reviewed by Paul Michalec & Paul Viskanta - August 03, 2018
Gail Taylor Rice anchors her instructional text Hitting Pause on the question, How do we make our classes interactive without totally redesigning them? (p. 1). In the context of contemporary college classrooms where students are often distracted, disempowered, and disinterested in the course content or instructional style of the professor, this is a good question to ask.
The question reflects her attentiveness to the negative effects of limited professional preparation for faculty and the increasingly complex instructional challenges they face. Her guiding question seeks to address the historical reality of college teaching as a didactic activity while also pushing to reform a method of education, the lecture, which is antiquated and unresponsive to 21st century learners, current neuroscience research on learning, and best practices in higher education. The metaphor of a pause button, the idea of stopping existing instructional practices to improve instruction, is aptly chosen. It underscores the author's understanding that reinventing lectures is demanding and time-consuming for faculty who are already attentive to other necessary changes and often overwhelming for instructors wedded to their well-crafted and meticulously researched lecture notes. Rices tone is empathetic, inviting, and challenging, which establishes rapport with the reader as a fellow colleague on a journey to improve the craft of teaching in college classrooms.
The first half of the book is organized into three chapters drawing from instructional research and her practice-based experience building an argument for the instructional pause. The first section, "Benefits of Pausing," addresses the question of why pauses are necessary in classrooms to enhance engagement and learning. In both reflecting on the history of the lecture and introducing recent scholarly critiques regarding its lack of effectiveness, Rice argues for the improvement of the lecture rather than its demise. "Brain Science Support for the Pause" extensively outlines how neuroscience and evidence-based understandings of learning support the use of instructional pauses. Based on this research, she organizes the instructional pause around three key classroom moments: the beginning, middle, and end of class. She provides detailed descriptions of how pauses increase learning during each of these instructional moments. The final section, "Reasons for Pausing," focuses on the necessity of starting and closing a class session with pauses. Pauses intentionally built into the beginning and end of the instructional arc can help students organize their learning, attend to distracting emotions, be prepared to learn, feel challenged, summarize key points, celebrate learning achievements, commit learning to action, and make connections to learning moments outside of class. A strength of Hitting Pause is the depth of Rices examples and the concrete stories from her experiences coaching faculty to improve their pedagogy by decentering the lecture. Through her skillful storytelling, the potentially abstract language of an instructional pause becomes vibrant and easily visualized.
The second section of Hitting Pause, "Brain Science Support for the Pause," is built around 65 unique instructional pauses designed to improve instruction at the start, middle, or closing segments of a class session. Each pause is richly described for immediate use with helpful guideposts like "Settings for Use" and "Characteristics." The handy format makes selecting pauses easy when addressing particular instructional occasions and goals. For faculty interested in going beyond the broad outlines of best-practices, she provides detailed information on more complex forms of implementation in a segment called "Additional Suggestions," and for professors interested in the research behind each pause, she lists Key References and Resources to pursue. The "Online Adaptations" section is well-suited to 21st century classrooms where many instructors are presenting courses through distance learning modalities.
Hitting Pause is a well-written guide full of practical ideas to rehabilitate our lectures (p. 13) with quick but intentional activities that empower students to take responsibility for their learning. Pauses also provide faculty with opportunities to regroup and assesses in real-time the instructional arc formed by the intended curriculum, operational curriculum, and received curriculum of their teaching (Uhrmacher, Moroye, & Flinders, 2016, p. 25). If read with a hopeful ear, one senses that running below the surface of Rices text is a sense of optimism that Hitting Pause will become the Trojan Horse of reform in higher education. The stories she shares of dramatic changes in faculty instructional choices, increased satisfaction in teaching, and ease of implementation suggest that once a professor is committed to hitting the instructional pause button, they will continue their transformation away from the lecture and towards more rewarding instructional moves.
Rices book is a practical guide for changing instruction, but readers looking for a more critical stance toward higher education pedagogy, the instructional preparation of faculty, or the need for empowering student voice and agency will be less satisfied. Rice only lightly addresses the question of why the lecture persists in higher education despite strong research pointing towards its relative ineffectiveness. Hitting Pause can read like a missed opportunity to engage in a deeper discussion on instructional reform in higher education.
To be fair, Rice points out the hazards of a deficit model of learning that treats students as objects to be filled. Implied in her text is a call to treat students as subjects to be interacted with in ways more consistent with Martin Bubers notion of I-Though relationships (Buber, 1937) or Nel Noddings articulation of an ethic of care between teachers and learners (Noddings, 2005). Yet she misses the opportunity to use the pause to dig deeply into these liberating metaphors of good teaching. For instance, a pause can create the opportunity to turn the analytic lens back to the instructor and examine the ways that the lecture deforms the academic life of faculty. Hitting Pause would be a stronger call to reform if it plumbed, beyond the practical level, ways to reform the classroom life of professors, and if it directly investigated the pause as a metaphor for reevaluating the ways that lectures provide little space for faculty to understand their passions and commitments to teaching. This notion has been articulated by Parker Palmer and Arthur Zajonc (2010) and also brings to mind the call by Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeber (2016) for higher education faculty to slow down and become more present to their teaching.
These concerns are not meant to undercut the importance of this book for faculty and instructional designers in higher education who are either skeptical of or already persuaded by the need to break the instructional hold of the lecture on college teaching. Most faculty will find value in Gail Taylor Rices Hitting Pause. The text is a rich collection of research, stories, and well-articulated activities that teachers in different roles will find indispensable. The book is both a review of research and an instructional guide suited for both audiences. Hitting Pause is a must for graduate students who will soon become higher education instructors as well as for experienced faculty looking for compelling and effective ways to expand their craft knowledge.
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Palmer, P. J., Zajonc, A., & Scribner, M. (2010). The heart of higher education: A call to
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