Tony Gurr

Posts Tagged ‘The student voice’

The LISTENing Educator…

In Classroom Teaching, Guest BLOGGERS, Our Universities on 21/12/2012 at 2:38 am
by Laurence Raw
Listening (doggy ears)
It’s amazing what can be learned from isolated conversations.
I was talking to three separate sets of LEARNers this week in different departments, as well as from different educational levels (under- and postgraduate, as well as trainee educators).  All of them had plenty of work to complete for their courses – assignments, lesson-plans, assessments and the like.
Yet many of them admitted to finding such tasks extremely difficult, chiefly because they did not quite understand what was expected of them by their “educational peers”.  Did they have to produce ‘scholarly’ pieces, using examples taken from secondary texts; or were they expected to give their own opinions on the material?  What kind of criteria did educators use to distinguish a ‘good’ from a ‘bad’ submission, and how could LEARNers work towards meeting them?  And what kind of feedback could learners expect, apart from being given a grade?
The question of assessment is a complex one; too complex, in fact, for a short blog-post.
However I got the distinct impression that no one was actually listening to one another.  That term “to listen” is a complex one: it doesn’t just involve decoding words and sentences, but rather participating in a process described thus by Richard Sennett in a recent book: “though we may use the same words, we cannot say we are speaking of the same things; the aim is to come eventually towards a common understanding.”
It is that “common understanding” that is conspicuously absent from many classrooms.
The CLASSROOM - weapons of mass instruction
How can we improve the listening environment?  The public speaking consultant Lisa B. Marshall offers three effective solutions: 
1.       Tune In.  Make sure you give listeners your undivided attention.  Turn off your “mind chatter” and look at how they react to what you say.  If you feel they haven’t understood a point you have said, then try and clarify it.  Or better still, find another means to explain it – for example, by writing it down.
2.       Show You are Listening.  This is something many educators find difficult, especially if they are accustomed to monopolizing the learning environment.  The key is to concentrate on the words you hear and – perhaps more importantly – understand the body language signals you see.  Are learners smiling?  Are they talking amongst themselves? Are the words and body language congruent?
3.       Understand What You’ve Just Heard and/or Seen.  Educators need to translate and interpret their learners’ reactions.  They have to decide what they mean.  We all create meaning based on our own experiences, but sometimes that’s not enough.  We need to ask open-ended questions to confirm our understanding, and try to eliminate possible miscommunications.
21 TOBB Seminar (05 July 2012)
Such steps might seem rather obvious (aren’t all educators supposed to listen to their learners?) but it seems that their significance is frequently overlooked. However difficult it might be, we need to pay less attention to content, and concentrate instead on how we can communicate better.
Guy Claxton believes that this is the key to acquiring “learning power” for educators and learners alike.  By listening to others, we can learn how to ask better questions, and thereby learn how to co-operate with one another.  This is essential to learning: in this kind of environment, everyone can ask themselves what they don’t understand and why.  If they can’t understand something, they ask more questions – not only of themselves, but also of other members of the group.
What we’re (really) talking about here is a redefinition of the relationship between educators and their learners. Effective listening means treating learners on equal terms; to ask questions of them, as means to help them develop the confidence to ask questions themselves.
Wouldn’t it be great if more educators could shed some of their pride in their knowledge and/or status and actually initiate this process?
Laurence Raw
Baskent University.
Department of English, Ankara, Turkey.
Editor: Journal of American Studies of Turkey
@laurenceraw (Twitter)

Evolving the LEARNing Paradigm…

In Adult Educators, Teacher Learning, The Paradigm Debate on 21/12/2012 at 2:04 am

Tony Wagner QUOTATION (isolation)

A while back I stumbled upon a new blog (well, “new” for “me”) – Free-Range ELT from Kathy FagenKathy has a very interesting back-story herself  but it was her post “Should We Be Student-Centred?” that caught my eye…


Besides, she is also a lover of allthingsParkerPalmer:

Palmer QUOTATION - Circle of Trust

and Dogme!


Initially, when I looked at the “title” of Kathy’s post, my reaction (you know me) was a bit like:

Duh (TG ver 4 blog)

BUT, as I read, I started to see where she was coming from.

What do they say about that little word “assume” – and how it can make an “ASS” out of “U” and “ME”)…


Like Kathy…I have never been a “fan” of the term “student-centred”.

I have never really “got” why there really needs to be a “debate” about whether TEACHers should be “TEACHer-centred” or “STUDENT-centred”. Surely, the “whole point” of any type of formal EDUcation is the “student”! 

OK, I prefer the terms “LEARNer” and “LEARNing” – but we all know (don’t we?) that TEACHing is just one of the “means”, not the “ends” of EDUcation.

BUTthen again…we do have that little issue of the “design flaw” that so many of our schoolscolleges and universities seem to have  hard-wired into their DNA:

Barr and Tagg QUOTATION (1995)

Go on – click on the image to read the Barr & Tagg article!


Maybe, I am a bit “thick” – I still do not get why a school or university would be designed for the “convenience” of ADMINistrators, TEACHers…and INSTRUCTion

…rather than for the convenience of LEARNers and their LEARNing!


Tony…this is about Kathy and her postnot you…focus!


Kathy said something I loved near the end of her post:

The paradigm-shift that gave birth to the phrase “student-centered learning” is revolutionary.  But I wonder if it isn’t time to step even further along that path.  I’d like to see the line between student, teacher, and the others at a learning institution eliminated completely and replaced with equal respect for our experience, skills, responsibilities, needs and aims.  We are all there to support the same thing: LEARNing.  

Who is the LEARNer?  Who is the TEACHer? 


Yesa woman after my own heart!

I added a comment to Kathy’s post – and talked about the importance of “beliefs“. I also hinted at the fact that it is the beliefs on both “sides” of the “line” – …that are really important. However, as I was writing my comment I had a very specific “story” in the back of my mind…a story that I highlighted in my last post.

My reflections on that post left me feeling a little “sad” – and when I went back to Kathy’s post, I realised that I did not want to link her post to my own (less than positive) “rant”. This is why I have split the posts!

FAILure (Covey quote)

What Kathy proposes in her post is the “way ahead” – it has to be. It is the “natural” stage of evolution for the LEARNing Paradigm.

The LEARNers in our schools, colleges and universities are the “co-creators” of their own LEARNing – and, as Barr and Tagg remind us “they” can, and must, take responsibility for their own LEARNing.


Whitby QUOTATION (Better EDU cators)


What I liked about Kathy’s (more optimistic) view is that it is grounded on LISTENing…and LEARNingby TEACHer LEARNers. Just as “students” need to evolve into LEARNers by taking more responsibility for their own LEARNing, “teachers” can evolve into TEACHer LEARNers by accepting other types of responsibilities.


Block (fingerprint quote)


As Barr and Tagg (also) remind us: 

responsibility is a win-win game wherein two agents take responsibility for the same outcome even though neither is in complete control of all the variables. When two agents take such responsibility, the resulting synergy produces powerful results.