“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.

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“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.”

“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!

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.)