Tag Archives: Learning skills

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.

Ask Somebody!

For a number of years I’ve been conducting dictionary presentations with third graders. There’s a point at which I ask the kids, “What do we do if we come to a word we don’t know?”

Historically, the kids have pretty much unanimously replied, “Look it up!” (The pile of dictionaries behind me is probably a clue that helps them with the answer.)

Well, this year I was a bit surprised to hear a few kids say, “Ask somebody!” This in spite of the prominent pile of dictionaries.

And then today I learn about a project whereby Amazon.com has hired some folks from Quorus–a service that is adding a “social dimension” to online shopping. Say you are shopping for a gift and are having trouble deciding. The Quorus program would allow you to “discuss” the purchase (online) with other members of the family both in real time (chat) and offline.

Imagine being able to ask all of your friends online, “Will these pants make my butt look big?”

As if to reaffirm this trend, when I was getting instruction regarding my newly aquired SmartPhone, the representative pointed out that “the best thing to do when you are looking at an ‘ap’ is to see what the reviews (other people) have said about it.” Yep, that sounds like “ask somebody” to me! Instead of researching the developer and the features of the ap, I’m supposed to count stars I guess. (Actually, I do read reviews–but that’s only one component of the research.)

Surely we could spend days discussing the ramifications of this trend.  I’ll bet if we involved Madam DeFarge she’d opine, “It’s the best of times; it’s the worst of times.”

My relationship with technology is at times tenuous, although I confess I have personified my GPS and will occasionally argue with her, but often rely on her. “Greta says that I’ll be arriving in 45 minutes…” In practice, I’ve asked Greta (her last name is Garmin) how long the trip will take. So far, I remain convinced I’m still smarter than she is.

Let’s set aside the question of whether or not this is all good stuff. (Personally, I like seeing kids looking up things in the dictionary instead of asking somebody. I also still have arguments with Greta when she tries to make me take a turn that doesn’t make sense. Suffice it to say, asking somebody is not a substitute for using our brains.)

One of the questions this does raise… Where are we going to learn the social (media) graces? To wit, if I bump into you at the bank in Dover Foxcroft, I’m probably not going to show you a picture of what I had for breakfast. For that matter, if you invite me to lunch, I’m probably not going to whip out my (yet unnamed) SmartPhone to ask people what looks good on the menu.

Whaddya think?

Don’t say, “I’m not sure, let me ask somebody.”

Flipping the classroom script…

The other day I was walking a second grader back to his classroom after he’d read a couple of chapters to me. We were bemoaning the fact that we didn’t have time to finish the story. I suggested he might be able to finish it during his MIL and then tell me about it later. He was suprised that I know about MIL.

For those who don’t, the acronym stands for “Managed Independent Learning.” A third grader piqued my inerest a few years ago and explained the basic concept. There are some periods throughout the day when students are, literally, allowed to manage their own learning independently. Well, there’s some obvious supervision required, but it’s pretty awesome to watch.

A slightly older colleague provides an interesting perspective on the process and why it works. I stumbled on to this TED clip a few months ago and it’s been “bothering” me ever since. While the speaker is talking very specifically about using video, spend the twenty minutes it takes to get the concept. Then tell me it doesn’t make sense.

 

My Brain Is Too Small

A second grader recently warned me that he didn’t think he was a very good reader. When I probed the reason for his conclusion he told me in very adult terms, “I do fine at home but when I get to school… my brain is too small! There are just too many words and things to learn!”

I wanted to reply, “I know how you feel.”

Later I stumbled onto this article:

How much of learning time is spent NOT learning, do you suppose?

In order to learn, people need time to think, to process, to question and explore. Great companies like Google know this to be true and give their workers permission simply to think or explore 20% of the time. Thanks to this 20% time, Gmail and Google News were created.

What if we allowed 20% time in our learning environments? For every hour of learning time, we allot 12 minutes for our learners to work with the topic on their own? They might go to a quiet meditative room to review their notes. They might go out on the floor and see concepts in action. They might do further research on the topic such as what industries are already using it (whatever it might be). Whatever they choose, it would not be prescribed. It would  simply be reflective, processing time… When it comes to learning, less is more is an adage that holds true.

(c) 2011 The Training Doctor, LLC  http://www.trainingdr.com

An interesting suggestion… but it’s not just about training. Thanks to technology we can multitask. How many times have you carried on a conversation with someone who’s punching the screen of their smart phone?  If it’s safe to do so, count how many drivers you encounter who are NOT talking on a cell phone. 

Next time I read with my second grade buddy I may suggest that the problem is not that his brain is too small. Perhaps it’s just that his brain is too busy. (During our reading time I suggested we’d take it slow–one word at a time if necessary– and discovered that he’s actually a pretty good reader.)

Whether we are learning or living,  a little “down time” isn’t such a bad idea. Take time to process  and explore. One of my favorite brain/thinking researchers was Ned Hermann. He used to describe sitting in his recliner and approaching a “theta”  rhythm characterized by a drowsy, meditative, or sleeping state. If his wife called out to him to take out the trash or perform some other task he’d reply, “Not now, dear. I’m working.”

Reflection, exploration… these are activities with at least as much value as writing or talking or punching the screen of your smart phone. Allow yourself time to do them and you may discover that your brain is bigger than you thought.