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Making “it” learnable

May 10, 2008

Perhaps its a convergence of several influences and experience staring back at me. We just finished a semester last week, and the first short summer semester begins next week. In writing class, I have found myself trying to eliminate some of the complexity and focus on basic elements in writing beginning with the verb. Often when we discussed sentences, my first question would be “Where is the verb?” From there, I tried to show how the sentence was built and how to identify when a new idea began to intrude as a new sentence. I don’t know that I was more successful than before, but I have felt more comfortable with this approach than with trying to explain and example them with complexity.

I have been moving this way from reading books like Robert H. Frank‘s The Economic Naturalist and Chip and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick and the video of Robert Frank at authors@google. In the video, he talks about teachers covering a lot of material versus teaching key concepts. Included in his talk is his experience as a Peace Corps language learner, an experience I shared in a different part of world. I like this idea very much and tonight I just followed Stephen Downes link to Donald Clark’s blog where he lists ” 10 facts about learning that are scientifically proven and interesting for teachers.“. In his blog he talks about concepts like spaced practice and cognitive overload. To simplify, it seems like the less is more approach might be most conducive to learning.
It makes sense to me as I try to learn Angel, the new LMS system our school is adopting starting Monday. I have learned a little of it in chunks and need to go back over it some to recall what I learned. I quit working on it when I got the same wrong results, i.e., messages that something was very wrong with code that I had no idea how to fix, a few times. I went back later and finally got the page I was working on to work. I also have attended a couple of open labs where someone can tutor me when I get really stuck which has helped very much in making this two week turn around. But the real challenge is still to come as I have to help my colleagues with their courses come Monday.
On Monday, as I wrote before, the summer semester begins, and I will be teaching the advanced communication class. I had some students fail it this spring because of poor listening proficiency. I use TED lectures for much of the listening assignments. I have been using the videos in class without giving them the links to listen to the video hoping they would not find the link and get extra practice. Now, I think I was wrong because I was only thinking about assessment instead of learning. If they listen to a presentation enough to really understand it, it seems to me they are taking more charge of their learning to improve their listening. I am not sure this is necessarily what the first part of this blog was about, but I really want them to be better at listening comprehension and be able to experience it in class.

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