Journal — Quote #4

Journal Entry: Quote #4

“… the overriding goal of educational institutions at any level would be to learn how to learn, since specific content becomes obsolete in a fast-changing society.” (Merriam, p.84)

Image from E-Portfolios for Learning.

Image from Ian Fox, as discussed at E-Portfolios for Learning.

Objective
This quote, paraphrased from Robert Smith’s work, argues that schooling ought to be less structured than most current educational options — people should have control of a self-paced, learn-as-you-need set of organically adaptive curricula (84). We are beginning to see global efforts to offer free materials online — MOOCs, for instance, mirror semesters of traditional learning with videos of lectures and open source course readings through efforts. An example is this free online John Hopkins University class called University Teaching 101. However, it is unlikely that completion of free web-based offerings will be recognized by academic institutions and employers to the same degree (pun intended) as traditional, tuition-based proof of graduation complete with seal and signature from a major university.

Reflective
One of my self-assessed strengths is challenging students to engage a variety of paradigms. Whether I’m working with an immigrant having difficulty with an almost mathematical, one-for-one translation approach to language, or a Canadian-born EI recipient struggling with addition and subtraction of fractions, or even a person who immediately blurts out the correct answer but cannot explain how they have reached it, I ask the student to back away from the problem at hand and examine the ideas behind it from several points of view. Sometimes, this approach is met with an exasperated sigh, or even refusal to do the exercise. Often, however, students find this exercise helpful; they are able to attack the problem from a new direction, and achieve more success in this way.

My efforts to have students explain not just their answer, but how they have gotten it, are based upon a general idea that they should own their education. If they are less dependent upon the teacher at a given step in the learning process, they will be more empowered to learn more things, more often — in particular, they will need less assistance to move forward, and be less emotionally dependent upon the approval of a teacher or authority figure for feelings of well-being and success. The exercises I have espoused, however, dwell more deeply in the concept of developing self-reliance than I had previously realized. “To become self-directed learners, students must learn to assess the demands of the task, evaluate their own knowledge and skills, plan their approach, monitor their progress, and adjust their strategies as needed” (Ambrose, 191).

Interpretive
Sadly, my Aha! moment here is a direct result of the political thimblerig played by the provincial and federal governments with post-secondary funding dollars. Information (“specific content”) is outdated (“becomes obsolte”) by technological developments (“in a fast-changing society”); similarly, skills (such as teaching ESL) can be suddenly determined less valuable (largely defunded) by policy makers with no relevant knowledge or experience.

In the past, I have attempted to console those worried about a perceived loss of expertise or excellence — told “I was a writer before I moved here”, I might coach a student to designate alternate goals, or to determine a course of action that might allow them to establish themselves in a similar role here in Canada.

Having experienced governmental interference in my career path several times in the past few years, I understand the feelings of hopelessness associated with what some students perceive to be a useless act. What is necessary is the feeling of control. Current anti-education political will suggests that my efforts to improve as a teacher are a waste of time; what needs to appear is a reasonable positive outcome in order to motivate further action, further introspection.

Decisional
As an instructor, I must not only give students the opportunity to see things from a different point of view, but a motivating reason to do so. Students chasing a correct answer — like a teacher working paycheque to paycheque or tax return to tax return — might gain short-term results. To build adaptive ability, and thus long-term success that is not reliant upon maintenance of the status quo, requires a desire to establish success through self-evaluation, reflection and the achievement of reasonable goals as opposed to outside measures. Students must be introduced to the process of self-analysis: how they think, how they learn, and how they measure their own successes and failures.

Specifically, I will ask learners what specific skills they are trying to build. Then we will together determine what measures of success are true predictors of ability, knowledge, performance or improvement. This introduction of metacognition may translate into a little more work for me in amassing (or translating) test scores and grades, but it will deliver a more satisfying result to my students.

______________________________

Ambrose, Susan A. How learning works: seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2010. Print.

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

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Journal — Quote #3

Journal Entry: Quote #3

“… historically, immigrant education has been used as a means to promote conformity to ‘mainstream’ society.” (Merriam, p.93)

2008 Figure from Statistics Canada: Study — Canadian Immigrant Labour Market.

Figure from Statistics Canada: Study — Canadian Immigrant Labour Market (2008).

Objective
While some look upon education as the exercise of opening one’s mind to new ideas, there are others who criticize programs that merely indoctrinate students to a given set of norms. Whether imparting information, language and cultural mores to immigrant populations, or renovating patterns of thought and behaviour within conquered peoples, powers that be have long used schooling of various methodologies to expand and extend a sort of home court advantage. Indeed, just about any passing of information can be used as a type of indoctrination. Schools enforce learning parameters through grades and awards; sports direct physical and motor skills to be used within set rules, with penalties and fouls for breaking them.

Reflective
By invoking Carlson’s idea about mainstreaming immigrants through education, Merriam reminds us that some forms of normalizing someone’s knowledge and behaviour can be justified — through an insistence upon behaviour modification as a measure of a prisoner’s ability to fall in line with societal expectations, the justice system aims to bring troubled citizens into a position where they can become productive members of society — but others, such as Canada’s tragic history with residential schools, are an important case of education in the wrong hands being used in all the wrong ways for all the wrong reasons (CBC).

Interpretive
As a teacher, I must consider each reference, intentional or not, to individual cultures, genders and beliefs. Even acknowledging the stereotypical strengths of student backgrounds, such as grammar study in Asia or oral skills in Latin America, can activate a student’s perception that he or she is being judged negatively based upon a stereotype. As Susan Ambrose writes, “the way we frame the material and the task matters–and it has implications for learning and performance” (176).

Framing must take into account not only the students’ backgrounds, but their purposes for learning. Working on a set of information or skills ought to have a statement of purpose other than the fallback position of ‘you have to, that’s why.’ Whether they come on the say-so of a parent, a teacher, a supervisor or a society, variations upon ‘just because’ are not satisfying; in fact, they are discouraging, even disheartening.

Decisional
Especially in upper level classes, I emphasize the fact that writing and speaking professionally are areas that native speakers have trouble with. In the past, I have done this to empower my internationally-born students — if someone who was born into an English-speaking family uses Toast Masters for public speaking or college preparatory classes for academic writing, then people for whom this language is secondary or tertiary will almost certainly need similar help. I have relied upon stories of students from southeast Asia whose school systems traditionally focus upon learning by rote, for example, and told anecdotes of Canadians learning English grammar rules from ESL.

For many students, these anecdotes help them envision themselves on an equal footing with native speakers, something that often appears on their list of dreams or goals for English language study. However, I will consider wording to see if it is possible to establish this self-image while avoiding references to specific languages and/or cultural backgrounds.

______________________________

Ambrose, Susan A. How learning works: seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2010. Print.

CBC News. “A history of residential schools in Canada.”  CBC/Radio Canada, 7 Jan. 2014. Web. 6 Mar. 2014. <http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/a-history-of-residential-schools-in-canada-1.702280>.

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

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.

Objective
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.)

Reflective
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).

Interpretive
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.

Decisional
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.

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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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