“The Art of Teaching Adults” – Chapters 25-27

The last three chapters of the book!

Overhead Projector by Tango McEffrie on Flickr
Overhead Projector by Tango McEffrie on Flickr

Notes

Projecting Overhead: What Renner says about using overheads is largely transferable to quality digital slides.  In six points he manages to say that simple is best and to focus on readability.  He then lists a bunch of Dos and Don’ts, which emphasize the value of controlling the learners’ attention by only revealing a bit of information at once, not leaving old slides on the screen, leaving lights on to allow for note-taking, and minimizing distractions such as waving your arms.  He also emphasizes the importance of setting up the room so that everyone can see and spends a page listing diagrams.

He includes a “classic concept” at the end of this chapter that to me seems entirely incongruous but important: Knowles’s assumptions of adult learners:

  • adults are motivated by what they feel they need to know;
  • adults are more life-centered than subject-centered;
  • adults have many experiences, and these should be analyzed in their education;
  • adults want to engage in self-directed learning.

Seems a little ironic after a chapter of “how to transmit knowledge to learners via a one-way presentation.”  Or maybe the juxtaposition was intentional?

Flipping Charts: Renner encourages posting flip-charts as records of what was discussed, but only inasmuch as they help the class focus.  He spends four paragraphs talking about different qualities of paper and how to tear it, even describing and recommending the “matador tear.”  This struck me as a little odd, or a little desperate to fill space.  He recommends multiple easels or a blank wall, and specifically mentions that it’s nice to have a separate place for brainstorms and side-lists that aren’t the main focus.

Tools by Adactio on Flickr
Tools by Adactio on Flickr

He suggests bringing a screwdriver and pliers with you to presentations to remove pictures and nails from walls so you can hang flipchart paper.  I cannot even imagine feeling comfortable un-decorating a meeting space that’s not my own.

He diagrams how to set up a row of flip-chart paper along the wall with already-torn tape in a neat line above it for writing and posting ease.  He also diagrams how to tape the caps of four markers together, resulting in a “handy four-color dispenser,” which I thought was kinda clever.  Then he crosses the line into micromanaging by telling you when to cap and put down your pens, and goes so far as to recommend throwing out dry markers immediately.  I mean, sheesh.

His suggestion to use colors in such a way that learners can see them and to help organize text is also a bit obvious.  He encourages abbreviation and posting an abbreviation key, which I agree with but there’s no mention of potential difficulties for English Language Learners.  Encouraging presenters to remember to face the learners and to observe the sheets from a learner’s point of view were helpful pointers.

All in all, perhaps needlessly detailed.

Showing Films: Renner warns that old videos are more humorous than helpful, that they’re passive unidirectional tools, and that they have to have a purpose that relates to the topic.  He spends a page and a half emphasizing planning ahead and previewing material.  Then he reminds us to prepare the learners – give the film some context and tell the learners where you’ll be going with it, and then go somewhere with it both short-term and long-term.

He lists eight ways to go somewhere with films, including Q&A sessions, pitting the film against an article with a different viewpoint and comparing them, and creating “viewing teams” that address questions, clarity, disagreements, agreements, and application.  I can actually use those ideas.  Way to end strong, Renner!

My Overall Impressions

In writing notes on that second chapter, I kind of couldn’t believe he was still going.  I’m still astounded that he spent the same amount of space discussing paper and markers how-to than he did when discussing how to properly prepare for, screen, and follow up with an educational film.

I was also surprised that there was no wrap-up to the book.  It’s not one that’s necessarily intended to be read cover to cover, and each chapter was separate, but in a work that emphasizes discussion and debriefing, it was an abrupt ending.

More about the book overall in the next post.

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“The Art of Teaching Adults” – Chapters 21-24

Octopus Journal by Mollycakes on Flickr
Octopus Journal by Mollycakes on Flickr

Notes and Commentary Together

Writing in Journals: It takes Renner six pages to convey about a half-page worth of information.  He suggests providing some class time for writing and sharing, providing some guiding questions, and periodically reading the journals as a teacher.  He provided case studies to give examples of how journals can be used.  A list would have sufficed.  Six pages.

Assessing the Course: These six pages were more justifiable, as the examples of different types of evaluation (i.e. first-day, mid-course, self-evaluation, daily, post-activity) actually deepened his initial explanation.  All examples were noticeably qualitative.  Some of the example questions felt obnoxiously leading (i.e. “How did you build group spirit?” and “What could you do to increase productivity?”), but just seeing all the different pieces of a course that can be evaluated was helpful.

Giving and Receiving Feedback: Renner’s most helpful suggested guidelines for giving feedback are to focus on observable behavior, to give feedback as soon as possible after the event, and to not give too much at once.  His guidelines for receiving it are to actually listen, to not worry about responding right then and there, to be sure you understand, and to stop the giver of feedback when they’re giving too much of it.  Seems pretty clear and reasonable.

Whats More Stupid: the Question or the Answer? by Ewan McIntosh on Flickr
What's More Stupid: the Question or the Answer? by Ewan McIntosh on Flickr

Designing Tests and Quizzes: Renner busts out two adult learning principles that I’m not remembering from earlier chapters:

  1. when learners know what they’re going to learn, they’ll learn better
  2. immediate and long-term reinforcement also helps

He relates this specifically to tests, but they seem like basic principles that could have been unifying themes in the book.

His test-writing tips can basically be summed up as: “Don’t be an idiot.”  I do appreciate his mentioning that true-false questions are set up to penalize students who can come up with exceptions to even seemingly-obvious statements.  True-false is pretty much the bane of my test-taking existence.  I also appreciate his little margin quotes of bizarre test questions.  I guess I’ll close with my favorite:

Write not more than two lines on The Career of Napoleon Buonaparte, or The Acquisition of our Indian Empire, or The Prime Ministers of England.

N.B. Do not on any account attempt to write on both sides of the paper at once.

“The Art of Teaching Adults” – Chapters 16-20

Notes

These chapters are around the same length as the last five – quite short and focused on recommended activities.  I’m a little surprised he didn’t group them together into a unit or somesuch to differentiate them from chapters more focused on theory or general practice, but I can hardly complain about organization.

Inspiring Participation – Renner highlights two activities: Speedy Memo and Spend-a-Penny.  Both activities give everyone a venue to communicate, and both are extremely low-prep.  I’ll summarize basically:

  • Balancing Coins in Coroico by JayTKendall on Flickr
    Balancing Coins in Coroico by JayTKendall on Flickr

    Speedy Memo

    • Ask a question, particularly to get anonymous but quick feedback or opinions
    • Request very short responses – one or two words
    • Learners write their response on a small piece of paper and pass it to the front
    • Answers are mixed up and read out loud
  • Spend-a-Penny
    • Each learner gets three coins (or tokens, or whatevers) to “spend”
    • “Spending” is answering questions or commenting in class.
    • When a learner spends a coin, they put it in front of them.
    • When all three are in front of them, their turns for the session are over.
    • The goal is for all learners to spend their coins during the activity/class session.

Studying Cases – Renner encourages teachers to write case studies for students to work with.  These stories can help learners focus on lower-level content such as “what happened?” and higher-level problem solving.  He advises that you write like it’s a story, using real names and at least some dialogue.  He also advises against flashbacks – just tell the story chronologically.

Inviting Experts – Renner points out that this can benefit classes and presenters with limited experience.  He gets into the nitty-gritty of finding and booking the expert.  It’s obvious, but prepare the students for the speaker.  He also proposes student debates in lieu of an outside expert.

Learning Outside the Classroom – Yes, fieldtrips are good.  A really great point is that adults don’t need chaperones – you can send them out into the world to do, for example, four hours of “work” in a related field.  Such a thing wouldn’t be possible with a whole classroom’s worth of students all at once.  They still need support, including clear instructions, an explanitory letter, and some suggested contacts, and class time should be taken to let learners share experiences.

Individualizing Assignments – This follows logically from the last chapter’s discussion of individual field trips.  It talks about setting up independent projects, the purpose being to develop self-education skills.  He says: define topics, provide guidance, set completion date and consequences for lateness, figure out what the end product will be and how to collect it, and make sure they learned accurate information on their own.

Renner ties this to Lewin’s experiential learning model, which is:

  1. have an experience
  2. note the results
  3. build a general theory around this – “if I do this, this will happen.”

I’m confused as to why this was at the end of this chapter instead of the previous one.

My Overall Impressions

Though I enjoy the short and meaty chapters, I felt that a two-pager on how to run a competent independent project was kind of sloppy.  These could go horribly awry – I need more guidance.  I have a lot of “how” questions, I think tied to the question “in what context?”  In a classroom of even 15 students, I need some more details on how exactly to manage 15 disparate projects effectively.  Some common pitfalls to avoid would have been nice too.

Elements of Style (Illustrated) from Amazon.com
Elements of Style (Illustrated) from Amazon.com

I definitely appreciated the activities that give all students room to participate.  One of my students is specifically in my class to improve his conversation, and he rarely speaks.  I asked him about this after class one day, and he said he doesn’t speak up because he’s giving the other students a chance to speak – he doesn’t want to be rude.  Well, I found I couldn’t argue with that.  These activities foster communication differently than “shout-it-out” answer time and than the ever-tiresome round-robin.

I also love that Renner encourages teachers to write case studies.  Published readers are handy, but often pretty sterile reading.  Why use something canned and not quite right if you can do it better yourself?  His tips for writing quality pieces were well-taken.  I would add that we should all read and take to heart The Elements of Style.

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

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

Notes

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.