Journal — Quote #2

Journal Entry: Quote #2

“… the most effective adult learning is achieved through dialogue.” (Merriam, p.157)

This is not the discussion you're looking for.  Original source unknown -- image from Stacey O'Neale's Site.

This is not the discussion you’re looking for.
Original source unknown — image from Stacey O’Neale’s Site.

The quote above is excerpted from a portion of the book that discusses giving voices to long marginalized audiences within the educational process. Where classical learning involved an aged expert or scholar imparting a specific portion of knowledge upon a student, the emerging concepts of critical and engaged pedagogies have some suggestions for more successful learning. Critical pedagogy demands that learners have some input regarding the material’s form, content, delivery method and purpose. Engaged pedagogy asks instructors to leave behind the lazy reliance upon “do as I say, not as I do”. Walk the walk, essentially. (ibid.)

I was recently asked to teach an academic prep course, which involves far more planning and marking than other English classes. This quote, along with the passage it comes from, have made me consider the power of modelling as an instructional tool. We emphasize scheduling, planning and organization as study tools, but often scramble to put class notes and exams together for our students. We trumpet flexibility as being paramount, but sometimes refuse to budge on assignment parameters or test procedures.

Just as a piece of vocabulary or specific writing format can be improved through the provision of examples and models, so too can a methodology of instruction effectively beget results from pupils and students. Even with my three-year-old daughter, there is success to be found in engaging her in discussion. “You don’t want to do xyz, sweetheart? That’s fine. What would you like to do?” Assuming her response is within reason, it can be used to build a compromise (“Can we do abc when we finish up with xyz, then?”), strike a bargain (“How about you do abc while mommy and daddy finish xyz?”), or determine a different course of action altogether (“You know, xyz isn’t that important anyway.”)

In adult classrooms, as Wlodkowski suggests, the dialogue ought to be a two-way street. Although the process might be intimidating at first — as the above cartoon attests, teachers can appear standoffish, unapproachable, or even rude; other times, the student’s original culture might warn them away from starting conversation — students have a responsibility to ask questions, both of their peers and their instructors, about class criteria, expectations, etc. They should take the initiative to converse with their teachers, acknowledging that they are, in fact, human beings as well as educators. At the same time, teachers should spend some time learning about their students’ personal goals, expectations, hopes, etc. They must build trust, and project an image that allows students to approach without fear of reprisal or punishment (57).

As suggested in my previous section, my ‘Aha!’ moment was related to my experience as a father. It goes without saying that adult instruction and parenting are two completely different animals. However, I have witnessed extremely similar scenarios where student and child each bristle when confronted with unfettered authority as they attempt to learn a new piece of information or gain comfort with a new skill. In both situations, a simple conversation can determine the true inspiration for their anger: perceived lack of control. By engaging learners in conversation, adult educators and parents both can negotiate, cooperate, or adapt in order to move the process forward. Students and toddlers, however different they may be, share the completely valid desires to voice their concern, to have their voice heard, and to be a part of creating a tenable solution as they learn, practise and master the target material.

Obviously, my action item will not be to treat my students like toddlers. I will, however, spend more time listening to students’ opinions about marking rubric and course design. In English instruction, we encourage students to talk and write about all manners of topics, from politics to parenting, from global issues to tips for avoiding sleep deprivation during a course of study. We even elicit student expectations and learning goals at the beginning of courses, and perform occasional check-ins to revisit progress towards individual and group goals. When it comes to evaluation, marking and correction, however, discussions are often short and/or one-sided. This exercise has me considering ways to include student ideas in the actual rubric of the classes I teach.


Merriam, Sharan B., and Ralph Grover Brockett. The profession and practice of adult education: an introduction. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1997. Print.

Wlodkowski, Raymond J.. Enhancing adult motivation to learn: a comprehensive guide for teaching all adults. 3rd ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint, 2008. Print.


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