Who does more of the work in your class – you or your students?

I recently found an interesting article by Jeremy A. Rentz as part of The Best of 2021Teaching Professor Conference. He asked the simple question, who does more work during class time, you or the students? Think it about for a moment. Over a semester course, who is doing more work? I would bet you are, especially if it is a lecture-based course. While there are mixed opinions about the usefulness of lectures, I maintain that they can be dynamic and engaging when done well. However, I also believe it should not be the only method of teaching used. The challenge with lecture is that it is teacher heavy. Students don’t engage much except for a question here or there. Cognitive psychology research has demonstrated that when it comes to long-term learning and retention, it is essential to get students to think and retrieve what they know (Agarwal, 2019; Lang, 2016). One way is by asking questions. But there is the challenge. We might give students a homework assignment that requires them to answer questions. They are probably not sitting alone at home answering the questions. Instead, they are with friends, all working together, using various resources, some you have sanctioned and others you have not. In this scenario, they aren’t retrieving information they learned from their brains.

Rentz has determined that to get students to retrieve answers and support retention, we must ask students many questions, and a lot of them. And they need to answer them using only their brain power. Therefore, we need to create an environment where they must answer the questions without resources. This way, they will discover what they know and don’t.

One method is to use the collaborative teaching method of Think-Pair-Share with one modification. Add write. Think, Write, Pair, Share (TWPS). As a writer, I love the addition of this word. But it also makes sense. Our students commonly believe they must come up with the answer immediately. Using TWPS gets them to stop and think first, then write their answer before joining the pair and sharing.

Are you doing more work than your students during class? If so, you can shift that workload by using TWSP and requiring students to retrieve knowledge more than look it up. This approach utilizes the concept of retrieval and supports long-term learning and retention.


Agarwal, P.K., & Bain, P. M. (2019). Powerful teaching: Unleashing the science of learning. Jossey-Bass

Lang, J. M. (2016) Small teaching: Everyday lessons from the science of learning. Jossey-Bass

Rentz, J. A. (2021). Put the hammer down and build your teaching toolbox. From The best of the 2021 Teaching Professor Conference, Magna Publications.

Additional resources

Rice, G. T. & Barry, K. (2018). Hitting pause: 65 Lecture breaks to refresh and reinforce learning. Sterling, Virginia: Stylus Publishing.


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