Teaching for Transformation: From Learning Theory to Teaching Strategies
Transformative Learning Theory was first developed by Jack Mezirow at Columbia University. In this paper Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., academic research and program officer in the psychology department at Stanford University offers strategies to put the transformative learning theory into practice.
As an instructor fostering a transformative experience, I consider it my primary task to build an environment where learners can create relationships and share experiences in a safe and open setting. The exchange of ideas and solutions as well as challenges both personal and professional, will serve to draw the class together as a community of learners. In this community, the learners can develop their own individual meaning for their experiences while experiencing the process of transformation through the 5 steps Dr. McGonigal explains in her article:
1. Activating event that exposes the limitations of a student’s current knowledge/approach – such as challenging beliefs and offering differing perspectives on an experience or idea
2. Opportunities for the student to identify and articulate the underlying assumptions in the student’s current knowledge/approach – I like the critical questioning technique to get students to observe their own thought processes, assumptions and approach
3. Critical self-reflection as the student considers where these underlying assumptions came from, how these assumptions influenced or limited understanding – Journaling with reflections and responses is a particularly useful tool for introspection
4. Critical discourse with other students and the instructor as the group examines alternative ideas and approaches – Class discussion is a powerful way to develop and expose diverse perspectives
5. Opportunities to test and apply new perspectives. We can have the students return to the original activating event and try different approaches or assign alternate methods, procedures or techniques
I’ll strive to be supportive and facilitate change while challenging the learners and developing trust. I will do this by demonstrating a personal interest in and sharing enthusiasm for the the subject matter as well as learning in general. In my classroom, I will use active participation in demonstrations, class discussions and give students as much autonomy as possible. I will model behaviors such as a professional and enthusiastic attitude that gives learners varied perspectives on the subjects and on life-long learning.
I love how affordable and accessible learning is these days. It’s a brave new world when it comes to self-study. MOOCs are available from several outlets including Coursera – where I’ve taken courses on entrepreneurship and web development for almost no cost at all.
Check out this Free course about mountains from The University of Alberta:
It’s a 12-lesson Course teaching a comprehensive overview of Mountain Studies. The course will cover an interdisciplinary field of study focusing on the physical, biological, and human dimensions of mountain places in Alberta, Canada and around the world.
The course is available to anyone with these options:
- for free (no exams)
- anyone for a Certificate of Completion through Coursera for a fee
- to University of Alberta students for UAlberta credit as either the in-class version (INTD 280 The Mountain World) or the online experience version (Mountains 101).
Check it out HERE
Richard Feynman was an American theoretical physicist known for many things including taking part in the development of the atomic bomb and the investigation of the challenger disaster. His remarkable life is discussed in the documentary, The Fantastic Mr. Feynman, it’s an excellent film – I highly recommend it. Among his many contributions to science is a rather small and simple memory technique known as The Feynman Technique.
In this article and the video below, the technique is laid out. The bottom line is that knowing the name of something is not the same as knowing (understanding) it. Sounds simple, right?
Anyone who has had to teach anything knows that if you yourself aren’t able to explain a concept in simple and understandable terms, you don’t really understand it yourself. The best examples of experts I’ve ever met have been people who, almost effortlessly seem to be able to explain very complex concepts in a way that makes me think, “Hey, that’s actually pretty simple”. Whereas, in fact the concept is indeed complex but the explanation is so expertly done that complexity is broken down into understandable blocks and therefore much less overwhelming.
The Feynman Technique works like this:
- Choose a concept (or have one assigned by your instructor)
- Practice explaining it as if you were teaching a child – don’t leave anything out
- Identify gaps in what you know and go back to your source material
- Review, simplify and repeat until it’s easy
Using this technique in the classroom would be a wonderful way to get learners involved in lessons. For example, the instructor could assign a new concept one day and have a learner or small group of learners teach it to the rest of the class on another day.
Given the necessary time and information, what better way to really learn something than having to teach it?!
As an experiential learning process, I could see this being a fun and powerful way to engage students.
You can also read about another powerful memory device known as “mnemonics” in my previous blog post: Memory and mnemonic devices.
Learning to read Japanese is actually pretty easy. Well, 2 of the 3 alphabets they use are fairly easy. Kanji is another subject entirely. Learning hiragana and katakana were a breeze for me because a friend lent me a couple of books that use mnemonic pictures. Within a week, I knew my hiragana and katakana well enough to sound out words like a 2nd grader. My first introduction to mnemonics came in the from of electronics class in high school. Learning the colour code for resistors often comes in the form of “memorable” poems for newbies. These type of mnemonic devices work really well in helping a person absorb new material quickly. I’ve been sold on mnemonics for decades. This video from Vox introduces a mnemonic device called the “memory palace”, I’ve never tried this but I’m pretty sure it’s got to be more useful than route memorization.
This time of year is always a time of reflection for me. What have I done, what am I doing, where am I going?
After a recent email chat with Derek Sivers, he suggest I read this book to help put my current situation in perspective. From what I understand, he recommends this book to a lot of people. I can see why. It’s not particularly inspirational, but it does explain some important concepts about learning and growth that are almost never discussed.
This should be required reading for all high school, college, university and adult students. It’s not sexy or life changing, if anything the concepts are calming to all of us restless souls. You can get it here. Or do what I did, go to the library.
Teachers who use a variety of techniques to engage learners are better at communicating new concepts. Some students are visual learners, some are more hands-on. Taking complex, abstract, relational concepts and making them clear and relatable in the classroom is the mark of a true expert – a real educator.
Classroom demonstrations are some of the most memorable and effective moments in my own learning experience. Once in a while a truly inspiring teacher figures out how to explain a theoretical concept so well that everyone in the room experiences some level of enlightenment. Seeing such a demonstration is energizing and inspiring.
In this video, one teacher shows a group of educators such a classroom demonstration. I’ve never seen anything like it. It illiterates the concepts of space-time and gravity – it’s heady stuff to be sure. However, this one demonstration makes a complex idea a lot more intuitive for the learners.
The Death Valley of education would be… lack of engagement.
I for one believe it’s endemic in traditional classrooms. Not just children’s classrooms, maybe even more so in post secondary lecture halls, adult education classes and on the job training. This is one area where pedagogy and andragogy overlap: nobody learns well when they are bored.
Motivated students are happier and more productive. A happy, productive learning environment is beneficial to students and instructors and generates a positive feedback loop within that environment. In this article: The Six C’s of Motivation, Wang & Han introduce this 6 part strategy to develop motivation in a learning environment.
Choice – “If students are allowed to select a tasks that they personally enjoy doing, their motivation to learn increases.” People are more likely to engage if they themselves choose the subject of their studies.
Challenge – “Providing or operating tasks just beyond the skill level of the students is a good approach to challenge learners.” Providing an attainable challenge that prompts growth but does not discourage learners is a careful balance that requires regular feedback mechanisms. Achieving a state of “flow” rather than the extremes of anxiety created by too difficult a challenge or boredom created by too little challenge is most desirable.
Control – “If students are involved in the process of classroom control, they will be more responsible, independent, and self-regulated learners” – involving the students in the decision-making processes gives them a sense of ownership.
Collaboration – ” Students can share learning strategies and perspectives with each other through social interaction.” – This builds a sense of community in the learning environment.
Constructing Meaning – ” If students perceive the value of knowledge, their motivation to learn increases.” Meaning creates the value of information and knowledge. This can be achieved through making the learning relatable to individual students personal lives – this is a whole subject in itself.
Consequences – The consequences of learning are sharing what you’ve done with others. If others will see your work, it’s more likely you’ll be motivated to do your best.
By using these 6 key strategies I will be able to better motivate the learners and create a collaborative learning environment. Learners will see meaning and be challenged by the material. They will experience direct feedback and see the (positive) consequences of being fully engaged. I believe motivation to be the most important part of of learning and whether it be intrinsic or extrinsic motivation, developing a strategy to motivate students is imperative to the success of any teaching endeavor.
Preparing for Instruction 2 – Creating a Positive Learning Environment – Using Humor to Create a Positive Learning Environment
“A great teacher is one whose classroom is inspiring, exciting and imaginative, and stands apart from the crowd.”
In this outstanding document, Professor Ralph Ocon of Purdue University writes: “…humor can help motivate students and create a climate that promotes learning.”
Personally, I could not agree more. While not all forms of humour are necessarily appropriate in the professional classroom, I think for the most part anecdotal, situational and epigrammatic humour would be most appropriate in a learning environment. The author argues that humour in a learning situation has a long list of measured and documented benefits.
While I’ve had many good teachers over the years, it’s the rare individual who I can say used humour as an effective learning tool. Personally, as a student I would agree that:
- The use of humor makes classes more fun or interesting.
- A fun and playful class environment promotes learning.
- My instructor’ humor promotes learning
Prof. Ocon’s Guidelines for integrating humor into the classroom are very well thought out and resonate well with my idea of how to implement humour in my lessons. He gives effective strategies for integrating humour as well as how to view the role of humour in the classroom critically and analyze it’s effectiveness.
I’m really happy to have found this article and it’s helping me formulate how I will use humour in my lessons.
In this article from one of my favorite programs, This Old House, television host Mike Rowe and carpentry icon Norm Abram discuss the growing need for skilled people. Rowe, who has seen the need and benefits of skilled labour first hand has started a foundation to help young people gain the skills training that the U.S. needs. While the article focuses on the United States, we here in Canada are seeing the same very real need to get people interested in skills training. The skilled trades workforce is ageing and retiring in record numbers while the new people to fill those positions are simply not there in numbers.
Many people, like myself come to the trades later in life and many of the same things that attract young people are what attracted me. You can start working immediately and while you’re on the job. You have much less debt in most cases than taking a 2 or 4 year program. The availability of work is growing and at the end of an apprenticeship you make a good living doing something you have the skills to do well. On top of this, a Red Seal gives you mobility to go where you like and keep your accreditation. This is a massive benefit since many engineers, technicians, teachers and health care professionals do not have such easy mobility because accreditation can be a barrier and require upgrading even between provinces – my wife found this first hand coming to BC from Ontario as a teacher.