The Big Why

In my former life I was a communication instructor at a liberal arts college. Like so many, I came to the position with opinions about what good teaching was based upon my personal experiences — and heck — I had even taken a pedagogy course! I thought I knew my stuff, but the classroom taught me I had a lot more to learn. I could see when my methods worked and when they supremely failed before my eyes. My classroom became my laboratory for testing hypotheses to meet my goal of facilitating learning in my students.

BTW: I taught speech communication.

It was actually a hybrid theory and speech course, but the student’s weren’t fooled. They knew this course met their core speech requirement and they weren’t exactly enthusiastic about it. So my challenge was not only to impart the relevance of developing public speaking skills but to overcome some serious attitude barriers.

But I digress.

I realized quickly that the institution standard for the first day of class — reviewing the syllabus, my requirements, due dates and grading scales — was not inspiring my students to care about the subject. So I began the open the course with a dialogue. I introduced myself. Students introduced themselves to me. And then I asked, “What is communication?”

As students offered their answers I began to sketch out a thought-cloud on the board that displayed their ideas upon a simplified structure of the knowledge domain. I began to notice students would sit up a little taller and riff off of one another’s thoughts and ideas — sharing their personal experiences — engaged in the conversation until we had filled the entire chalkboard with what the classroom considered communication.

I then admired their work, circled the hunk of it that we would be touching on in class together, and connected the relevance of our coursework to the experiences they had just shared. It was only then that we took out the syllabus to chat about our journey that semester.

Why did that work?

At the time I didn’t know for sure, but I knew I wanted to repeat that experience.

Clues to “why” can be found in the 4A learning brain model. Think it over and check out my next post where I’ll share my thoughts on why this was an effective approach.


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