Thursday, 10 March 2016

Self-directed / Transformational / Experiential Learning

Type of learning might be my favourite component of this course -- self-directed learning is more complex than it seems. In this article, the author points out Grow's stages of self-directed learning and points to the different roles an instructor takes during each stage, from authoritative and reeling in learners with specific assignments in stage one, all the way to facilitating and collaborating in stage four. I believe this would be the most rewarding component for me in teaching -- witnessing the progress and gradually "stepping away" as learners took more responsibility for their learning and for their projects.

I know I was only supposed to write on one of the three types of learning, but this article on transformative learning was so great. When I first read about transformative writing in the text it grabbed my attention and inspired me to want and strive for this type of learning in my classroom. Can we influence people into a deeper sense of change by what we teach? I hope so.

I liked what Laurence Cohen said in this video about transformative learning. He engages his students on the assumption that they experience the learning process as he did -- with melancholy and a general sense of oppression. He says the teacher can not be the only active participant in a classroom where transformative learning takes place, and leaves us with the question -- where do we go from here?

"As long as our experiences fit, or can be fit, into our existing meaning structures we tend to not engage in transformative learning." This amazing quotation from this article on Mezirow's transformational learning model sums up a very important point about how we are sometimes held back by the inability to experience discomfort. Every day people struggle in the endless quest to escape the unknown, the fearful, the unknown and when we struggle we do not change. I saw the absolute worst consequences of this concept when I worked in a day shelter for homeless and addicted individuals. 

It was interesting to see this concept in a learning model, and that the process of transformational learning is so deeply ingrained in a very personal process through dilemma to action phases. I wonder what happens to people who don't make it all the way through the phases -- I suppose they don't fully "transform" but I wonder if engaging in part of the process plants the seed and makes it easier to try again in the future. 

Finally, experiential learning is dear to me as it is the way I learn and, though I love to read and appreciate a great set of instructions, I truly appreciate the robust offering of experiential learning. This will no doubt be the ticket to my success as an instructor.

Kolb's four-stage learning model outlined here clearly demonstrates how experiential learning can
Photo courtesy of
appeal to what we know about adult learners -- being 
experience based, self-directed, learning by doing, and being externally motivated. Encouraging students through the stages -- concrete experience >> reflective observation >> abstract conceptualization >> active experimentation -- allows students to work with and implement their own experiences and knowledge and ultimately "try out" what they are learning. This is why apprenticeships work so well -- they take the theory and knowledge and give hands-on opportunities to apply this "book smart" information in the real world and under a mentor, and learn by trial and error. 

In my classroom, a practical component would be ideal -- teaching journalism students could conduct interviews, edit copy, and pitch real editors on story ideas. In trades communications, students could identify real life issues, develop a plan to address them, and move forward with the plan or components of it. 


Cognitive Science for Learning - Remember for Life

This is a brilliant look at different types of memory, how the brain transfers information from one type of memory to the other (or not), and the extent or limitations of different types of memory. I liked what it said about motivation and interest being factors in whether information is more or less easily retained and committed to long-term memory. I also thought the differentiation between episodic memory -- recall of facts, dates, times in chronological order -- and semantic memory -- also declarative but independent of dates, times, and context -- was fascinating as I wouldn't have guessed they were two specific types of memory using different parts of the brain.

I understand that repetition is sometimes necessary, but my aim in teaching is to reach people on a deeper level, and use their interests, self-directedness, and experiences to create a setting in which they will learn by doing and remember by caring, rather than committing random facts to memory through repetition.

Some techniques I could use are story-telling, role playing, problem-centred group work, and situational analysis -- basically, any context in which the learner participates and to some degree facilitates and directs the learning process. Check out this video on story-telling as a way to help memorize facts. Though a deliberate rote recall technique is pictured here, the principles still apply of remembering based on emotional investment in material and in an increase of retention up to 90% when facts are associated with a story.

Teaching journalism or trades writing, for instance, I could ask students to find an article they can relate to and talk about what it brought up for them. I could provide examples of pieces poorly written and students could work independently or in groups to identify areas of improvement. Since writing news from press releases is a big part of the field, I could provide press releases and ask students to use specific techniques to rewrite the material. I think in any one of these cases they could learn by their work and through their struggles, implementing peer feedback as they go.
If I were teaching trades communication, role playing and problem-centred group work would really allow learners to interject with their own experiences and hear from their peers what may or may not work. I think in this situation, peer feedback would be more valuable that instructor feedback, depending on the situation.

Another article I read on memory strategies gave a number of pointers for remembering that I could implement from a teaching perspective. Visual maps and props are high on the list of ways to facilitate memory. Venn diagrams and episodic organizers are helpful, but also rather stilted and not as effective for students who struggle with written ideas. Posters, art projects, photography, and other visual stimuli would likely create a longer lasting impact. I also spent a lot of time outdoors in a first-year English class and found the lessons I learned on self-reflection, non-fiction prose, and story line have stayed with me over the years.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Motivation - Going Within with an Eye on the Prize

Motivation is the key to everything. I have been consistently amazed at what you can convince a person to do or believe if you can just find the golden egg of motivation. I have dealt with children and adults with learning disabilities, low self-esteem, low impulse control, emotional volatility, and and a general sense of apathy and the key to reaching their learning goals has always been motivation.

It is like a puzzle. We all get out of bed for one reason or another, and we all push through discomfort at varying degrees and for different reasons. We love what we love and we hate what we hate, but we all have something that will motivate us to achieve amazing things if we really put our hearts into it.

Maslow said a person can't move on to learn and achieve secondary needs or desires until his or her primary needs are met. In the classroom, how can we attend to a person's sense of safety and psychological well-being before expecting him or her to make room for bigger, more profound information? That is the trick. This article on basic techniques looks at that exact issue and suggests techniques for inspiring intrinsic motivation in adult learners.

This is a particular feat since it is well established that a large portion of adult learners take on the challenge to learn for externally motivating reasons -- job advancement, skills updating, mandatory work requirement, faced with a problem-centred life situation. How, then, do we cater to those basic needs in order to draw out the intrinsic motivation to learn for the sake of learning, for the immense pleasure of accomplishment, for the joy of achievement? Again, this is the trick.

I enjoyed the suggestions that seem to draw the learner's sense of self into the lesson -- encouraging personal stories, emphasizing practical knowledge, acknowledging feelings and ideas based in life experience. Essentially the article encourages us to engage students by welcoming them to become part of the learning process and personally investing in the material.

Creating a Positive Learning Environment - Peace, Brother, In the Classroom, that is

To be perfectly honest, it didn't occur to me at first that it would be necessary to manage problem behaviours in the adult classroom. This is naive, I know, but I spend so much time managing child behaviour, that time with an adult is a form of respite and rarely gets out of hand.

But now that I think of it, there were plenty of people in university who would have fallen in this category -- people who were overzealous, excited to be in school, nervous to fit in and achieve -- and they consistently spoke out of turn, tackled the teacher with questions about work that had not yet been covered, and attempted to dominate the conversation with their own experiences. (See, it is all coming back to me now ...)

This article examines practical techniques aimed at managing behaviour before it becomes an issue, non-aggressive techniques for addressing behaviours without embarrassment or shame, and ensuring students remain engaged despite being corrected. I can definitely pull some techniques out of the article, such as acknowledging excitement, stating the classroom culture, and being mindful of my own presentation and how this is affecting or coming across to students. School can be so difficult for people of any age -- I paid particular attention to the techniques centered on eliminating embarrassment.

Much of the advice in the article applies to the same rules I use coaching minor soccer -- when someone loses interest or wanders off change the subject; ask the so-called "trouble" students to help or participate in a deeper way to give an outlet for the extra energy and enthusiasm; and, set the culture of your learning space from day one. The article suggests giving students a few weeks to "settle in" and I don't disagree, but I would also set the tone from day one as I have found this remarkably useful in my own teaching and learning settings. We teach people how to treat us, of course.

I also enjoyed this article about using humour in the classroom. While I recognize different uses of humour work differently for certain people, my own style and opinion is to keep humour condusive to learning -- it is a wonderful way to engage and inspire students, and can lead to some fantastic discussions once the tension is broken. I often use self-deprecating humour to diffuse difficult situations in my teaching and personal life and can see myself using this in an adult classroom as well.

I was reading about diversity in the classroom and creating a safe, inclusive space and I came across this article, which links to a number of resources on techniques for supporting racial, sexual, socioeconomic, and otherwise diverse learning environments and I came across this link to managing hot moments and turning them into teaching moments.

There is nothing more profound than coming out the other side of a difficult situation with a deeper, more appreciative understanding of something. People carry experiences like that for life. In this article, there is a story about some students who had racially motivated argument in the classroom, and the teacher handled it by connecting the students in a teachable moment. The article says, "He did it by keeping his head, not taking sides, and letting both groups know that they would gain immeasurably by understanding the arguments of the other side."

This example and its advice is priceless and I hope to achieve this level of calm and inspiration as an instructor.