The Big Why, Part 2

So why did it work?

In my previous post I described my speech class laboratory where I grappled with teaching methods to sift the effective from the ineffective — but wasn’t satisfied to leave it at that. I wanted to know why.

I hinted that the 4-A learning model lends insights into the Big Why — so let’s talk it through.

To process new information and acquire new knowledge, the brain senses something new, runs that stimulus through the integrative cortexes, and then must act upon it to really own it and cement new learning into memory. The 4A model describes this process: learning brains Attend, Analyze, Associate, and Act.

For the learner this means that every brain processes new information in a similar pattern; what’s unique about us is that our prior knowledge and experience serve as powerful lenses.

For the educator this means every brain processes new information in a similar pattern and it’s our responsibility to engage that process and connect content to our learner — prior knowledge is the foundation upon which we build new concept structures.

Where to start? Let’s consider four key questions.

Attend: How can I grab attention and maintain focus?
Analyze: How will I structure content and connect to the learner?
Associate: How can I create space for reflection & integration?
Act: What exercises or tools will I offer for practice?

Now let’s zoom back in to my classroom example (Psst: if you haven’t read my previous post, you’ll want to get caught up on that story first):

Granted, my semester intro activity was not a full learning cycle — but it did capitalize on the 4A learning process.

Attend: I grabbed students’ attention by opening the course with a dialogue. I asked them what they thought — to define communication through their stories.

Analyze: I sketched out the content domain on the chalkboard as students contributed their thoughts and ideas. I didn’t comment on the structure at this point, but they began to visually notice the patterns and how their personal experiences connected with the larger domain structure.

Associate: The nature of the exercise required my students to reflect upon their personal experiences and respond to the experiences of others — refining their definition of communication together. Once we filled the chalk board with their ideas, I transitioned into a brief intro into what we would address throughout the semester and how that journey would build upon the personal experiences they had shared.

Apply:  Finally, we took out the syllabus and discussed the course requirements which was our action plan road map for the semester.

Looking back now I see this experience was powerful for a few different reasons. I capitalized on the natural way brains process new information and I crafted an experience to forge two very important connections for my students: this course is relevant to you and your participation in this course will be meaningful to you.

This is our challenge and opportunity every time we step into the classroom.


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