Revisiting the Lecture and the Importance of the Pause

By: Susan Gross Forneris, PhD, RN, CNE, CHSE-A, FAAN, National League for Nursing

Mark Twain once said, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”

Let’s examine the word majority. Perhaps Mr. Twain was speaking from the perspective of the greater part or the greater number. In this context, the majority is analogous to those who see a point of view in the same way.

What if we examined the word majority from the context of time? In this way, majority may represent the greater part of a moment or situation. If the situation/moment takes place in the classroom, majority is the greater amount of time a learner is exposed to that moment.

Reflecting on Mr. Twain’s quote above leads to a simple question: if the teacher talking is on the side of the majority, would it not then be time to pause and reflect?

Now, I admit, this was a roundabout way to make the point, yet clearly, as educators, we often don’t consider how much lecture is too much lecture.

In a Nursing EDge post from 2018 entitled “Stop Lecturing!”I discussed the importance of educators focusing on teaching learners to use the content, as opposed to teaching them the content. This is a small play on words, yet an important play driven by a simple neuroscience principle that suggests that learning happens when one makes sense of the content — the learning is in the doing; making sense of the content creates the learning (Weiman, 2016). Moving on from this earlier post, let’s examine alternatives to lecturing that emphasize operationalizing The Pause to enhance opportunities for our learners to engage with content.

There are some myths associated with why faculty don’t engage in a meaningful pause. Do any of these sound familiar?

  1. I have so much nursing content to cover and so little time to cover it I need to make use of every minute.
  2. The topic is so important, I need to make sure I say everything so my learners will learn it.
  3. If I don’t say everything to cover all the bases, my learners will not learn it.
  4. If I don’t say it, my learners will think it’s not important and they will not pay attention to it later.

Where did these myths come from? Perhaps they were once simple beginning principles in teaching and learning that morphed into believable practices. Practices that were role-modeled by those teachers who taught us. Teaching as we were taught justifies doing most of the talking. Besides, when we are seen as that teacher who passes the bulk of the work onto the learner,it’s hard to manage the student criticism.

In the previous post, I left you with three strategies to consider when beginning to move off the lecture platform toward a classroom conversation: 1) creating context through the use of story – the learners’ stories; 2) Socratic questioning; 3) prebriefing learners for classroom expectations (Forneris & Fey, 2018).

Here are three more quick tips for creating The Pause that are supported by neuroscience principles (Weidman & Baker, 2015). Using these principles, the following strategies operationalize the necessary pause for space and time in the classroom and push the boundaries of the lecture.

  1. Chunking content — Extraneous cognitive load is driven by the idea that we all have only so much working memory capacity because of the cognitive processing that is required to understand a new concept. Too much content, the complexity of the content, clarity in the way the content is shared, nonessential details, the context where learning takes place, all impact the ability to process information. When information requires cognitive processing but is not central to the learning outcome, it is considered extraneous (Weidman & Baker, 2015). Consider breaking complex topics into smaller chunks and provide worked-out examples. Give learners the opportunity to then share their own examples and rationale (Forneris & Fey, 2020).
  2. Use of Summary Activities — After providing a chunk of material in the classroom, direct the learners to write a quick summary of the main points you provided. This can be done not only individually, but in pairs or even in the form of small group work (Forneris & Fey, 2020). Summarizing acts as a form of self-testing helps learners to not only think about the content, but how they are thinking about the content. Intentionally providing a space of time to think about their thinking improves metacognition (Weidman & Baker, 2015).
  3. Spaced Retrieval — Before the start of a new class session, ask learners to summarize content from the previous class or perhaps use a series of low-stakes quizzes, inviting learners to discuss their answers and apply rationale (Forneris & Fey, 2020). Opportunities for learners to pause, retrieve knowledge, and then explain assist with the encoding of knowledge, cementing neuronal pathways for easier retrieval when that knowledge is needed (Weidman & Baker, 2015).

I’m going to end this post the same way I ended my previous post (Forneris, 2018): “These steps are not new thinking. Bevis and Watson (1989) said, ‘Educative learning is, after all, a private journey that nourishes the student’s selfhood’ (p.32). Students want to know how we know so they can develop their own practice. As nurses, we think holistically, systematically, thoroughly, reflectively, creatively. This would suggest that our focus in teaching the student to think like a nurse is to role model our thinking in dialogue with our learners in the classroom, to move them to appreciate and develop the multiple dimensions of thinking that capture the art and science of the nursing discipline.” Think about it. As Mark Twain once said, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”


Bevis, E.O., & Watson, J. (1989). Toward a caring curriculum: A new pedagogy for nursing. National League for Nursing.

Forneris. S. G. (2018). Stop lecturing!

Forneris, S.G.,& Fey, M. (Eds.). (2018). Critical conversations: The NLN guide for teaching thinking. National League for Nursing.

Forneris, S.G., & Fey, M. (Eds.) (2020). Critical conversations (Volume 2): From monologue to dialogue. National League for Nursing.

Weidman, J., & Baker, K. (2015). The cognitive science of learning: Concepts and strategies for the educator and learner. Anesthesia & Analgesia, 121(6), 1586-1599.

Weiman, C. (2016, April 14). A Nobel laureate’s education plea: Revolutionize teaching.

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