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Personally Factual Teaching

the Emergence Explorer

Questions for the Week of June 11, 2007






Emergence Character Type Babies 9-AI-2


This Week's Questions


[posed by David A. and Austin S.]
  • How can we encourage students to ask questions as a part of class participation?
  • How can you train or re-educate teachers so they make learning personally factual?
  • What would educating high school kids in a personally factual way look like?

Do you know?



[Question 1] How can you train or re-educate teachers so they make learning "personally factual?"
[Answer]
Let's start by setting aside, for now, the words "train" and "re-educate" and focus on defining "personally factual learning." After all, if you cannot define what you are trying to achieve, you cannot hope to achieve it. At least not by other than sheer luck.

What is "personally factual learning" then? Basically it is any learning which takes place in a classroom wherein a teacher makes connecting to the students more important than imparting information. In other words, a classroom wherein people and relationships are the primary focus, and facts and data the secondary focus. Especially lists of facts.

Does this mean learning facts is unimportant? Not at all. In fact, there is no learning without factual information. Factual information is an inherent part of all learning. It is just not the primary focus of learning. Why not? Because to make students suffer through the pain of memorizing lists and ingesting matrixes of data and numbers before having first created an interpersonal bridge on which to impart this information only creates resistance to this learning. Case in point.

If you were to study the drop out rates from kindergarten through a doctoral degree, you'd find a direct correlation between the percentage of fact based learning and dropping out. What I mean is, drop out rates reach their highest levels in grades eleven through second year of college. Why? Because the amount of data schools ask students to learn reaches its peak in these four grades. Conversely, the amount of human connection schools give students in these four grades reaches an all time low. Thus school becomes overwhelmingly impersonal as students are increasingly told, "you simply have to memorize this stuff. It's required in order to graduate."

Want to see how cliche this is? Think back to any movie or television show wherein classroom learning occurs a lot. There is always a classroom scene wherein some student is protesting about what they are being taught and how it has no relevance to their lives. Cliche, remember.

The point is, in these four years, students are asked to memorize more data than in any other years. And the drop out rates reflect these requests. This differs markedly from grades such as kindergarten and the last year of a doctoral degree, wherein the teacher's primary focus is on creating personal relationships between teacher and student.

Not sure you agree? Well think about it. In kindergarten, children get very personal attention. And in the last year of a doctoral degree, it's very similar. And in both cases, asking students what they think and feel is often what the teacher will focus on.

So how can we train or re-educate teachers so they know to make learning personally factual? Perhaps the key would be to, in a personal way, train teachers to recognize when they are teaching in an impersonal way. And when they are not. Including that the learning they present must be presented in a way which makes this learning personally relevant to each student.

Not an easy task but easier when teachers can clearly define what this looks like.

[Question 2] What would educating high school kids in a personally factual way look like?
[Answer]
Think kindergarten. Think personal attention. Think children bringing home what they learned in school and wanting you to put it up on the refrigerator.

Now think of the last time you came home and wanted to share something you learned with someone. Anything at all. Not just gossip, mind you. Real authentic learning. You know. The kind which generates excitement. And enthusiasm. And a desire in you to teach what you just learned to someone else.

This then would be what the outcome would look like. Excitement. Enthusiasm. And a desire to teach what was learned to others.

[Question 3] How can we encourage students to ask questions as a part of class participation?
[Answer]
My thoughts on this would be to have part of each day be a time wherein an initiating question is posed by the teacher, followed by clarifying questions posed by the students. For example, in the Emergence Teacher's Group, we spent much of the year 2006 doing this two step sequence as our written homework. And here's how it went.

We first divided into pairs. Then each person in the pair picked a topic which interested him or her. Something they wanted to learn more about. Then this person sent the other person five questions meant to initiate a discussion on this topic. Which this other person then responded to by asking five clarifying questions about what the firs person had asked. In effect, five requests for more information.

Did we ever write answers to these questions? Not for that entire year. And yet, even though we never focused on getting answers, we all learned simply by learning to ask better question.

More important, we also learned how to better connect to each other while in the state of not knowing. This happened simply because we focused this written homework on learning two things. One. To ask questions on a topic which interested us. And two. To ask questions about someone else's unanswered questions.

In the end, what happened to us all was that we all, to some degree, reclaimed some of our natural curiosity. The curiosity we were all born with. In a way then, by not having to have answers for anything at all, we reclaimed some of what it was like to be a baby and filled with questions. The exact desire which fuels the daily lives of babies before age two.

Not a bad thing to accomplish in a year, don't you think?

[Question 4] How can one teacher, in a Layer Nine way, connect to many students at the same time?
[Answer]
The simple answer is, connecting to more than one student at a time is rare if not impossible. However, in reality, this rarity is unimportant. Why? To see, imagine a teacher who is currently connecting to one student. Now imagine how this connection affects the rest of the class.

This picture is a good starting point from which to understand how teachers create Layer Nine type classroom connections.

The key to remember here is that Layer Nine involves only "person to person" connections. Not "people to people" connections. Moreover, realize I've chosen these words deliberately. "Person" not "people."

Thus when I am describing Layer Nine in a precise fashion, I would not describe it as the layer wherein you find "people to people" connections. Only "person to person" connections.

This said, obviously teachers in classroom situations must be able to reach more than one student at a time. In fact, situations wherein there is one teacher to one student are not usually considered classrooms. This means that teachers must be skilled enough to constantly build, maintain, and repair one teacher to one student connections, while at the same time monitoring the state of the rest of the class.

Perhaps the most important thing of all to know here is that no human being reaches more than one person at a time. And this holds true no matter how great a teacher's skill. However, if a teacher is skilled enough to reach one student simultaneously in Layer Nine and in Layer Ten, then this teacher can connect to a crowd of thousands.

Said in other words, if a teacher can create a Mind Body State, both internally and interpersonally, then the rest happens mostly on its own. Simply the nature of witnessing a good Mind Body connection.

[Question 5] How do we change our high school curriculums from the memorizing of facts to one of personal attention?
[Answer]
Good question. My thoughts? To begin with, making changes within any system is hard. Behaviors this big can't just mirror true improvements. The teachers themselves must experience a personal change.

How to best do this? I'd start with the very thing the Emergence Master Teachers Group did; spend a period of time learning to answer questions with questions. Similar to how kindergartners live life.

I'd also spend some time with learning to create one on one relationships in classroom settings. For many teachers, this is hard, because watching the many distracts the teacher's ability to connect to the one.

Here, faith in the process is the key. As well as confidence in one's ability to love what one is teaching.

Lastly, I'd require teachers to be constantly learning new ways to be interested in what they teach. Not just new lesson plans. New learning for the teacher about the topic. In this way, the teacher never forgets what it is like to be a student. And it is this personal compassion which, in the end, makes all the difference.


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