“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.”

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“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

Notes:

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

Notes

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!

Sizing Up ‘English from A-Z’

English from A-Z by C. Akinyi, from Amazon
"English from A-Z" by C. Akinyi, from Amazon

The first thing about this book: it looks for all the world like a reference book, and I assumed that it was a reference book for teaching English.

Turns out I would have named it “Learning English from A to Z” because it’s for students.  It has a reference-y feel to it and also has many exercises and an audio CD.

I know, I know, don’t judge a book by its cover.  Let’s move on.

I decided to skim through the book even though it’s not like the other books I’m looking at.  I’m trying to decide what the intended usage niche for this book is.  There’s not enough explanation through words or through pictures for it to be a primary text.  There are nice dialogues, lists of examples (i.e. list of synonyms, antonyms, etc.) that would make great references, and exercises for practice.  I guess it’s extra, self-directed learning for people who already have some English.  My immediate questions:

  1. do students use this?
  2. do schools use this?
  3. how can my learning center and my students use this?
  4. I should see if the library carries this, and suggest it if they don’t.

The idioms and slang section is particularly interesting to me.  The workbooks we use at my learning center avoid slang like “funky,” “nasty,” “screw up,” “homey,” and “crap.”  They’re usually skipped because they can get uncomfortable, but I think students do need to learn them at some point.  This book also lists “to pass wind” as an idiom, which I don’t think I’ve seen before.  Makes me think we should just have an entire unit on bodily functions euphemisms.  We Americans love our euphemisms.

Glancing through the grammar pages, which include Sentence Structure and Tenses, I think I should read them this evening.  They’re simple, so it’ll be a quick read to make sure I know the most basic metalanguage cold.  I mean, I know it, but whenever it comes up in class a part of me is nervous that I’m getting something subtly wrong.

In the Study Tips section, the phrase “miss pelt words” appears.  I hope on a deep level that this was intentional.

I wouldn’t have put this book on my syllabus if I’d realized that it was geared toward students and not toward teachers.  Still, I’m glad I paged through it.  Now I know what kind of a resource it is for students, and I can at least get some basic English grammar review out of it for myself for the purpose of being a better teacher.

(I’m also thinking that I might like to dig more carefully through my learning center’s books.  Maybe learning about our book collection could be another 5-week course.  I could assess more of our books the way I assessed this one, plus maybe add a summary section listing strengths, weaknesses, pictures, niche, audience, and so on.  I might have to make a page of additional 5-week courses that come to mind – my mental list is already quite long.)