Friday, April 06, 2007

Making Learning Fun

This article was featured in the Straits Time on 3 April. The article is about ... use(ing) effective methods that hold the attention of your students...

This is a topic that is close to our heart, being workshop trainers, since PD is our core business.

As I scan through the article, picked up a some points to reflect upon:

1. ... Many show up for a training session but have trouble staying focused...

  • Fully agree with this - this is a challenge to both participants and trainers(!) too!
  • We ourselves have been participants... some reasons for having trouble to stay focused, or attentive includes:
  • (a) The presenter's style of presentation - just talk, no hands-on, no activity, or at the other end of the spectrum - we talk and talk and talk... to over-tax the brain cells. Hey, what's the point of attending the workshop when we do most of the talking? That suggested the range of strategies to be incorporated into the workshop, whereby participants not only interact the trainers and the PCs, but also with other participants. OK, must admit that the series of spreadsheet workshop is lacking in this aspect. OK, we'll work harder for the subsequent workshops.
  • (b) The way the content is delivered - at different reception frequency (especially when find what's delivered or suggested is not down-to-earth! Hey, I want to learn something that's practical and can apply. If I want to learn theory, I might as well attend other higher degree classes!). Of course, I want to hear practical examples, convincing examples, cases already took place. That tells me, yes, it's feasible - others can do it, means I can try and there's a likelihood to succeed!
  • (c) The content - it has to meet my expectation, what I draw from the title of the workshop. There are something I expect to get from the workshop, based on the 'superficial' title and synposis. That also means, the more superficial title and synposis we have, a wider range of expectations to manage, and therefore it's more challenging to meet the expectations and the audience leave the workshop satisfied. So, that explains why SC, PH and HP have been emphasizing the fact, the 1st cut of the workshops have to be ready in order to craft a reasonably clear synposis for the PD programme. The intent is to help to shape the participants' expectations, that in turn, enable us to deliver the module more effectively, minimising out-of-the-way expectations.

2. ... Content must be perceived as useful, efficiently presented and with value-add...

  • Yes, this brings us to the previous point - are the content and expectations of the participants pitched at the same frequency.
  • To be perceived useful - It should be something we can bring back to use; it's something easy to follow; it's something easy to apply; more importantly, something that is possible to apply - that also implies, it's easy for us to identify opportunity to apply.
  • Presentation of content is certainly important - Some things can look "chim", or they are "chim" by nature; however, in the hands of an experienced trainer, he will be able to transform this into something digestible to the audience, something that the audience is able to understand and relate to.
  • That reminds me of my encounter with Statistics. In the university days, statistics is delivered as statistics... you know what I mean? The data, the formula and the conditions for application. After many years when took up on module related to statistics in a course, statistics is no longer statistics! It comes alive... it does not sound like maths! The learning experience was great!

3. ... Punctuality...

  • By virtue, it's something that we should observe. Recall when we attend any function, we would expect the host to be there to welcome us. Isn't it?
  • One reason to be early is to get the venue ready - be it hardware or software - files to use for the session. In my opinion, it is unprofessional to work on the files in the presence of the participants or audience. These should be behind the scene. What message will the participant or audience get when they see that the trainer is still preparing for the 'show'? Readiness! that's what I'll question.
  • Hence, punctuality here, I would see it as double meaning - being ready punctually; being there physically punctually.
  • The latter brings me to another point: Being the 'host', one should be at the sign in area to direct the participants on the 'what to do' such as sign their attendance, pick up a copy of the handout... make them feel comfortable and welcome... and of course, do not forget that signature warm smile. I think it helps to bring down the wall between the trainer and participants. That's the first step. Of course, standing at one corner to talk or hogging one system to do last minute revision is a no-no!!!

4. ... speak with confidence. If you seem hesitant or uncertain, you risk losing your credibility.

  • This is important, and I believe it ties in with how well we know our work. The more in depth, the more thoughts have put in, the more confident we are... and of course, to speak or deliver in a natural way. Experience and exposure counts. We can read a lot from the books, however, without having been through it, are we convinced by what we say? Rule No. 1, we ourselves have to buy-in and believe in it. Rule No. 2, do not over-sell or over enthusiastic. It backfires! It kills!

5. ... if you do not have an answer to a question, do not try to bluff your way through...

  • True. Don't try to argue the way out. In chinese, we say, 越描越黑. Things get worse. It's not necessary a bluff, but it's because of insufficient thoughts put in.
  • Personally, I feel that honesty is the best policy. It is alright to admit, when it's outside the scope to be covered. After all, we are not "know-all". However, do offer to take note and follow-up.
  • This year, have this habit of opening up my diary to pen down enquiries or questions by participants so as to bring back to work on. I think it is necessary to show that we bother and we take our business very seriously.
  • The sincerity to offer help is necessary to build a long-term relationship. We won't know until it happens.
  • In 2006, we met the same participant in 3 different Maths workshop; this year, I met at least 2 participants who attended our 2006 workshops. In a school-based workshop, one participant came forward and said she attended another workshop earlier this year! In chinese, 山水有相逢.
  • This brings back one classic example: When IT masterplan first rolled-out to schools and embarked in a series of training, all the departments went through the training. After this series of training, there came a number of TRAISI workshop related to the subject. However, my colleagues teaching the subject were reluctant to sign up any workshop that was conducted by a particular trainer. Why? A few attended the workshop and 'marked' the trainer down because of the approach he/she used to deliver the workshop! This is a true story! What does that tell? Good things may not travel that fast, but unpleasant stuff spreads like wild fires and can be deep-seated!
  • This brings me to something learnt in the 7 habits workshop. Not any of the habits, but one of the foundational principles - the Emotional Bank Account. Quote "The Emotional Bank Account is a metaphor for the amount of trust that exists in a relationship. It suggests that every interaction with another human being may be classified as a deposit or withdrawal. Deposits build and repair trust in relationships. Withdrawals lessen trust in relationships." No matter it's someone that's 萍水相逢 or whom we work closely, the deposits in the account matters. We may forget. But others may remember!

6. ... relevant, provide real-life examples of how participants can use the information...

  • Agree with this. This is probably where the participants can take away most. They are able to connect what's talk-about, promoted during the workshop into real life application.
  • This is also what the workshop generates buy-in, I believe.
  • Of course, to be able to do this is, reading is not enough - that's from the book. Participants can read from the book. What if there's a lack in the experience? Talk to people who have experienced it or done it before... this interaction helps!

7. Feedback... get participants' ideas, reactions, opinions and questions...

  • This is where we manage and align participants' expectations, this measurement of 'temperature' enables us to tune the workshop climate, this is where we exercise our brains.
  • That is also why I use blog in a workshop: Give everyone the chance to air - whether he/she is vocal or shy. There's a platform created for all. With the reduced "public awareness" and increased "private self-awareness", participants are more willing to air their views, without fear(?) or embarrassement(?). It also means that's greater level of openness... which is great for us, as trainers... when some of us are less observant of body language.
  • Of course, this also gives us the opportunity to increase our deposits in the emotional bank account... if we manage well...

Summary of "Tips"

1. Identify ways in which we can relate to and involve each person in the class.

  • One ice-breaker is to get the participants who we are, and who we 'were'.
  • To-date, we are still mistaken as vendors! hahaha...
  • Introducing ourselves is not enough to bridge, but I think the powerful part is to let them know we were teachers from the school and currently playing a slightly different role, and we all have the common goal to reach - to better the learning experience of our pupils, in our case, to harness what technology can do and make use of it.
  • Compliments are free... use it to reward attention and contribution from participants. These are positive reinforcements.
  • Talk to them in the same language and illustrate with examples they are familiar with, put it across explicitly that they have been practising that back in their classroom. Participants realise that we know them 'well' (at least what they do with the children).
  • Be flexible and sharp, show care and concern. Hey, some of us will think, they are adults! They can take care of themselves and be happy if they don't complain. Well, human beings are human beings. Care and concern are elements that reduce the size of the personal bubble. It helps to bond people. A word of care like "Have you had your lunch?", "Are you feeling better/ok?" if we are aware that the participant is not well. Offer to help and follow-up.

2. Do not offend, alienate or anger your participants. Even if a participant appears arrogant or disoriented, maintain your professionalism.

  • Oh yes, 'negative' influence must not be taken lightly.
  • That reminds me of a class of 40 with 2 eye-sores. That would be bad enough to spoil the day!
  • Engage them! Keep them occupied! Give them enough attention! Let them know you know they have special needs!
  • These could be participants whose expectations of workshop do not match with the objectives of the workshop! They get frustrated because they are not learning what they want to. A classic example would be our spreadsheet workshop. A handful came with the expectation to acquire enough technical skills to create sophisticated resource. Well, it's a no-no... they become impatient and started to make their request of the 'skills' openly. So, deal with these cases carefully.
  • That brings out another point, be over-prepared so that they can be challenged... of course, perhaps prepare something that fits their appetite - differentiated learning?
  • Of course, we have to practise patience, patience, patience & remain cool, cool, cool... & remain focused! Do not be steered by these people. Never engage in an argument. However, seize the opportunity to bring out the good rationale and intent of the workshop. Of course, to do this, must know the big picture well.

3. Plan effectively and schedule your activities in a logical sequence. Do not waste your participants' time.

  • True... time is precious for everybody.
  • In particular, that is also why the workshop preparation was built in for workshops. That is to reduce the amount of time spent to troubleshoot problems that we can anticipate. It does not reflect well on the trainers for the inthorough preparation; it also disrupts the flow and momentum of the workshop. What is necessary for pupils to learn well applies here although the target group is adults now. Treat them equally!

4. Avoid controlling language.

  • What does this mean? Will ponder over it...

5. Practise your presentation before the actual training session.

  • Practise, practise, practise... that sounded alien to us in the past, but it's termed as 'dry-run' of workshops. It helps! It helps us to go through what's in our head and see and hear what it's exactly like when the words come out from our mouth. How well we are able to connect the segments...
  • Definitely, after a few rounds of rehearsing, it helps to build up the confidence in the delivery.

6. Provide activities in which teamwork and inclusiveness play a major role.

  • This normally takes place in the last session of the workshop where participants start working in pairs or groups to develop a learning activity.
  • This is an area I have to work harder... to consciously include some of such activities in the workshops to come.

7. Show how to apply what they learn in their personal and professional lives.

  • Link them! Link them! Consistently connect what's done to the classroom learning... when applicable, highlight how the skill is useful when they carry out other tasks like computing marks for the class.

8. Think of ways to discuss key points in an entertaining and stimulating manner.

  • One thing crosses my mind, let's remove the word "entertaining"... hey, we are not clowns to entertain or muse our participants... don't ask me to crack jokes!
  • But I agree in the word 'stimulating' that can bring the class alive. Get participants to think, to share in an unthreatening environment... hm... am I right to say, it's less so in a Maths classroom? Stereotyping, right?
  • Does the way the trainer deliver matter? Does the personality of the trainer matter? Does it come naturally with the trainer? Can it be something acquired? I think it all comes from the heart and the depth of understanding on what's to be delivered, and the passion!!! Let's think about it...

9. Begin your session by establishing ground rules. This can help you to assert some control over participants who talk among themselves.

  • This does not seem quite applicable to our workshops... however, we would run through the expectations and outline so that they know the programme of the day.

10. Continually monitor the verbal and non-verbal reactions of participants, and their level of involvement throughout the programme.

  • Yes, that's important... especially when they start doing hands-on activity.
  • Never never park ourselves at one corner... just move around to see-see-look-look... sometimes, it's good to 'overhear' what they discuss... 'cos they may have doubts to clear... if similar doubt is heard from several groups, it's necessary to intervene or clarify as a class.
  • Also, try to capture comments by participants as they attempt the resources, it gives us opportunities to prompt them to look out for more things. Also, with this, we can invite them to share at the appropriate time.


Last but not least, thanks to BY pointing out this article to me... :D

No comments: