Teaching is communicating

If you’ve ever had to stand in front of a group and try to teach them something, you’ve experienced it. Sometimes you can talk until you’re blue in the face and still get the feeling that you’re not getting through.

Over on Clarke Green’s ScoutmasterCG blog last week was an article called Escaping the Classroom. It’s about employing teaching methods more appropriate than classroom instruction when dealing with Scouts. After all, they get between six and seven hours of class each day. No wonder they won’t want to come to “Scout school” at a troop meeting or on a campout. Clarke discusses involve using the EDGE method to not only train but to develop more trainers in the process.

For much of my Scouting career, I’ve been involved in adult leader training, so I’ve had a chance to try different teaching methods. Having looked up from the lectern to see many glassy-eyed faces, I’ve come to realize that an instructor-delivered soliloquy just doesn’t get the message across. And some of the videos we’ve used give not only the students but the instructors an opportunity to steal a few more of those “forty winks” we left behind.

One way I try to do this with adult students is similar to the way we work with the boys: through a form of guided discovery. No, we don’t go all out and leave it up to them to figure things out – that’s more of a real-world problem-solving exercise that the boys can do under our watchful mentoring. I try to introduce concepts, then reinforce those concepts by asking students, in one way or another, to echo them back. Say we introduce the methods of Scouting, for example. As we go, and describe various activities, I might ask someone to identify which of the methods we’re using. Or I’ll present a resource, like the Guide to Safe Scouting, and later on, as we’re talking about high adventure, I’ll ask how we’d get guidance on planning the activity.

Another example is the ubiquitous question period that follows a segment. You know, where the slide presentation comes screeching to a halt with the big word “Questions?” on the screen, and you face a room full of people sitting silently? You know there are questions, but the students haven’t absorbed enough information to ask questions that are pertinent. Maybe they just don’t want to think any deeper than what has been presented. Turn the tables on them! Instead of taking questions, you ask the questions! As you go through the material, make note of some good questions to ask of the students at the end of the segment. You’re not ambushing them – you’re getting them to reinforce the material in their own minds as you review. Make it fun, though, by tossing small candies to the ones who come up with the answers, or even a really good guess. It can set the stage for the subsequent segments of the course.

These tactics work with information-delivery courses like leader-specific training. Naturally, courses that involve skill instruction like the outdoor leader skills courses will need to be more hands-on, and that’s where the EDGE method comes in. In fact, EDGE is so effective that the BSA‘s train-the-trainer course has been renamed “Teaching EDGE”. And whenever possible, make your morale features interactive. An activity that involves the students associating with one another not only has more meaning, but is a lot more fun.

The key here is opening lines of two-way communication with your audience. Get them involved as much as you can in the learning process. Don’t just talk at them – communicate with them. There’s nothing wrong with teaching – but as I added to Clarke’s article: in order for teaching to be effective, learning must take place. And remember the words of Winston Churchill, quoted by Dan Rockwell in Leadership Freak: “I am always ready to learn, though I do not always like being taught.”

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One Response to Teaching is communicating

  1. Larry Geiger

    Hi Bobwhite

    I don’t usually care. For some reason, when I’m up front, people mostly tend to listen. Whether it’s a Scouting class or a college class they mostly follow along. But mostly I just don’t care. If they aren’t engaged enough and I don’t have anything they want that’s ok. I have very little investment in their learning. That’s hard to do for most folks.

    Lot’s of people are up front because they want feedback and to feel good about themselves. Sometimes they have nothing edifying to say. When I’m in a Scout leader training session I’m mostly telling them what’s what. I don’t generally mince words and I don’t tell them it’s only “one hour a week”. Also, I don’t instruct what I don’t know.

    I like to ask lots of questions. Did you have an annual planning conference this year? Did the SPL present the Troop Calendar to the Committee? Did your Troop go camping 6 times during the past 6 months? How many SM signatures would I find in a Scout’s book in your Troop? Were the Patrol Leaders elected by their Patrols? etc. I don’t mind asking Scout leaders, particularly those in Scoutmaster training, direct questions. It’s good training for the job :-)