Monday, September 21, 2015

The Power of Old School Learning

When I am called to give a presentation or to do a training, people routinely ask me what kinds of technology I will need to do my work. They assure me that they have special computers dedicated to the training room with technicians available round the clock to help, plus fancy projectors, super big screens, etc. I always smile as they also tell me about the fiber optic cables and the dedicated broad band to make the training work.

When I first started teaching high school history, my classroom had a black board in the room. It actually was a sheet of plywood painted black. I used chalk rather than markers and it faded quickly on the wood. Then, I was upgraded to an actual slate board as my chalk board. Clapping erasers after class was a regular part of my day back then.

White boards and flip chart plus colored markers were marvelous inventions when I first started my career as a trainer. Using an overhead projector with a set of well prepared transparencies was down right mind blowing as a teaching tool. I especially loved that the overhead projector could be easily fixed by changing the lightbulb.

Now, when I am called, I tell people that I will need a podium, a chair, and a glass of water. If the group is big, I will need a microphone and maybe a flip chart and markers. Otherwise, I just stand and deliver. 

I am an analog presenter in a digital world. I know it is old school and I am very low tech. But for many years, it has been highly effective for the simple reason that learning moves away from being a spectator sport via power point presentations, and back into an interactive process where the teacher does not just share information, but engages with the student in a learning journey through the Socratic process of asking questions and seeking answers. 

When it comes to handouts, I provide the agenda, some diagrams and a couple of bullet points. But I have learned after nearly 35 years of teaching that the best part of the handouts is the white space. Here, students take notes. They engage their eyes, their hands and their heads in capturing the ideas and concepts that speak to them. This multi-level process of engagement draws them deep into the learning. They are no longer watching as much as interacting with the teacher and the content. They have to focus, think, engage and respond. 

The results of this old school teaching methods are amazing. The insights are deep, and the “aha” moments are many. At times, it is a single sentence, phrase or realization that transforms the student’s understanding. By hearing it, seeing it, and through stories feeling it, the student and the teacher comprehend and learn together at a deeper and more holistic level.

While vintage clothes and vintage items are all the rage amongst the younger generations, old school teaching, such as slowing the class down to read out loud a paragraph in a book and to discuss what it means as a group still has the ability to transcend the current, obsessive compulsive nature among certain groups of students, who are addicted to seeking out the newest and latest, best seller concept. Given all that is happening in society and business, now is the time to rediscover the wisdom that has been passed down from generation to generation. 

I am proud to be an old school teacher. This week, I encourage you to turn off the computer, pick up a book, and remember when learning was more than a spectator sport.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

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