Do you want to become a better adult ed instructor? Keep reading …
Teaching is a never-ending battle for learners’ attention and engagement. The best instructors, like the best musicians, are good at taking their audience on engaging journeys. They create an interesting atmosphere, make room for meaningful interactions, and tap into people’s emotions. In other words, they know how to hook an audience.
Most of the time, they make things look easy. But are things really that easy? I’d admit they are not. I used to go the extra mile to keep students engaged, but my labor was always in vain. Let me tell you why.
I used to believe teaching and learning facilitation were about what I know, do and want. Then, I painfully realized I was wrong. I, therefore, decided to read as much as I could about cognitive science and constructivism.
What did I learn? I’ve learned to fix my mistakes and to position myself at the intersection of sound learning theories and effective classroom practices. Simply put, I made a U-turn and learned to put learners in the driver’s seat.
Do you, too, struggle to keep learners engaged? Well, you are not alone. Research shows student engagement is at an all-time low, all across the board (K-12 and adult ed). But Ignoring the issue might drive your class retention rate and performance down drastically.
Fortunately, there is a way to deal with this challenge.
What if I told you that you only need to tweak one thing in your teaching — one single thing — to become a better teacher? Seriously?
Yes, one small change can make you an MVT (Most Valuable Teacher) — keeping students engaged will be second nature to you. How is that?
The thing is, sometimes the hardest aspect of teaching might be simply sitting back, staying quiet, and letting students think and work. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
The Magic Principle to Become a Better Adult Ed Instructor
So, here is the magic principle that can add fresh blood to your teaching: Stop doing for your learners what they can do for themselves. I learned this from Caleb and Shakti Gattegno and it has made a huge impact on my career. Not convinced yet? Ok, let’s proceed to the next paragraph.
The Nobel Laureate and Artificial Intelligence expert, Herb Simon, explains what I’m trying to tell in two short sentences.
“Learning results from what the student does and thinks and only from what the student does and thinks. The teacher can advance learning only by influencing what the student does to learn.”
Did you get that?
Are you wondering how to apply this in your day-to-day teaching? Let’s take a look at three concrete action steps.
1. Talk only when it’s necessary.
This allows enough time for students to talk and think about content. The thing is, a student’s brain is sharper in a quiet atmosphere. Hence, constant interruption hinders their learning. Want to reduce your talking time? Avoid the following:
- Answering your own questions
Rather, ask questions and stay quiet. Give students space and time to think and respond. In other words, be comfortable with silence.
- Repeating your instructions over and over again
Rather, give step-by-step instructions and let students repeat each step back to you. Then, go quiet.
- Answering every student’s questions
Rather, let other students do it. Provide clarifications where it is needed only. Remember, you are not an answer key.
- Going off on a tangent for every point you make
Rather, keep your eyes on the learning objectives and tasks. Use only relevant stories and examples that reinforce students’ understanding.
2. Stop reading everything to the class.
Unless you teach little kiddies, there is no need to read every written text or instruction to your students. Doing this is lame and annoying. It looks like you are just killing time (no offense intended). Want to break this bad habit? Encourage students to do the following on their own:
- Read and interpret class content and written instructions.
- Be each other’s audience (read each other’s written work).
- Review completed tasks to identify and fix mistakes as necessary.
- Read to form arguments and opinions.
- Read instructions, figure things out and make appropriate decisions.
3. Contain the urge to help.
Solving problems for students or providing too much help is detrimental to their learning. If students don’t think, try, and make mistakes, they won’t learn.
As a matter of fact, research shows a student’s brain grows when he or she makes mistakes. As Daniel Willingham puts it: “Students remember what they think about.” Do you want to reduce your urge to help?
Promote self-efficacy by letting students…
- Make mistakes.
- Think about and reflect on content and learning.
- Follow models and examples on their own.
- Use patterns and structure.
- Use framework and guidelines.
- Access just-in-time scaffolding (ZPD).
- Use rubrics and do self-assessment.
Unlike what most people think, becoming a better adult ed instructor and learning facilitator has little to do with running a one-man/woman show in front of a classroom.
Instead, it’s more about asking driving questions, providing just-in-time support, and stepping back to let students think (or staying out of their way).
Do you want to add your two cents to the discussion? Drop a line in the comment section.
Thanks in advance for commenting and sharing the post with your adult ed colleagues.