Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Window Streaks and Learning

Early in my marriage, my wife and I would infrequently haul out rolls of paper towel and window spray for the detestable work of washing windows.  One of us worked on the outside and the other from in the house.
Inevitably, one of us would tap in the window and point to a streak or spot that the other had missed.  The trouble was that the person with the spot or streak couldn’t see it.  We simply needed to trust each other’s eyes, follow the pointing finger, reapply the spray and wipe a bit longer.  
At times the work leads to laughter, sometimes not.
Just this week I relearned the wisdom of this lesson again, twice: once in my classroom, once in another venue. Both reminded me of how much I need to continue learning.
The classroom application came in a class in which I had been practicing a concept that I had been teaching the students for over two weeks and which would be on an up and coming test.  Though the students could work magic with the concept in a closed context (a school context), they, without realizing it, were lost to do so in a real-life situation.  
I could see the spots on their side of the glass, but they could not.  Their vision for the concept was limited.
One student asked me when we could use this concept in everyday life.  Having shared this at the beginning of the teaching two weeks earlier, I reminded and restated the example. The class looked at me and nodded, remembering that the discussion had taken place, but that was all.
They could see the spots on my side of the glass, but I could not. I had not taught the full use of the concept.
Nodding at myself, I took a step back and asked how the class would feel about going back to the beginning, building an assortment of scenarios in which we could use what I was teaching them, breaking up into groups to practice it, and then speeding up the question and response time so they could master it.
The energy level of the room told me that the answer was yes.  The smiles told me that I had found the spot on my side of the glass and washed it away.
Together we practiced, checking in with each other.  My job was to keep sharing scenarios that were real and relative to my students.  The students’ job was to practice hard and let me know how their understanding was growing.
In the end, we could all see better.  Our window was clean.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

We each process differently. Speaking and listening in Teaching(or training, or training, or…)

We each process differently.  Speaking and listening in Teaching(or training, or training, or…)
Over the years and decades of learning and teaching (and coaching and training…), I have been placed in so many different sets of circumstances in which I needed to stop, look, listen, and reflect about what I was doing. It always came at a time when what I was doing was either not working or not as well as I had hoped.
Several weeks ago it happened again. During an evening class, I was pulling out all of the stops to teach a concept to a group of students. They too were putting themselves into the learning.  Yet, despite everyone’s effort, the connection I had hoped my class would make with the material fell short.  
At the end of the evening, I asked the group to review and share with me what they had learned, and they did so quite well. Nonetheless, I sensed that their words masked the lack of depth of understanding. Their eyes, on the other hand, revealed all.
Upon leaving the building I was struck by an idea. My smartphone holds a great free app called Sound Cloud. It allows users to record music and voice and share. I knew that several of my students used it for music, and the others could easily download it.

So upon reaching my car, I pulled out my phone and recorded a simple 5-minute review of the class’ main points with some easy-to-understand examples.  Five minutes!  That is all the time it took. I uploaded the recording and e-mailed my students a link to follow me, asking for their input.
The input they gave excited me.  Some commented that listening again in a different way was what helped.  Others said that they appreciated being able to hear the lesson again once they were back home. That alone did the trick.  All agreed that they wanted to have a new sound cloud for each remaining lesson of the class. They wanted to keep listening.
Motivated to see what else could be done with this simple concept, I brought the idea to my high school group.  Always willing to try something that uses their technology, they pulled out their phones and either started following me on Sound Cloud or downloaded the app so they could do so.
It only took one recording of a lesson to hook my classes. They love the freedom of reviewing material.  Others like having access to lessons when they are sick. Everyone wants to have the session recorded during their particular classes. 

Since I teach language, I have begun creating stories that encapsulate the unit themes, vocabulary, grammar and culture and sending students on academic walks to listen.  After their academic walks, students return to class to discuss the recordings. Since we have been doing this, even the most challenged students have begun to participate more in speaking.  When I asked the students to share with me what was happening while they listened to the stories, they were more than ready to tell.
Each time listening brought them a deeper understanding.  They could picture the lessons in the book. Hearing the information that they had read brought the chapter topics home to them. Hearing the tales in the voice of the person who made the stories specifically for them helped them invest more. Having the opportunity to listen as many times as they wanted or needed gave the students a certain ease of approach.
I’m sold.  The beauty of this tool is that it is free.  We use it in class, so students can share technology. Students with computers at home may access Sound Cloud there. Others who need to use the school or public library computers may do so. 
What is more, it offers yet another means of reaching students, going where they are to help them learn, and show them that their teacher is invested in their learning.

So, why is this BLOG entitled We each process differently.  Speaking and listening in Teaching(or training, or training, or…)?  I suppose it is because students and teachers alike process differently.  I needed to be confronted with a problem before I reached a possible solution.  My students needed to test the process to see if it could work, and we all will be playing with this gem to see where else we can use it for learning and teaching.
What a great project for all involved!  Thank, Sound Cloud!

If you have any additional ideas for using this or other teaching/training/learning apps, please forward them to me via FaceBook or brian@pickerd.com