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Professional Opinion

Educating the Educators

Teaching adults requires strategies that work for them.

Asking adults to take part in a professional development workshop will increase the likelihood of its success. Research tells us that adults learn best when they have control over what they learn, engage collaboratively with others, and connect new knowledge to what they already know. One theorist, David Kolb, uses an adult learning cycle of experiencing, processing, generalizing, and applying knowledge (see “David A. Kolb on Experiential Learning,” biblio/b-explrn.htm). I use his framework within the structure of my professional development sessions, with good results.

To demonstrate this framework, let’s see what a half-day workshop to support struggling writers looks like.

Experience Knowledge

After introductions and housekeeping details are shared, I acknowledge my respect for the participants by addressing them as leaders and informing them that the workshop will need their input to be successful. This helps to defuse the notion that I’m the expert and they’re the students.

I give 10 minutes to participants to list their goals for the workshop by completing this sentence: “As a result of this workshop I will be able to ?” Members understand they are holding the group accountable for the goals’ achievement.

Next, I set the stage for examining the participants’ beliefs and establish common background knowledge with a brainstorm activity called “Carousel Brainstorming.” Participants rotate around the room in small groups, stopping at posted charts to answer the following and writing their responses on paper posted with the chart:

? What writing challenges do your students face?

? What strategies are being used to support your students?

? What approaches empower your struggling writers to become independent and successful?

I review the answers by grouping similar ideas together and asking clarifying questions. This shared experience establishes the “purpose for learning” of the software. Referring back to the answers during the workshop keeps our discussion connected to their students.

I personalize the workshop by using their initiatives, their language, and their acronyms. This customization invokes a positive response from the group. When you begin with a structured experience, in this case a Carousel Brainstorm, what emerges is common ground on which to foster discussion.

Processing Knowledge

The software demonstration begins with the computer screen projected so that all can see. Participants then work through the software together. Finally, I allow them to “play” on their own as I circle the room answering questions. Understanding begins by using this gradual “release of responsibility” technique.

Kolb’s processing section suggests “talking the topic through.” This phase allows them to organize and clarify their thinking. To assist the group in processing new information, I ask about the software, then about how it would fit into daily instruction, then for individuals’ thoughts and feelings.

Generalizing Knowledge

After adults experience and process new knowledge, they must generalize it and connect it to their everyday life, so I break the audience into smaller, homogeneous groups of primary teachers, secondary teachers and administrators. I ask them to discuss how this software tool will support the writing challenges students’ face. Each group should emerge with ideas and define a vision for success.

Applying Knowledge

Application begins to take root when solutions to students’ writing challenges are connected to the supports the software tool provides. Committing to the implementation can be enhanced by writing a plan or “contract” that includes the resources needed, a timeline, tools for measuring success, an identification of who is responsible, and ideas for how the model might be replicated. By discussing in small groups and sharing ideas with the larger group, the process supports the accountability of the application.

I’ve learned that adults need to engage in lively discussion as they take on new knowledge. I hope you catch my enthusiasm. Think about the last time you learned something new. What made it an optimal learning experience for you?

Mary Krenz is director of professional services at Don Johnston Inc. and chairperson of the TRLD (Technology, Reading and Learning Diversity) Conference.