Take care how you listen (part 1)

I was reading a short book title “Take Care How You Listen”.  Author, John Piper, reflects on the meaning of the Parable of the Sower.  He describes the main point of the parable “how to listen to preaching”.  However, I think there is some application here to teaching and learning.

Here is the parable:
“When a large crowd was coming together, and those from the various cities were journeying to Him, He spoke by way of a parable:  “The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road, and it was trampled under foot and the birds of the air ate it up.  Other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture.  Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out.  Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great.” As He said these things, He would call out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

His disciples began questioning Him as to what this parable meant.  And He said, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.

“Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God.  Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved.  Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away.  The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.  Luke 8:4-15 accessed www.biblegateway.com 7/8/13

Piper outlines two key points of the Parable:
1. how you hear has potentially positive and negative consequences
2. the heart with which you hear has implications for learning
With what heart do you think your students listen with?
How do you think that this might influence their learning?
As a teacher, what could you do to mitigate this learning obstacle?
Take Care How You Listen: sermons by John Piper on Receiving the Word.  (C) 2012 Desiring God Foundation

Value and the Learning process

As a teacher, I often reflect on my role with relation to student learning. I ask myself what can I do that students can’t get some other way. In today’s blog, I would like to frame the question on the context of the learning cycle.

There are multiple ways that scholars have tried to model or describe the learning process. One is Kolb’s learning styles. He describes four quadrants that reflect a learner’s preference for taking in information and processing information. The corollary to the learning styles theory is that each learner should move from one quadrant to the next until all four quadrants are navigated. For example, if the learner begins with lecture attendance or reading (which could be observational or reflective in processing and abstract information that would be attained), the learner would start in the assimilator quadrant. The next quadrant asks learners to use the abstract information. Examples of this include practice problems, quizzes, and exams. The next quadrant is application of knowledge in a concrete or real world context. Finally, the learner moves into the last quadrant to reflect on the concrete experience. The end result is a return to the original quadrant with new learning material.

I did some surveys to look at learning styles of pharmacy students over the years. There was an overwhelming bias towards the abstract (as opposed to concrete learning). Many questions arose such as why this was – could it be recruitment, place in the curriculum, exposure to traditional teaching methods? I don’t know. From a pedagogical perspective, I think that teaching strategy has a lot to do with this. For example, many programs that I have been a part of traditionally assign reading, expect students to attend lecture to take notes, and pass an exam. There is a strong emphasis on course content. However, two key elements that I feel are consistently missing are practice using newly gained knowledge and feedback on performance.

Teaching effects learning. If the teacher expects learners to acquire a great breadth of knowledge, he/she should set up the course differently than if he/she expects the learner to use that knowledge.  On the contrary, some might argue that there are teaching methods that help learners gain knowledge while applying learning skills.  However, even in this scenario, the knowledge content is limited or defined in some way.  In order for the learner to learn, he/she must receive practice and feedback. These two elements reinforce student learning. I would argue that if we are not interacting with our learners as such, they may be better off sitting in front of a pre-recorded video to learn.

How can you plan in time to give students practice and feedback? In my opinion, this is a key role for a teacher that adds value to an education.