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Monthly Archives: October 2014

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A Hallowe’en Tale for Educators

What’s not to like about putting on a costume and knocking on strangers’ doors for free candy?

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A simple shift in perspective can transform dialogue and engagement

 

Today I got to shake hands with over 300 students. No, it wasn’t convocation – it was kind of the opposite of convocation. It was…the annual College Information Fair.

That’s when hundreds of (mostly) high school students pour into a massive convention centre by the busload, and let loose on aisles of kiosks and pavilions, each promoting specific academic institutions and programs. Some students were 100% clear about their post-secondary journeys, some expressed uncertainty about which school to attend. Others candidly acknowledged that they didn’t have a glimmer of an idea about where they wanted to head after high school. Some were leaning toward a program that wasn’t going to get them to their ultimate career destination, and many were just there to hang out with friends and pick up some free swag.

Last year I approached my role with the primary objective of offering information about the academic programs that I administer. This year, I decided to try a slightly different approach, more in line with motivational interviewing, where the goal is to evoke versus educate. In other words, instead of asking potential students “How can I help you?” / “What would you like to know?”, I opened the conversation with a couple of questions designed to briefly elicit each person’s “big picture” goals before honing in on the specifics of a particular program of study.

Instead of… I asked…
How can I help you? What programs are you interested in?
What would you like to know about Program X? What made you decide that you’re interested in Program X?
What other questions can I help with? Where do you see yourself in terms of your ultimate goal or career?
Here’s some additional information… Can I share how Program X (and/or Y and/or Z) might fit with your goals?

The results were amazing. Because many teenagers aren’t the most voluble conversationalists, our interactions were brief but much more meaningful than the conversations that I held last year. Students were engaged, they felt heard and affirmed, and for many who were unsure about their future, a couple of follow-up questions (“What kinds of courses in high school captured your interest most?” “If you could have any job, what would it be?”) helped them to clarify some possible directions. I also heard some amazing stories and made deeper connections.

And from a purely selfish perspective, at the end of the day I too felt energized. I felt like I contributed more than what’s written in the academic calendar!

 

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Learning is up to the learner, but teaching is up to the teacher

 

It’s one thing to teach, and quite another to learn. Learning is up to the learner, not the teacher. Just like the old saying: “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

But…here’s the thing: You can make him thirsty!

So the question is, how do we create environments that make learners “thirsty”? In other words, how can we foster learner engagement? Herewith, my personal Top 10. Some are prosaic and some can be incredibly challenging. And that’s a good thing, because we are all learners and we’re all teachers.

1. Start as you mean to go on: Begin every workshop, class, course, etc. with a question. Establishing right at the outset that our learning journey will be collective and collaborative is key, and especially early on I make a point of explicitly praising and otherwise rewarding any and all signs of positive engagement on the part of individuals/groups.

2. Incentivize participation: We want learners to take risks and make mistakes. When a person volunteers for something high risk, reinforce the desired behaviour. I don’t advertise it ahead of time, but whoever comes to the front of the room to do a role play with me is going to go back to his or her seat with some small token. It doesn’t even really matter what it is (think $ store).

3. Provide normative feedback: Using in-class mobile polling or an audience response system (like iClickers) lets learners compare their own knowledge/opinions/beliefs/assumptions with others in the room.

4. Establish relevance: Learners what to know “what’s in it for me?” Creating learning activities that help people bridge curricula to their own lives = good. Co-constructing learning activities that address/solve real-world problems = better.

5. Show your sense of humour: It’s hard to be serious all the time. Make it fun and mix it up! Shared laughter builds group cohesion.

6. Affirm autonomy: Let’s face it. Some days we are more fired up than others about our life’s work, and it’s no different for our students. When individuals or groups just don’t seem to be getting on board, I find that stating out loud (with 100% sincerity and with 0% judgement) that how/when/if folks engage is entirely their choice seems to free up some good energy for engagement.

7. Deploy multiple “engagement channels”: Individuals come to learning environments with a range of different learning preferences and a range of preferred ways of participating and engaging. Some people like the limelight, others need time to process and formulate a thoughtful response, and many are more comfortable sharing in a smaller group. The more choices we can offer about how to participate the better, including: verbal/written, large group/small group, synchronous/asynchronous, classroom-based/online, and more.

8. Evoke affect:  Research about emotion (affect), memory, and implications for learning suggest that teaching needs to go beyond engaging at a purely intellectual (cognitive) level, and touch peoples’ feelings (for example, Sylwester, 1994; and more recent perspectives that encompass academic technology and affective/cognitive learning, Calvo & D’Mello, 2011). Create learning activities that pair new knowledge and skills acquisition with positive affect, like surprise, delight, excitement, curiosity for deeper and more durable learning.

9. Show them you care: Authentic care and concern can go far in building good will and fostering mutual respect and support for one another’s learning and achievement.

10. And last but not least – know when to break the rules (and go ahead and break them). Like the time I called it a day and took the group shopping. 

 

 

Related articles

Five Reasons why Reality TV is not a Waste of Time: How reality TV can inform teaching best practices

Seven Essentials for 21st Century Education and Teaching: Stuff it took me 20 years to learn and I’m still trying to figure out

Rules of Engagement: The “Top 4” preconditions for learner engagement

 

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