Dotty Andragogy

The amusing musings of an adult educator in the corporate training world.

Say my name, say my name

So it looks like Destiny’s Child isn’t the only one to point out the importance of saying others’ names; using students’ names is an important way for us to connect with them. I think most teachers know this as common sense, but I like how the instructor in this video explains why it’s important.

Knowing our students names is the first step to establishing a positive relationship with them. It makes learners feel more comfortable in a room full of strangers, which in turn opens them up to talk and share ideas. Our efforts to remember their names helps to build rapport with our students, and generates respect for us. Something I had not thought about before is that hearing their names in class creates a sense of identity for our students, as learners.

So, how to remember student names? Name tent cards are my favourite because that helps students to remember each others’ names as well as for me.

I really REALLY want these reusable dry erase name tent cards. Santa?

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Group the Groups

When forming groups in class for group activities, my usual method is to have students count consecutively out loud up to the number of groups we need, then repeat around the room. Sounds simple enough, but inevitably someone will count past the number of groups we need, or they lose track of where they are. It’s actually quite funny for a room full of adults not to get this right. A classmate shared this blog entry for some fun and creative ways to form groups. Here are some of the ideas from the blog, as well as some of my own, inspired by the writer:

Pass out one playing card to each student – this way you can separate them by suite, evens, odds, factors of a number (factors of 6), the same number (four 9’s), card-runs (2,3,4,5 or 6,7,8 depending on how big you want the group), divisible by, etc. Great versatility, love this idea!

Pairing words or concepts – pass out flash cards with words or concepts written on them and ask students to find their partner. The best thing about this method is that you can make it relevant to the lesson at hand, for example if teaching physics, “e” would need to find “mc2”. Equations, formulas, definitions, all work well.

Table groups – before students enter the classroom, organize the tables and chairs according to the number of groups you would need. The students will naturally form the groups when they choose their seat. This method is best if you want to use student-formed groups, because they will likely sit with others who they are comfortable with, but it also eliminates the biggest challenge with student-formed groups: the social stigma when someone is left out and not chosen to be in any group.

Burger Buddies – have learners choose the fast food establishment they like the best. Have choices for the number of groups that you would like. Example: Which do you prefer? McDonald’s, Burger King, Hardee’s, Subway, etc. It doesn’t have to be burgers, any favourite would work the same way: favourite genre of music or films, least favourite subject in school. This strategy works well if you are trying to build rapport between students.

What brilliant ideas! Yay, no more boring counting to five!

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Visible Learning and Attribution Theory

Mindframe #2 is my favourite: “The success and failure of my students learning is about what I do or don’t do. I am a change agent.”

This mindframe ties in to another of my favourite topics: attribution theory. The impact that teachers make in how we communicate attributions to our learners is often overlooked. As educators, we should direct attribution of failure to controllable, unstable factors rather than uncontrollable stable factors.

For example, when teachers communicate to students that failures are due to the use of inappropriate strategies or due to inappropriate effort, students are likely to be motivated to try harder or to use more appropriate strategies in the future.

Likewise for ourselves. If a class fails badly at an assignment, one teacher might justify that “well, this group wasn’t engaged, they didn’t put in enough effort”, whereas another teacher might reflect “I didn’t provide clear directions and set clear expectations”. The first statement takes an external locus of control (i.e. there wasn’t anything I could do, that was their issue), whereas the latter mindset takes ownership of the cause, and triggers us to take action on our behaviours that can be altered for a better outcome in the future.

Two of my favourite topics: visible learning and attribution theory, go together so well. Like gin martinis and pickled onions, another of my favs.

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The Extrovert Ideal

Ever since reading Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, I have been fascinated with the introverts vs. extroverts topic, especially in relation to learning. Cain posits that Western culture has increasingly adopted an “Extrovert Ideal” over the past generations, favouring the louder, bolder, more effervescent individuals over our quieter, more reserved, contemplative counterparts. In her book, Cain dispels the myth of the Extrovert Ideal, and urges changes at the workplace, in schools and in parenting to embrace and capitalize on the unique strengths that introverts deliver.

Recognizing that I need to create a system that rewards quality over quantity to improve the substance and depth of group discussions in my classroom, I have already implemented several of Cain’s suggestions to encourage the participation of introverted learners.

I also recently learned this questioning technique from a classmate, useful especially to balance the contributions between introverts who tend to keep to themselves, and extroverts who dominate group discussions:

  1. Choose five students at random.
  2. Walk over to each student one by one, while the class is engaged in group or individual work. Tell them that you will call on them soon to answer a question. You can give the question now or wait to give it orally.

As my classmate pointed out, this prompting–even a few minutes in advance–gives students time to prepare (perhaps by asking for help) and increases confidence. If consistently done at random, students won’t be able to predict a pattern, and it can increase engagement.

I’m off to try this out tomorrow!

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W.A.I.T. = Why Am I Talking?

The dead silence that follows after we pose an open question to the class is every teacher’s dilemma. How long should we wait for an answer? How long is too long? We all fight the urge to answer our own questions as the silence stretches like a mysterious abyss before us. Are they silent because they don’t know the answer? Or they just need more time? Is it because of the personalities in the room? Maybe they know the answer and just don’t want to speak up?

Studies indicate that teachers only wait an average of 1-2 seconds for a response. By increasing the amount to 3 seconds and over students “become more engaged and perform better.” But “waiting more than 20-30 seconds is perceived as punishing by students”. So it looks like somewhere between 3 and 20 is the magic number. Better start practicing my mississippi’s. When is too fast? When is too slow? Arrghh.

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Going “Meta” with Mistakes


Today I saw this poster and it made me reflect on some of my bigger, errr…. stepping stones, shall we call them, in my teaching career. There’ve been many… some pebbles, some rocks, a couple boulders….

One of the bigger stones, was an incident in a class of very experienced and seasoned managers (remember, I train in a corporate setting, so everyone works together). I could sense that they were questioning my credibility. Who’s this stranger coming in here telling me how to do my job? With each question they threw at me to test my knowledge of their operational departments, I could feel my patience, and confidence, slipping. Sure, I don’t know what your serving standards are in the restaurant, or what your audit checklist includes in housekeeping, but that’s not what we’re here to discuss. Then someone threw a question at me about the origin of the name of one of our products. Oh for God’s sake, how should I know, I thought in my head. Out loud I blurted, “there’s no reason why we chose that name, it was just a random word”. In retrospect I have absolutely no idea why I said that. Maybe I was just tired of saying “I don’t know” to their questions and looking like an idiot. In any case, after my completely made up answer, someone else spoke up and gave a very clear explanation of why our marketing department had named our product that way. In fact it was a very clever play on words. And now I looked like an even bigger idiot, as I should.

Graciously saying, “I don’t know, let’s find out” is something I’ve learned to do. Researching information together as a class demonstrates the importance of continuous learning to our students. In addition, the process of consciously reflecting on our mistakes and learning from them is a form of metacognition: knowing about knowing. I know, sounds like some deep Inception stuff. Like a dream within a dream within a dream…

Let’s just hope that there aren’t any mini-mountains on the horizon!

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Flipped Classrooms

What is a flipped classroom? The flipped classroom is a pedagogical model in which the typical lecture and homework elements of a course are reversed. There is no single model for the flipped classroom—the term is widely used to describe almost any class structure that provides prerecorded lectures followed by in-class exercises. I use this strategy in my classrooms quite often, as I find it frees up more time in class for active learning activities. The tips in this following video are quite helpful:

I specifically like the point about keeping the length of videos/lectures under ten minutes. Personally, if a video is any longer than five to six minutes, I will put it off until later. Easy solution: if any lectures are longer than ten minutes, I could break it up into shorter segments. Maybe I could add a cliffhanger at the end of each video to get my students on the edge of their seats for the next one. Wishful thinking? Yeah, probably. I’m probably the only one who thinks our lessons are riveting stuff. I’m no Walter White.

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Real Work vs. Real World

An effective adult educator will always show you the practical relevance of the lesson content to your jobs or to your lives. That is because adults are interested in the real world; we want to know how we will be able to apply our newly learned skills in the real world. This post on Dan Meyer’s blog about Real Work vs. Real World shows a second dimension about in-class problems, in addition to real vs. fake world, that is often overlooked: real vs. fake WORK.

Fake work is narrowly focused on precise, abstract, formal calculation. It’s necessary but it interests students less. Real work, interesting work involves problem formulation and question development.

Meyer points out that real work, even in a fake world, can be more conducive to learning than fake work, even in a real world.

I can think of some application of this concept to corporate training. Some of the case studies we use are “fake work in a real world”. The case studies are elaborate; each detailed piece of information fits within the prescribed formula that we are teaching (e.g. if the colleague’s infraction of the code of ethics is [insert list here], then immediate dismissal is warranted). In reality the information would not be so clearly presented and readily available. Case studies could be modified to limit the information presented in the case study, and leave room for the student to ask the right questions to get the information they will need. I guess that is what Meyer means by facilitating question development skills.

Something else I learned from Dan Meyer: how to choose the fastest check out line at the grocery store. Did you know? An extra person in line = 48 extra seconds, but each additional item = only 2.8 seconds. So even if there are 17 more items in the carts before you, that will still be faster than one more person in line!

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Mozart Effect

As you know, I love my training toys. Training toys and music are two of my staples on setting a positive learning environment. Usually, I play upbeat music (usually Top 40) while students are arriving and over breaks. It seems to create a more relaxed environment and encourages learners to talk to each other rather than sit in awkward silence while they wait for class to start.

Recently another instructor shared a tip with me about playing classical music IN class, during activities. According to some studies, baroque music, which is typically 50-80 beats per minute, leads to alpha brain waves in listeners, a state ideal for learning and memorizing. This is known as the Mozart Effect. Lately I’ve become a bit weary of education myths, so I did a little bit of research on the validity of the Mozart Effect, and it seems that, as with everything else, the scientific evidence is mixed. See this BBC report:

Nevertheless, it’s worth a try. Even if the evidence isn’t 100% supporting the claim, it might have a placebo effect on the learners who believe in the theory.

Plus classical music is safer… for my own physical well being it might be a good idea to switch from Top 40. Just last week I was streaming Top 40 from an online radio broadcast station, not realizing the lyrics were uncensored, then suddenly had to book it to the front of the room to stop the song when the profanities started flowing, tripping over chairs and tables in between, narrowly missing a face plant. Pretty entertaining for my students though. See, it does set a positive learning environment. They all thought it was a hoot.


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Why Role Playing is like Eating Vegetables

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What do these expressions have in common? They are my favourite student expressions right after I’ve announced that we are going to do role play next.

Yup that’s right. Like Movember staches, the Twighlight series, and Christmas music, role plays seem to be a “love it or hate it” type of thing. Like most instructors, I’m a fan. Haters, please let me tell you why I love role play, and why I (and your teachers) will make you do it despite your reluctance.

  • One of the reasons role-play is highly impactful is because the learner has to put themselves in another’s shoes. This creates learning in your affective domain, where emotions and values are involved, as well as in your cognitive domain, where experiences are analyzed.
  • Role play is a safe way to practice where mistakes won’t hurt anyone. Can you imagine the consequences of “just winging it” when you have to deliver some devastating news to a patient?
  • It promotes verbal, physical, communicative, interpersonal skills and encourages intuitive thinking.
  • Because we are using real scenarios, you can apply the learning immediately in your job.
  • In role play, you are actively involved in the learning process and not just listening to me lecture on and on.

So you see, role playing is like eating your vegetables… it’s good for you. Your mom was right. And so am I.

That being said, I do recognize that role play can create a lot of anxiety, and that some students find it hard to take the artificial setting seriously, so I did some research on best practices. So, fellow role-play lovers, here are some tips to convert those haters over to our side:

  1. Role play scenarios should be as close to reality as possible. That encourages the gigglers to take it more seriously, and the haters to see the relevance to their work.
  2. Debriefing after the role play allows the learner to reflect and self-evaluate. It’s particularly important if strong emotions are evoked during the role play, which can happen especially if the situation is realistic and hits close to home for the learner.
  3. To tackle anxiety:
  • Acknowledge validity of these feelings
  • Create perceived VALUE of the activity, ask learners WHY exercise is necessary despite their reluctance
  • Be strategic with grouping timid with non-timid students
  • Stay away from using the term role play, simply say “let’s practice” instead
  • Rather than having role play in front of the class, divide into small groups and role play privately, or role play together as a large class where students can “tag team” each other in and out of the situation

After absorbing these pointers, I decided to apply the debriefing tip last week. After a role play activity in which students were asked to videotape themselves interacting with a difficult customer, I asked the class, “so what did you learn from practicing and then watching your video clips?”

  • “I learned that I need to lose a few pounds!”
  • “That I’m a terrible actor!”
  • “I learned that I hate role playing!” (echoes of agreement through the class)

*sigh*. Guess I need to learn how to ask more pointed questions in my debriefs. Conversion is hard!

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