I just don’t want to be here…

We have all experienced it: Sitting in a classroom and wishing to be anywhere else. We just don’t want to be there… Maybe it is because the course is boring, the material is way over our head, the instructor not a very nice person. In teacher language, this is called resistance to learning.

In chapters 16 and 17 of ” The Skillful Teacher”, Brookfield discusses student resistance to learning.  The main reasons why students resist learning are when they perceive the instructor to be incompetent and when they don’t see the relevancy of learning that particular competency or skill.

I can imagine that resistance to learning happens not only in college classrooms but also in corporate training when employees are required to attend courses and do not see the point.

So what is an instructor do to when he/she perceives some students to be resistant to learning? Brookfield suggests employing a variety of teaching techniques ( at least 3 per session), using multiple channels of communication, being responsive to students’ needs and being aware of their cultural backgrounds. It is almost like coercing students to learn even when they don’t want to.

I experienced resistance to learning myself in the last few years when I was a psychology student at UBC. I was required to take a social psychology class and I was mad every time I walked out of that class. At the time, I felt that most things the teacher said just did not make sense to me. She was opinionated, judgmental and not very receptive to other points of view.  I have since read that social psychology is under fire for producing research that is often not valid and that social psychology professors are overwhelmingly liberal and biased. No wonder I was mad… Because I had to take the course, I went through the motions of memorizing and writing exams and got my A. What a waste of my time…

I do not want any of my students to experience what I just described. My job as an instructor is to recognize resistance, try to understand the root cause, and use all the tools at my disposal to respond to it. I have an internal dialogue about motivation and engagement, but for today, let’s just say that I believe that it is very difficult to motivate someone to do something that they do not want to do. What I can do though is try my very best to engage with my students, offer the “buy in”, hoping that this will translate into self-motivation to learn.

 

5 year plan

I am brand new to teaching and I love it! I teach business law, leadership and business communication in a small college in Vancouver. Because I am so new, I have everything to learn. Hence the name of my blog, Adventures in Learning. That being said, putting a five year plan together is always a good idea.

Identify goals:

  • Complete PIDP before Summer 2017. I have one course and the capstone left. I think that I can do it.
  • Continue developing and teaching my courses, aligning my delivery as much as I can to my teaching philosophy.
  • Complete Investment Dealer Compliance Certification from the Canadian Securities Institute in the next 12 months.
  • Build a corporate training business, focusing on leadership, risk management and compliance.

 

Create a game plan:

To improve my teaching:

  • Be aware of opportunities to attend conferences and seminars on adult education and business law and leadership
  • Follow blogs and websites
  • Seek out mentoring from more experienced instructors
  • Take time to think and reflect on what I am doing and why

To build my corporate training business:

  • Finish certification
  • Create business plan
  • Attend conferences and seminars
  • Network

 

Diversity outside the box

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In Chapter 8 of “The Skillful Teacher”, Brookfield discusses teaching in diverse classrooms. At the outset, I assumed that he would be talking about cultural diversity, and he was in part, but I liked that he broadened his discussion to include diversity in background,  foundational skills and learning styles. Every adult comes to higher education with a unique story, an individual lens through which they filter their experience in the classroom.

I am incredibly fortunate to teach in a small college where my students come from a multitude of cultural and religious backgrounds. The last time that I taught my course, my students were from India, China, Africa, Mongolia… Some of my students were Christians, others Muslims. We had daily discussions about justice and the law.  Engaging students in discussion is easy for me and I believe that I create en environment in our classroom where everybody feels heard and valued.

But all is not perfect… After reading Brookfield and others on teaching adults in diverse classrooms, I realize that engaging in discussion is not enough and that diversity does not end with cultural differences.

What can I do to make sure that I recognize diversity of culture but also personality, background and learning style?

  • I need to be more aware of my own cultural assumptions. I am white, female and educated in Canada. My cultural and academic experience is likely very different from that of my students.
  • I need to do more than ask my students about where they are from. I should also ask them about their experience in school, how they prefer to learn and work. In my opinion, this should be done informally, remembering that not all students are comfortable sharing with the class. Give the students the option to engage in conversation or in writing.
  • Do my best to use a variety of teaching techniques and activities. What works for one student might not for another. By using different options, I have a better chance of reaching everybody. In her article, “Making diverse classrooms safer for learning“, Margery Ginsberg makes a number of suggestions for techniques designed to engage diverse students.

When I read about diversity, I get anxious about not “doing it right”, about hurting someone’s feelings without knowing it. I hope that by being honest with my students they will see that I am doing my best in helping them learn. It is impossible to be perfect. As Brookfield says” Like democracy, inclusiveness is an ideal worth pursuing but one that will never be fully realized”( Brookfield 2015, p.109). As with many other things, awareness is key as is the willingness to get out of my box.

 

We are all adults here…

I have been asked to reflect on Chapter 2 of Stephen Brookfield’s “The Skillful Teacher”. In this chapter, Brookfield discusses what he believes to be the 4 core assumptions of skillful teaching:

  1. Skillful teaching is whatever helps students learn
  2. Skillful teachers adopt a critically reflective stance toward their practice
  3. Teachers need a constant awareness of how students are experiencing their learning and perceiving teacher’s actions
  4. College students of any age should be treated as adults

It is the last assumption that I would like to discuss. What does Brookfield mean exactly when he says that college students of any age should be treated as adults?

In his book, Brookfield lays out a number of things that we should and should not do to convey that message:

  • Don’t tell your students that they know as much as you do
  • Do not boss around or talk down to students, but they are happy with firm direction
  • Treat students with respect
  • Be explicit as to the reasons why you are doing what you are doing
  • Be discreet about your personal life outside the classroom

But these all seem to be rules of engagement to me rather than the rationale behind this assumption. Luckily, I found a podcast where Brookfield discusses this very topic:

http://teachinginhighered.com/podcast/skillful-teacher/#

In this episode, Brookfield elaborates what he means by his statement. Firstly, he believes that anybody of any age should be treated as an adult. And that relationship is defined by the following 2 conditions: A relationship based on mutuality and having a genuine interest in the other person’s thoughts and feelings. A person becomes an adult when they stop thinking that their experience is universal and that they are able to put themselves in other people’s shoes.

I am still a little unclear about this core assumption. I like to think that I respect all others thoughts, feelings and realities. Why would I treat my students any differently? In my opinion, this is a question of respect more than the definition of a stage in life. Maybe because Brookfield typically teaches undergraduates between the ages of 18-22, there is a tendency amongst his peers to “look down” on their students, or to deem them immature. But that has not been my experience so far…

 

 

Coursera for All

Today I watched a Ted Talk by Daphne Koller, one of the founders of Coursera.org. Her talk is titled “What we are learning from online education”. It was a great presentation on the benefits of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCS) by one of the pioneers in the field. Here are a few major points from her talk:

  • Education today is either unaccessible or unaffordable for the majority of people around the world
  • Online learning allows for personalized education, which has been shown to be the most beneficial in terms of learning
  • MOOCS generate massive amounts of data which, for the first time, will allow researchers to test major hypothesis about learning
  • Real course experience, such as assignments, grading, deadlines and feedback are all possible in this type of learning environment
  • Community forms between students who help each other solve problems and get through the coursework
  • MOOCS will make the dream of education becoming a fundamental human right possible

I was drawn to this Ted talk for the simple reason that I am big fan of Coursera and I was hoping that Dr. Koller would talk about the motivation to complete a course in an online environment when the content is free. I, and many of my family members, have taken courses on Coursera and not one of us has ever completed the course. Now you could say that we are a family of lazy procrastinators but we all seem to have managed to finish our university degrees. You could also say that we can afford to pay for education and therefore are not highly motivated to take advantage of a free opportunity. But I am not sure if that is the reason either…

I would love to see how many people finish the MOOCS they have started. I guess it depends, like anything, on the motivation to take the course in the first place. If it is only for personal interest, like it was for me, it is more like sitting down to read a book. Some books are more engrossing than others. If the motivation is to learn a new skill, or to use the course as a stepping stone, being able to have access to the best content online for free is an amazing opportunity.

In the meantime, I will continue to browse through the course catalog, dreaming about having the time to take courses in astronomy, mathematics, neuroscience…

https://embed.ted.com/talks/daphne_koller_what_we_re_learning_from_online_education

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What to do about a flatline…

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I took the Teachers Perspectives Inventory (TPI) today. The TPI is an instrument designed for teachers to prepare, research and reflect on their philosophies and values about teaching. I used it as part of my teacher development as a tool for self-reflection.

The TPI identifies 5 views of teaching that are common to most people:

Apprenticeship: Teachers must be highly skilled in what they teach. They must know what their learners can do on their own and when to provide guidance and direction.

Developmental: Teachers must help learners move from simple ways of thinking about the subject matter to more complex and sophisticated forms of reasoning.

Nurturing: Good teachers care about their students and provide a learning environment where students feel safe to try, fail and try again without fear of judgment.

Transmission: Good teachers are enthusiastic about their subject and present it in a memorable manner.

Social reform: Good teachers challenge the status quo and challenge students to think about things in a more social context.

Personal results are measured against norms of large numbers of teachers.  High vertical bars show how strongly one feels about each perspective.

Well… it seems that I do not feel very strongly about one perspective over the others. The flatline across the 4 main values, as well as across the beliefs, intentions and actions show a VERY novice teacher ( which I am) who is not quite sure what she is, what she values and who wants to be everything for everybody. I am both surprised and humbled by this. I thought that I had articulated a clear philosophy of teaching for myself but it seems that my intentions need a little backbone…To be continued…

If you would like to take the TPI yourself, you can find all the information at http://www.teachingperspectives.com/tpi/.

 

Muddling Through

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I like the expression ” Muddling Through”. Brookfield uses it to describe the teaching process but I like to use it to describe how I live my life. In a perfect world, I  would live my life with a grand master plan, always in control, planning every step along the way. But the reality is much messier than that. I am simply muddling through… I am doing the best that I can with the situation at hand, with the knowledge and experience that I have, keeping in mind what matters to me most. Because the reality is that I am not in control of what happens, only of how I react.

I appreciate that Brookfield talks about muddling through teaching. Even when we think that we have covered all the bases, that we are perfectly prepared, something invariably always comes up. Just like in life… Muddling through means relying on experience and intuition to respond to unexpected situations. I also feel like muddling through gives me permission to mess up sometimes, to not always be perfect, to just keep on doing the best that I can and keep trying to do better. Muddling through…