During the days when I had occasion to work with adult learners face-to-face I knew early on, even with corporate adults, I needed a hook or activity, (in education terms sometimes called an anticipatory set) to quickly address the temperature in the room, open minds to accept new concepts willingly, and maybe most critically relieve tension to prevent an alpha student from capturing the class with his (and it was always a man – sorry – and congrats to the ladies) negativity.
Here’s what I did. Oh and caveats. A good instructor/leader/teacher with a bit of theater or ham, will enjoy the best results. Yes, and this works with small (up to 10 or so) adult learners for beyond that it gets too cumbersome and potentially sucks up too much time. However, as a foundational activity – just like in construction – if the base is level what stands on the 30th floor will be plumb.
I asked each learner to bring in a child’s book, like the one they would read to their 3-year old (this can vary) that included a narrative (the storyteller), dialog and pictures. On their time, before the next session they were to write a synopsis of the book, detailing the plot, a description of the characters and of course, the lesson or truth learned — in a paragraph or two. Setting up these parameters eliminates books that demand too much interpretation (so long Dr. Suess). Instead in virtually every case, the books that were brought in, and the synopsis’ were terrific. (Demonstrating great love for their children — or grandchildren, too).
Requesting a volunteer (or selecting an individual who would set the tone I desired), I asked s/he to read the book to the class, and then run through their synopsis.
Then I did a little tweaking. “So was Ralph the Gorilla a hero or a victim? Why were his friends so quick to abandon him in the schoolyard. Why did the author — with so few word with which to work — describe the weather two times? At which point did the story pivot and turn towards the ‘lesson.’ Was it a completely happy tale, or something else – and if so, what?” Finally pronounce the moral or lesson demonstrated by the authors manipulation of the material. Immediately the book owner had to make choices and assign roles – some, depending on the book were obvious, others exposed some hesitancy and were clearly guesswork. Now remember this is a book for an eight-year old, 3rd grader (+ or – a year) who might be able to read the book unaided but choose an adult to read it aloud (sometimes my cohort was freely outspoken and agreed it was ritualistic).
At this point I’d invite anyone else to corroborate whether the reader’s interpretation seemed accurate , even perceptive, or share a different take on the readers interpretation.
Stay tuned for part two tomorrow. Before then, I invite you to try this yourself with your significant other as the audience. A discussion will absolutely ensue.