“The Art of Teaching Adults” – Chapters 11-15

Concrete Ideas by Caffeineslinger on Flickr
Concrete Ideas by Caffeineslinger on Flickr


These are some seriously short chapters.  They offer some concrete, well-explained activity ideas tied to specific purposes AND tied to a “classic concept” of straight-up ed psych.

Observing Group Behavior – people exhibit three kinds of predictable behaviors in groups:

  1. task-oriented (initiating, summarizing, etc.)
  2. group-building (encouraging, compromising, etc.)
  3. self-oriented (blocking, bulldozing, etc.)

Renner suggests specifically teaching these before doing a lot of group work – it can help people be more aware of their role in making a productive group.

He also references Schultz’s stages of groups, specifying that they can happen in any order and often repeat:

  1. need for inclusion
  2. need for control
  3. need for affection

Rallying Learning Circles – ask a question and go around the circle letting each participant answer round-robin.  Each question should start with a different person.  Circles can be the whole class or sub-groups.  This is a way to gather ideas and a great strategy for showing that input from all learners is welcome.

Brewing Brainstorms – to generate ideas without judging them.  Post the topic in writing.  End with evaluation, such as selecting the top three.

Directing Role-Plays – to add some real life into class, and to highlight different points of view.  Set the stage, direct the play, and debrief.  Interesting tips for intervening: have the performers reverse roles; stop them in the middle and ask what they’d like to change; direct them to exaggerate; allow them to turn to the audience and ask for help if they’re stuck.  Renner also ties this to body language and work done by Mehrabian about how much facial expression and tone of voice convey.  It’s now on the syllabus.

Teaching by Demonstration – Renner suggests watching Julia Child’s cooking show and John Cleese’s management training videos.  I added them to the syllabus.  He ties this to Gagne’s nine conditions for effective instruction.

  1. Gain and control attention
  2. Inform the learners of the expected outcome
  3. Stimulate recall of relevant prerequisites
  4. Present new material
  5. Offer guidance for learning
  6. Provide feedback
  7. Appraise performance
  8. Make transfer possible
  9. Ensure retention

My Overall Impressions

I didn’t find myself particularly inspired to ask questions much deeper than “how can I apply this?”  And I think for such short and concrete chapters, that’s probably forgiveable.

These chapters are useful to me, especially in thinking about how to work with my advanced ESL class.  A more challenging question to me is how to apply them in our GED classes, which currently have a little less structure.

The brainstorming chapter, as cursory as I found it, resonated with me because that’s what my pilot syllabus has turned into – a resource brainstorm.  It’s definitely valuable as such, but it will have much more value to me when I get farther along in the project and organize it in terms of what to tackle next and what’s a nice idea for “someday.”

General Observations

View from the Observation Tower by ehpien on Flickr
View from the Observation Tower by ehpien on Flickr

About the project:

  • I noticed that when I read something I disagree with, I want to look at it more closely.  It’s a knee-jerk reaction, and I don’t think it’s a bad one.
  • Having my syllabus and using it as a living resource document (not a display piece) helps keep me on track.
  • David Chioni Moore’s “How to Read” piece is the voice in my head that asks questions (and meta-questions) when I read.  I wish I had used it when I was his student.  You can find it on his faculty page.

About the blog:

  • I have doubts that these posts are interesting to readers.
    • People who are into the topic are better off reading the books directly.
    • People who are not into the topic will not be into my posts or the books.
  • I keep on posting.
    • Posting my notes holds me accountable.
    • People I talk to seem interested in pursuing their own 5-week courses, and seeing mine in this much detail might help them with theirs.
  • I need to go back and re-think some of my post tagging.  I’m ok with my categorizations for now.

So, if you’re still out there and reading, I’m curious – what are you interested in seeing here regarding the 5WCs?

“The Art of Teaching Adults” – Flexing Learning Styles

Notes and Opinions, Together Again

Renner starts out talking about educational psychologist David Kolb’s theory.  I guess Kolb has to be on my ed psych list now because I can’t really handle his premises, at least in their truncated versions in this book.  I highlighted it on the syllabus for future study.

Goal, by ItsGreg on Flickr
Goal, by It'sGreg on Flickr

I have an issue with the idea that since learning is governed by a person’s needs and goals, educational objectives must exist in order for “the process of learning” to not be “erratic and inefficient.”

  1. A need and a goal are different; this appears to treat them as the same thing.
  2. Learning does not have to be of constant intensity to be effective.  In fact, I’ve experienced the opposite.
  3. There’s nothing wrong with not learning as quickly as humanly possible.
  4. I don’t believe that specifically enumerated objectives and “erratic and inefficient” learning are mutually exclusive, which is what this summary implies.

Renner says that in his Learning Style Inventory (LSI), Kolb groups learning behavior into “four statistically different styles.”  Perhaps I’m showing my ignorance of the field, but this phrase is too vague for me to have any use for it.  I get that the phrase implies that quantitative research has been done, but come on.  Impressing me by saying “look!  research!” isn’t enough.  Anyway, the categories are:

  • Converger – unemotional, likes things, likes to apply ideas practically
  • Diverger – imaginative, likes people, likes multiple points of view
  • Assimilator – logical, likes to make theories
  • Accommodator – intuitive, likes people, likes to test theories against reality

I can’t decide if I’m a Diverger or Accommodator.  Since I can see it either way, I’d probably test as a Diverger.

Renner says that the purpose of having this model is not to typecast people, but to help with “needs analysis” for lesson and course planning.  Later on, almost as an afterthought, Renner mentions that Kolb lists four abilities all students need for effective experiential learning.  These closely parallel the above groupings: have an experience, think about it from many points of view (Diverger), tie experiences to theories (Assimilator), use those theries to solve problems (Accommodator, Converger).  I’m surprised he didn’t more explicitly tie these together.

Even without making this connection, Renner does specifically say that the purpose of these groups isn’t to typecast people, but to help understand students’ needs for course and lesson plans.  It comes across as a fluffy disclaimer, but I still appreciate the point.  It’s about identifying which strategies tend to feel best to a learner, not giving learners an excuse to hide from certain skills.  (One of my pet peeves is when people use their classification-of-the-day as a wall, proclaiming they “can’t” do a certain thing because they’re This Type of learner.  It’s one thing for self-proclaimed “visual learners” to take meeting notes using graphic organizers; it’s another for “visual learners” to refuse to have a conversation about something.)

Overall, it was pretty fluffy.  I have to say, it seems likely that Renner faced the choice of either providing a cursory and inadequate introduction to Kolb’s work or not mentioning it at all.  I think it’s significant that Renner decided to include it.  The more I think about it, the more I think it’s important to take a closer look at Kolb’s LSI.

“The Art of Teaching Adults” – Asking Beautiful Questions

Notes and My Opinions All In One Section

Steps: In Both Directions by Harry Harris on Flickr
Steps: In Both Directions by Harry Harris on Flickr

Renner says that the point of asking questions is to make students think, not just recite facts.  He cites the 6-category hierarchy of questions published by B Bloom in 1956:

  1. Knowledge (remember facts)
  2. Comprehension (get the meaning)
  3. Application (use in concrete situations)
  4. Analysis (break down material)
  5. Synthesis (put pieces together)
  6. Evaluation (judge value for a purpose)

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that I have a problem with these categories and their order.  I have a problem with separating the processes of analyzing and synthesizing, I take issue with placing judgment at the top and don’t see why it should be separate from application, and I don’t see “emotion” tied into this anywhere.  I suppose this means I should read me some Bloom.  I’ll put him on the syllabus (for either this course or a future one) before I start the next paragraph.

The rest of the chapter didn’t particularly resonate with me or tell me anything I don’t know.  It was basically advice about Q&A sessions after a lecture.  I couldn’t tell where the speaker (it wasn’t Renner, but some other guy I don’t know) was coming from.  I had trouble discerning whether the discussion and tips were about classes, ongoing training courses, or one-day speaking gigs.  On one hand it’s nice to not impose false categories on adult learning, but on the other hand it was vague advice that reminded me a little of reading a daily horoscope.

“The Art of Teaching Adults” – Lively Lectures


Kitchen Timer 2 by LynGi on Flickr
Kitchen Timer 2 by LynGi on Flickr

Renner is pretty progressive – I was a little surprised that he’s ok with lectures existing.  He says that lectures can be valuable when they’re purely giving information, outlining the subject, aiming to get people interested, or modeling how to handle a lot of information.  Average attention span for a lecture listener is between 12 and 20 minutes – good to know.  Also, he cited research that said laughter and a really engaging presentation style boost retention of content.  He also suggested using ten-minute lecturettes (and a kitchen timer) and switching to other activities in between.

I seem to have a thing for simple and concrete tips.  His tips for improving lecturing were mostly obvious, but to me the most helpful points were to minimize the disruption of distributing handouts, periodically pause, and to think carefully about your sequencing.  To get everyone’s attention, change tempo, move around, or use silence.

Writing Thank Yous by Eren on Flickr
Writing Thank Yous by Eren on Flickr

He also suggested making “fill in the blanks” pages for learners to guide them and reinforce your lecture.  I actually find this to be pretty insulting and would never have considered using it.  I also would have questioned its effectiveness – it seems very much more passive than constructing one’s own notes.  But I guess not everyone has the ability to take good notes.  Maybe some adult learners, particularly people who haven’t attended college yet, would benefit from such prompting after all.  I’ll think on it.

My Overall Impressions:

I liked the immediate focus on appropriate (and inappropriate) uses of the lecture.  Maybe it wasn’t profound insight, but it was useful.

It was interesting to read a piece about delivering a lecture that doesn’t mention computers or Power Point.  Focusing on the fundamentals (i.e. use pauses) was refreshing – sometimes we can get a little too focused on the technology.  That being said, the habits of participants are changing.  Here’s an article about presenting to people who are twittering.

“The Art of Teaching Adults” – Contracts and Group Work


Contracts: It might be good for Advanced, and I think it has great potential for GED.  I think that my Beginning and Intermediate students would think I’d lost my mind once (if) they understood what I was talking about and asking of them.  It has to be time-intensive to meet with students and make individual contracts.  I wonder how exactly teachers make it work.

Eye Contact, by Jessie Reeder on Flickr
Eye Contact, by Jessie Reeder on Flickr

Working in Groups: I like the list of concrete purposes, which includes generating lists, ranking lists, measuring knowledge, and obtaining feedback, warming up, and gathering questions.  Renner also points out that 6-minute small-group chats can happen before, in the middle of, or after lectures.  It hadn’t occurred to me to have groups meet in the middle of the lesson for a comprehension check-in.

The point about eye-contact was also well-taken.  It’s extremely easy to forget about the basic experience your participants are having, right down to whether or not they can see each other.  If they’re in small groups, for the love of Pete, have them sit in small circles!

Overall Impressions

I expected these chapters to be “softer” than they were.  Ok, Contracts was a little soft, though the example provided was about as concrete as you can get.  I’m still missing the “how” on top of everything else that teachers and learners have to accomplish.

I was pleased that the specific purposes of group work were listed instead of just blather about ‘fostering community.’  It definitely left me interested in reading what M.E. Shaw’s study of the literature had to say about group dynamics.  It’s already on the syllabus, and I’m thinking it can probably happen in the current course!

“The Art of Teaching Adults” – Chapters 1 – 5


The Art of Teaching Adults from Amazon.com
"The Art of Teaching Adults" from Amazon.com

Chapter one was basically a detailed and engaging annotated bibliography. It made me really want to read Robert Mager for objectives and Jerrold Kemp for course design.  Those topics might end up being in a different course though.  Renner’s description convinced me to read Grow’s article about stages of self-directed learning in this course.

Lesson Plans:  The lesson plan chapter was extremely short and I was underwhelmed.  One nice take-away was that he listed a separate column for instructor’s activities and learners’ activities.  That makes it really easy to see at a glance if you’re sharing the work (and therefore the learning) with your students.

Regarding Objectives:  Renner keeps citing* Mager’s “motto” and I’m just not 100% on board with it.

If you don’t know where you are going, how will you know how to get there?
If you don’t know where you want to go, how will you know that you have arrived?

There’s certainly logic to it, and it’s a valuable way to think.  My problem is that it leaves no room for serendipity. Plans are all well and good; goals and targets are nice.  I just don’t agree that we necessarily have to be aiming for a given outcome in order to achieve it or recognize that we achieved it.  To me such orderly thinking should be used sometimes, but not at the expense of embracing reality.  As I mentioned earlier in this post, I’m very interested in reading some Mager.

Room Set-Up: I didn’t realize how cleverly multi-purpose the U-shaped chair set-up is till I saw his diagram.  All students can see each other, all students can see the teacher in the front, and the teacher can easily move up the center of the U.

Broken Ice on a Lake by MelvinSchlumbman on Flickr
"Broken Ice on a Lake" by MelvinSchlumbman on Flickr

Ice-Breakers:  I kind of rolled my eyes but read them anyway, and I’m glad I did.  One activity he suggests for starting a new course is “Press Conference.” I like how relevant it is to students’ need to meet other students and their need to start actual class business. Have students form groups of four or five.  Give them one minute to quick introduce themselves to each other and then five minutes to pool questions about the course they’re about to begin.  Then the teacher calls on groups, who ask her a question about the class round-robin until all questions are answered.

Some other elements of icebreakers that appeal to me:

  • Awkward first conversations eliminated! Have students write something informative on a piece of paper, and then have silent mingling time in which people can read each other’s papers.  
  • I also like collecting common expectations, concerns, and learning needs first individually, then in small groups, and then up on the paper… and then actually responding to the lists and even changing your plans to better fit them.
  • He even suggests that some groups can decide what the daily agenda should look like, and I’m a little surprised that I really like the idea of asking the group “What has to happen for this course to be a success?” and posting their answers.

Overall Impressions So Far

I’m inclined to like any book on teaching that encourages the teacher to get off his or her pedestal and facilitate the learning the students are looking for.  I pretty much love being told that plans have to change and that all students’ needs are different.

So I’m hoping that this book gets into a bit more of how to make a reasonable starting plan and frameworks for understanding where students are at, or else it won’t be telling me anything I actually need to hear.  Based on the table of contents, I do think it’ll get a little more pithy.  And if not, I’ll move to a different source.

*EDIT: Thanks to MJ for pointing out that I mixed up “cite” and “site.”  For the record, I do know the difference.  It just doesn’t always stop me from typing the wrong one.

Why Five Weeks?

The short answer: it was arbitrary.

The medium answer:  I was looking for a happy medium between a long-term self-education project I would never stick with and a project so brief that I would have no chance of significantly expanding my knowledge.  Five weeks seemed good.

Squared Stack by pbo31 on Flickr
Squared Stack by pbo31 on Flickr

The long answer:  The short and medium answers are true.  But there’s another dimension that’s harder for me to explain.  Before you get too frustrated with me, know that I do have educational psychology on my list of future 5WCs.

I notoriously have trouble with categories.  Especially categories like “relevant” and “not relevant.”  I’m an interweaving thinker.  With some people, it seems like the more they understand something, the more they’re able to divide it up into perfectly cubic little boxes arranged in a line.  For me, the more I understand something, the more I say “oh wow, that’s similar to this and this, and this indirectly but significantly affects that, and category A is both a parent category and a subcategory of B depending how you look at it,” and I definitely don’t end up with a neat row of cubes.  Knowledge is like a web of many long threads in my mind, and it feels unnatural to divide it into sections; doing so feels like cutting a square out of the middle of a knit sweater.

Seriously, it’s a thing for me.  Look how many categories I list my five-week project posts in on this blog.  Even after I designated a category specifically for five-week projects.

Lace Knitting by Amanda Woodward on Flickr
Lace Knitting by Amanda Woodward on Flickr

What I’m saying is that I have no trouble arguing that idea A is related to idea N even though they’re 13 steps apart.  This was nice back when I was on the debate team, but it’s not particularly helpful when it comes to defining a manageable self-education project.  I thought that a time limit would help me determine that while Topic X is indeed relevant to Topic A, it is not relevant enough right now.

It seems to be working for me so far.  My category issues are quieted by the possibility of future five-week courses.  Excluding a line of inquiry doesn’t feel like taking scissors to lace when I know the exclusion is temporary.  So the number five was indeed arbitrary, but the time limitation was quite intentional.

Starting My Source List

Katie left a comment asking:

Also, how did you go about generating the list of reading materials for the course?

It’s been an ongoing process.

Books by Svenwerk on Flickr
Books by Svenwerk on Flickr

I started by searching my local library’s catalog for “teaching adults.”  I reserved several books that looked interesting and relevant and put them on the syllabus.  This way, even if they’re not The Books on the subject, I had somewhere to start after only 10 minutes of pursuit.

Actually, speaking of easily accessible, the library had several electronic resources that I emailed to myself and forgot about till I wrote that last paragraph.  There, I just popped them onto the syllabus.  Writing really does help me think.

From there, I looked at the resources referenced in the books, particularly in Renner’s The Art of Teaching Adults.  Renner wrote a great first chapter outlining what cannon of work informed his book and what it had to say – it’s basically a readable and engaging annotated bibliography.

One of my volunteers also just happened to mention an article he’d been reading about teaching adults basic reading skills, and when he offered to give me a copy I gladly accepted and added it to the syllabus.

Craning For A Book by *Your Guide on Flickr
Craning For A Book by *Your Guide on Flickr

I also realized that my learning center has a bunch of books, some of them teacher references, so I grabbed one I’ve been curious about (thoughts on “English from A to Z” here) and can definitely grab more.  This brought to mind how I’d love to LibraryThing my center’s books so that my volunteers, students, coworkers and I could know exactly what’s there and sort through it all in meaningful ways.  Right now I’m pretty much the only one who knows what we have, and that’s a waste of a pretty handy collection!

It’s kind of fascinating how even one or two sources lead to a huge number of sources.  Identifying them was definitely not the hard part.  All I had to do was start!

Other material-finding resources I considered but haven’t really tapped yet:

  • syllabi from Adult Education courses at leading colleges and universities
  • recommendations from experienced teachers (I haven’t really talked to any yet)
  • Wikipedia, used specifically for a list of other (reputable) resources

The beauty of the 5-week project is that another can start quite soon.  The sources I don’t get to can always go to a future project.

English A-Z: Tenses and Sentence Structure

I’m diving right in before I get distracted.


I studied Russian in college, and I remember being frustrated by their obsession with “complete” vs. “not complete” verbs.  It’s called “aspect” if you’d like to read about it.  I found it to be unreasonably picky.

When I thought this, I did not understand that English is also obsessed with the complete / incomplete divide.  We just do it with tenses.  And I didn’t notice because I never learned about English grammar.  Present-perfect, past-perfect, and future-perfect exist only to specify that an action was completed.  It seems to me a small point to create an entire tense around it.  The perfect continuous tenses also seem needlessly specific.  They’re about when the completion of an ongoing action happens?  Come on.  The Russian language is vindicated in my eyes.

Also, all of the present tenses are weird.  Simple present (i.e. I eat) doesn’t actually describe the present moment – present continuous does (i.e. I am eating).  Simple present just describes habits you have in general, including now.  And present perfect (i.e. I have eaten) has a lot of nerve calling itself “present” – it’s referring to a past action!  But as of the present time, it’s completed.  Ah, yes, completion rears its bizarrely important head.

Maybe I would have been a more successful student of Russian if I’d been more than dimly aware of the mechanics of my own language.

This is a lot of grammar.  Heres a Lolcat.
This is a lot of grammar. Here's a Lolcat.

Sentence Structure

I take back what I just said.  I would not understand subjects, predicates, direct objects, indirect objects, etc. without associating them with Russian words and cases.  These concepts are extremely abstract to me in English – it’s like trying to build on air.  I have to work through her examples in Russian for them to make sense.

I also take back what I said about not being taught any English grammar.  I did in fact learn about some of it explicitly, particularly punctuation.  As a result, I have a thing about semi-colons: wrong ones leap off the page at me.  I’m not claiming to use them perfectly every time.  But I judge.  And since I also brushed up on sentence structure, I can point out that her example is wrong because the clause before the semicolon lacks a subject:

After cleaning the house; we went shopping and bought some clothes, shoes and groceries.

A quick Google search sent me to a grammar website from Perdue University that pretty clearly states that a semicolon joins two independent clauses, and that an independent clause has a subject and a verb.  Akinyi’s explanation was “This is used to divide or separate a long independent sentence.”  Not quite.  I’m not sure where her editor was on that one.

Overall Impressions

  • My knowledge of sentence structure and tenses was pretty detailed in some areas, and extremely lacking in others.  It felt good to start bridging that gap.
  • Wow, do I need to examine every book my students use to make sure there are no errors?
  • Why are errors in a book so very astounding to me?
  • Teachers really need to know their stuff.  It takes preparation to find mistakes before you’re up in front of the class and confidence to refute the book once you’re up there.