot of the times, when you’re in a group, you’re not guaranteed that everyone’s going to understand the topic. And then the teacher then has to go back and almost re-explain it.”

In tandem to lecture-based lessons, many students appreciate a visual component to the presentation. “[My preferred method of learning is] probably with teachers, when they teach in class with diagrams and explanations,” Ganahl said. “I feel like they are able to convey their message as the most general to the class, especially myself,” he added.

Sophomore Muhib Muhib noticed a substantial difference in his learning when teachers incorporated visual materials into their lessons. “My highest grades are in those subjects that often use those visuals or at least sort of present the material straightforwardly,” he shared.

Lifson likes teaching with an inquiry-based approach, which allows students to figure out a prompt on their own without it being explained to them. “Instead of the teacher being a leader, we’re kind of flipping the narrative and the students almost become their own teachers,” she said. “I find that it really engages my students much more. It allows them to acquire information, learn information more in-depth because they are taking part in the learning process.”

Other teachers agree with this sentiment. “My favorite method of teaching involves students figuring things out, inquiry-driven learning, and also doing various types of projects, where students are able to synthesize their understanding into a creative expression,” Hua explained. One of the projects she has assigned to her anthropology classes utilizes these inquiry skills. “Each group is responsible for one particular hominid, and doing deep dives, where they’re going to create miniature hominid models to be displayed on the seventh floor,” she said.

With so many approaches to teaching, there seems to be little consensus on what students truly prefer because of the differences in learning styles. Even so, the variety of teaching methods has allowed students to familiarize themselves with how they learn best, a skill that can be applied to future learning experiences.