Reviewing Traditional Teaching Methods


Traditional teachers are those who typically send content and facts to their students and then hope the learner will understand the information. In addition, they test these students on how well they understand. Educators created this form of teaching through years of practice and now call it traditional classroom teaching. Some have called it an instruction paradigm in contrast to their desire to see more of a learner paradigm (Barr, 1998). Freire (1970/2009), a leading international educator of the 20th century, named this form of teaching a banking teaching theory.

In the banking concept of education, knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those who they consider to know nothing. Projecting an absolute ignorance onto others. . . . (p. 72)

The banking method of teaching provides the student with deposits of knowledge like money in a bank. The process is teacher-focused and reinforces the power differential between teacher and student, which in turn encourages oppressive behaviors on the part of the student.

In many cases, nursing faculty want to see if students can perform, so the students are placed in a clinical lab to develop psychomotor skills or to integrate some experiential learning. There is a delicate balance created between skills that are specific for patient safety versus skills that the instructor demonstrates as ways to keep out variance or student creativity. The intent in the latter teaching method is to end up with complete conformity. When we examine how we conduct nursing foundations courses, we can see how well we meet this conformity model. Right or wrong, we often look for the expectation of conformity as a means to higher quality.

This trend toward conformity in education can be studied throughout higher education's history. American higher education started at Harvard in 1636, and the statement below outlines what higher education was originally like.

Electives were unheard of, and all students (only males) were obliged to complete the same curriculum in lock-step fashion. Finally, antebellum colleges seem to have been prone to a peculiarly lifeless pedagogy, one consisting of little more than formal lectures, exercises in rote memorization, and formal disputation and recitation. (Lucas, 1996, p. 51)

It is easy to see that certain aspects of American higher education have not changed much in over 375 years. This lack of change may be problematic when it comes to pedagogy and the classroom. Have faculty become too accustomed and entrenched to this type of education? Or are they ready to explore something else? Traditional teachers focus pedagogy toward the needs of the instructor—not the needs of the student or of learning. It is convenient, easy, and thought to be more objective. Most teachers want it to stay this way. Traditional teachers forget there is a whole person attending their classes and this person may have even greater insights into patient needs than we are teaching. It appears that even those who want more experiential or affective learning have done little to make the change. It could be for a variety of reasons, but the fact is that much of nursing practice is exactly as it has been for over 40 years.

Educational institutions have been criticized for decades for not being places of learning (Barr, 1998; Boyer, 1990; O'Brien, 1986; Wulff & Austin, 2004), and old debates have their own level of equilibrium. When debates become normalized and lose energy, there is no perception that a problem still exists. Has education really moved away from the 19th-century European educational model? Some have even argued that the instructional paradigm as defined by Barr should be continued, and many reject all educational imperatives that teachers have responsibilities for student learning or need for a learning paradigm. Boyer presented Gottinger's 1860 statement regarding faculty being specialists and not teachers: “He [the teacher] is not responsible for the success of his students. He is responsible only for the quality of his instruction. His duty begins and ends with himself” (Boyer, 1990, p. 120). In a world where we often hold to principles of self-accountability and self-responsibility, it is hard to consider anything other than what Gottinger stated in 1860.

Several researchers have suggested that quality instruction is the ability to teach students in a variety of ways in order to accommodate the different learning styles of the students (Mather & Champagne, 2008; Piane, Rydman, & Rudens, 1996; Vermunt & Vermetten, 2004; Wolfe, Bates, Manikowske, & Amundsen, 2006). This does not mean that teachers have moved away from a traditional teaching paradigm, but it could mean additional variations in teaching that are still cognitively focused. These same studies suggest that student programs of study seem to be an indicator for what their learning style will be. Engineering and education majors seem to prefer the traditional teaching model with their least favorite teaching method being an active self-regulating learning (Hativa & Birenbaum, 2000).

There are several additional factors that keep traditional teaching alive, including what some students want. Barr (1998) suggests that we continue to filter our desire to promote learning through the instructional paradigm by maintaining structures that support it. These are:

1. Having one teacher per course

2. Using one classroom

3. Not adjusting the classroom setting

4. Accepting the 50-minute class period

5. Conducting courses in 15to 18-week blocks

6. Failing to provide opportunities for reflection and other affective pedagogy

7. Following curriculum designs that are not always focused on learning

Barr continues by stating, “I suppose the lecture is not defended as the ideal educational [learning] form, but I can tell you that it is vigorously defended nonetheless” (p. 20). As you read Vignette 2.1, ask yourself if this is your norm.

Vignette 2.1

Teacher: “Good morning class. We left off at slide 32, so we will pick up there.”

The room is slightly dimmed as the PowerPoint slides are projected onto the screen. No more eye contact between student and teacher is possible while students open the printed handouts that have three slides per page on the left side of the page, and lines for taking notes on the right side of the page. Teacher: “Today you will learn about the three basic types of learning—cognitive, affective, and psychomotor. Let's look at their definitions.”

The teacher's voice is heard in the dimly lit room, clarifying the definitions with a periodic question being asked after being prompted by the teacher who says, “Any questions?” The room is silent as students use various means to remember these definitions, for they will surely be on an examination at a later date. Some ignore all this one-way communication as they multitask by texting, surfing the Internet, or writing a note home to mom. After all, the definitions are on the slides, ready to be memorized at a later date.

Is the teaching described in Vignette 2.1 the norm you want and the one that is habitually played out in your classrooms? Or have you been looking for an alternative to the instructional teaching model?

Freire (1970/2009) suggests a deeper and often unconscious reason for keeping this traditional instructional teaching method alive. He states, “Education as the exercise of domination stimulates the credulity of students, with the ideological intent (often not perceived by educators) of indoctrinating them to adapt to the world of oppression” (p. 78). Could it be that we need everyone to know their place in society and that we run our schools and universities in such a way to keep people from revolting, or is it as simple as making the life of the instructor easier? Whatever keeps most educators teaching in this traditional or instructional mode is certainly powerful, as very little has changed in the approach for almost four centuries.

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