Category Archives: Teaching

Practice Makes Perfect…

An interesting (and ongoing–this is nothing new, really) debate in the public education sector includes the role of “vocational” education. Meanwhile, some of us are still wondering what happened to “shop” and “home economics.” During one session at the recent Financial Literacy Summit I chuckled a bit when a speaker asked how many schools were providing “consumer science” courses. “Oh, you mean home ec?” The speaker went out to point out that she’d counseled a college student regarding his financial problems only to discover that he was eating every meal out because he didn’t know how to cook.

A recent study conducted in the UK asked what type of qualification or training would help young people succeed in their career. The answers came back:  on the job training (93%), apprenticeships (90%) and internships (84%) topped the table compared to 78% who said degrees. Now I’m not minimizing the value of a college education–any education has value–nor am I trying to start a political debate. But whether we are talking about adult education courses of the public education system in America, there’s a lot to be said for integrating “hands on” learning. I’m sure I’m not the only one who remembers the response to students who announced they were studying for a liberal arts or some other esoteric degree: “You want fries with that?”

Education at any and all levels is not a “one size fits all” proposition. The following is an article about an article that appeared in the most recent issue of Training Doctor News.

Here is a really fascinating article ( comparing the standard United States educational system approach of getting everyone the same, basic, k-12 education and the more pragmatic approach of other nations such as Switzerland and the Netherlands. The impetus for the article was a perceived draw back of the Obama plan and the recent announcement to invest 1 billion dollars to increase the partnership between high schools, colleges and employers.

 Here are just a few highlights, we recommend taking 5 minutes to read the whole article:

  •  A draw back of the plan is that it is focused on post-high school, while in many Western European nations, the final years of high school are customized depending on whether the student is going to go on to college, go on to a technical school, or enter the workforce (in other words, preparing young adults for the workforce is addressed much earlier)
  •  Currently, the (US) youth unemployment rate (26 years and under) is 22%; in the Netherlands the youth unemployment rate is 5%.
  •  In the United States, only 20% of 26-year-olds have a credential of some type.
  •  The Swiss government analyzes business needs and the skills required to achieve those needs and plans for government sponsored schooling to feed the needs of business; in the US there are just a few non-profit organizations that bridge between the three: government, schooling and business.

Nancy Hofmann, author of the book, Schooling in the Workplace, is quoted in the article as saying: [in the US] “We behave as though nobody needs to learn to work. We behave as if somehow education alone will launch you into a career.”

(c) 2012 The Training Doctor, LLC


Giving Up Teaching…

No, I am not announcing retirement. That is what we call an “attention-getting headline.”  Before you charge me with misrepresentation, understand that I’ve actually been “giving up teaching” for quite a few years now.

Ho Hum, we’re being taught.

When I substitute teach I introduce “Rule #2” into my classroom: “We will enjoy learning.” I convinced myself to follow this course because I do love to learn and, hope to instill that love in my young students. I believe learning should be as much fun as possible. When it’s not fun it should at least be rewarding. That’s no less true for adults.

A recent article in Harvard Review, Twilight of the Lecture, by Eric Mazur was very affirming. Mazur says he is “more interested in learning than teaching” and demonstrates with research that moving the focus away from the lectern to the “physical and imaginative activity of each student” is the key to improved learning. In practical terms,

The active-learning approach challenges lecturers to re-evaluate what they can accomplish during class that offers the greatest value for students. Mazur cites a quip to the effect that lectures are a way of transferring the instructor’s lecture notes to students’ notebooks without passing through the brains of either.

For anyone who teaches, this article is a “must-read.” I’ve witnessed this first hand when working with second graders through adult learners. Many second grade readers will stumble over a word and look at me with inquisitive eyes. My instincts are often to give them the answer, but I know that’s not very engaging. So we might “sound it out,” break it down, or consider the context. Sometimes we find a dictionary and look it up. They don’t always like it because it means work. But I think it also means learning and engagement.

Can’t you just tell me the answer?

Adults like this even less. Real estate pre-licensing courses require testing and passing grades. I introduce every course with this observation, requiring students to write it down at the beginning of their notebook:

If you study to remember you will forget. If you study to understand you will remember.

That sort of process doesn’t usually work very well when I’m lecturing–students are writing down and hoping they can remember what I say. The harsh reality is that I’m doing all the work and hoping they are “with me.” It seems a bit odd that we are both hoping it will work. Hope is a wonderful thing, but effort tends to get more results.

Interactive learning is more work for the teacher and the student. It’s also not traditional, especially with adults. Teachers/lecturers like maintaining control of their classrooms. What we need to understand is that interactive learning does not translate to giving up control of the classroom–it simply requires a different set of skills and a higher level of engagement on the part of all involved. The ultimate classroom management takes place when we engage the learners’ mind as well as their pencils. Mazur says, “Active learners take new information and apply it, rather than just making note of it.”

No, I’m not retiring… and I’m actually not really giving up teaching. But I’m constantly doing it differently because I think teaching is really about learning.

My Brains Came! My Brains Came!

The UPS truck made it up the driveway yesterday in spite of the storm… I suppose the driver thought it a bit odd that I proclaimed “my brains are here!” when he set the box down.

It was a fairly large box.

Dealing with test and quiz anxiety is typically a challenge for some adult learners. A few years ago I learned that using stress balls (sometimes called “squeezies”) can help restless children focus… the constant motion seems to release energy and allow the child to focus. So, I thought. “Why wouldn’t this work with adults taking quizzes and tests?”

My first experiment with the theory included a young man who was self-proclaimed “A.D.D.” and he actually broke the stress ball I provided. But he also got a pretty good grade and thought having it helped. So I ordered more–different ones that wouldn’t break.

These cubes proved popular–so much so that they’ve gradually disappeared and I’m down to three. Since it was time to order more, I decided to get a little creative this time… and I was quite pleased to find “squeezies” in the shape of brains. How much more appropriate could things be? Take a test–squeeze your brain! You might be surprised to discover what comes out!

From my side of the desk…

I’m always hesitant to call myself a teacher… for a lot of reasons, I suppose. One is that I do spend a lot of time at the local elementary school as a volunteer and I do not want any role confusion. (I had a young fellow at school ask me if he could something the other day. I replied that he needed to ask his teacher. His reply secretly made my day. “But you teach me stuff–like how to read!” Okay, but you still need to ask your official teacher.)

I do teach. I guess  I can consider myself officially a teacher of adults. And the role of the teacher and student is an interesting one… I’m often surprised–or at least disappointed– that a number of my adult students expect it to be somewhat adversarial. One of my colleagues reported a student announcing that since she was “the customer” and paying for the course she “would do whatever she wanted in class.” Fortunately, my colleague had the presence of mind to reply, “Yes, you are the customer and you can do whatever you like. I am the instructor and can do whatever I like–including giving you a failing grade for the course.”

I’m convinced that we’ve got this wrong in a very fundamental way. I think it stems from a too-often adversarial relationship between parents and teachers. It is not my intent to contribute to the hostility by defending teachers–certainly we are not a perfect profession at any age or grade level. I also do not want to over-simplify the topic.

But I do want to suggest that we get rid of the desk. I don’t want to sit behind it and I don’t want my students or their parents sitting in front of it. (Okay, I’ve never had an adult learner’s parent intercede on the students’ behalf, but I have been contacted by spouses.)

Let’s sit next to each other and talk about what it is that we are trying to achieve. Your homework assignment is to read this article before we meet:

“What teachers want to tell parents.”

The assignment applies even if you aren’t a parent of school-aged children, because our class discussion will be about how we view education and development… and how easy it is to forget what we’re trying to accomplish with it.