“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!

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.

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.)

Docuticker – I’m A Little Obsessed

I want to give a shout-out to an awesome website an academic reference librarian showed me: Docuticker.com.

Docuticker - Blog of Documents!
Docuticker - Blog of Documents!

Basically, the blog is run by librarians who troll the universe for documents they see as important and from reliable sources (i.e. scientific research, government reports, Think Tank results, statistics summaries, etc.) and post them in a blog, occasionally with limited commentary.  The focus is on the documents.

You can search Docuticker’s archives by the date of the post or by category (there’s a nonprofit category!), and can even put it in your RSS feed, though be warned – it’s high volume posting!

That’s pretty much it.  Resources selected by information professionals, brilliantly simple for the user.  Do check it out!

And once you have checked it out… do you think that comments would add or detract from what Docuticker does?  How could it be more interactive and still maintain its apparent goal of being a pure resource?

WhatWorks?

I just happened upon www.whatworks.org, “benchmarking for nonprofits.”  I was hoping it was a resource of best-practices, but at first glance it seems to be focused purely on measurement of outcomes.  Still, very cool idea.  I’ll be looking at it more to see if it leaves me disappointed or inspired.

EDIT:

I quick spied on it using Technorati.  Technorati is officially the best idea ever.