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Automatic English For The People

Monday, January 16, 2006

Get Help

by AJ

"The problem with most corporate/adult learning programs is that they're just like school. And the problem with school is that it sucks. It works against the way the brain wants to learn. Forcing people to sit in a chair and listen (or read) dry, formal words (with perhaps only a few token images thrown in) is the slowest, least effective, and most painful path to learning.
Yet it's the approach you see replicated in everything from K-12, to universities, to adult/corporate training.

One of the biggest mistakes adult learning programs and learners can make, in my opinion, is to use traditional school as the model. It doesn't work for kids, and it doesn't work for adults. Because it doesn't work for the brain."

--Kathy Sierra

How quickly we forget. As students, most of us complained about school. We knew it was boring. We knew it was irrelevant.

But as soon as we become teachers.. what do most of us do? We revert to the same tired bullshit that bored us to tears as students.

Im guilty of it. Last week I scanned my students faces.... they looked sleepy and disinterested. Some stifled yawns.

And no wonder. While Ive tried to inject enthusiasm into the lessons... Im still doing what Sierra described: "Forcing people to sit in a chair and listen.... the slowest and most painful path to learning". Yes we do trite "pairwork" and "groupwork" activities. Yes I try to find interesting articles and create interesting stories. But Im still choosing the content.

We've got to find a way to go deeper... much deeper... to connect with our students passions. They have them. They might not share them right away. They might feign boredom. They may say that their hobby is "sleeping" (a popular comment among Japanese students, for some reason).

But they are lying. They do have things they care deeply about. It might be their boyfriend. It might be animals. It might be video games. Or comic books. Or a music group. Its there.

But we've got a mountain to overcome. Adult students have been beaten down by nearly two decades of traditional school. They arent going to instantly respond the first time a teacher says, "tell me about your passions... lets do some great projects". The most likely first response to this will be suspicion, skepticism, or cynicism. They're thinking, "Yeah right".

In the past, I underestimated the damage traditional school had done to my students. I thought I could overcome it quickly. I was wrong. It takes time. It takes persistence... relentless efforts over time. And in most cases, it can't be done alone.

This is a compelling reason to seek help. You, as the teacher, automatically carry baggage. Its unavoidable... the students associate you with the boring-as-hell education system they were raised with. But a guest speaker, or volunteer-mentor, is free of that association. As outsiders, they carry more weight with the students... and no baggage.

But this is good news. We dont have to do it alone. In fact, we CAN'T do it alone.

Yes, we can do our little song and dance in class. But we can also act as connectors. We can recruit a pool of talented and wildly interesting volunteer-mentors.... we can help our students connect with them. We can gather resources, coaches, advisors.

Of course this takes time. And its not necessarily easy. But in the long run, its a helluva lot easier than trying to go it alone... up against the entire juggernaut of traditional education alone.

Build an army of passionate mentors. Build connections. Build a community.

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