Commonalities in Teaching and Learning Across the Human Lifespan

Are you an experienced trainer/teacher?  Do you teach specifically 1 group (e.g. teenagers) or have come full circle in teaching audiences across the human life span? Having experience developing people across the human lifespan is my personal objective.

I’ve come almost full circle.  I’ve taught young children (casual setting), children (academic setting), youth (academic setting), young adults (volunteer setting), adults (corporate setting).  The only thing that remains is young adults in an academic setting (e.g. as a lecturer in an institute of higher learning).  There is one group that I will forgo for now and that is the senior citizen group (roughly above 60 years old).

What have I learned so far?

I’ve learned that there are commonalities in teaching and learning across the lifespan.  There are some things that always hold true regardless of which age group you are teaching and for what purpose (e.g. academic, corporate/formal or casual).  Once you have experience teaching 1 group, there are teaching methods easily transferred to other groups.

I shall coin these commonalities the Triple R.

Respect

A genuine respect for a person, regardless how young or inexperienced, is very important in ensuring that they remain confident and motivated in their learning endeavours.

For example, if teaching a primary school kid about the meaning of “needs” and “wants” and the child’s definitions are a different from yours (as an adult), do not put down his ideas.  Instead, see things from his point of view.  Hear him out.  Understand that his collection of life experiences are very very different from yours – even your own childhood.

Talk to him at his level.  Not talk down to him.  After you have given him all ears, share with him your point of view –  he is a lot more likely to listen to you now.  Then leave it as that for he will eventually understand as he grows up and faces the world.  For such a topic, there is no need to force him to agree with you.

Even for a deterministic topic such a math, listening (includes finding out via other means) to the student’s point of view can help a teacher spot errors in logic and correct them starting from the student’s point of view.

So many times, I see educators (or parents / ppl in authority) putting down the views of younger and less experienced students, employees, family members.  It breeds disconnection and demotivation at least in this relationship.  And like it or not, it breeds disinterest in the subject.

When you listen to them, they listen to you!

Rapport

Tested and proven many times over… once your audience likes you, you can get away with anything you say or do and learning goes auto-pilot.

As a student, I remember the same subject taught by 2 different teachers… English Literature.  I used to score A1 when I was under Ms A.  Her classes were light, fun… and literature being literature, discussions about a paragraph were open to debate.  Then came Ms B who made us do lots of question and answer activities in a workbook.  And to her, there was only 1 model answer for every question.  There was no discussion.  It totally killed my interest and skewed my still-immature understanding of what literature was.  I didn’t bother to prepare for my exams and was expecting an F9.  Yes, I failed… but was surprised to get D7 because I totally didn’t do what Ms B taught… I just openly debated whatever I could.  I could not debate much because I was not familiar with the literature I was suppose to know by heart before the exams.

As a math teacher (and a rather boring one – even in my own opinion), I had students come up to me and say… “cher, I hate math. but because of you, i will make sure I do well.”  She and he (yes, at least 2 said the same to  me at different times) ended up scoring As almost all the time.  I have no idea what I did.  But they simply liked me and that did the trick.

As an observer of another math teacher, i noticed all he did was have fun in class – I once caught him carrying a broom and dustpan, walking around the classroom teaching math verbally.  Appeared unconventional since the common method is to write a lot of stuff on the board.  I listened and he was hardly teaching math!  He was telling stories!  The students liked him so much and did ok.

Once they like you, learning is auto-pilot!

Rewards

Ever been in a primary school class where the teacher gives sweets or cute stationary to students?

Ever sat in a lecture theatre where the lecturer offers free movie tickets, free pub tickets, free concert tickets and the students suddenly come awake?

Ever sat in an international conference full of professionals where the speaker gives out free books like “From Good to Great”?

All 3 scenarios have something in common… rewards are given out for participation.  Only the form of the reward is different… suited to the profile of the audience.

Rewards come in all shapes and sizes for people of all shapes and sizes.

If you have always specialised in a certain type of audience and are suddenly asked to manage another audience very different from what you are used to, I hope my sharing will allay any worries you might have.  In my experience, there is not much difference teaching the different groups.  You just need to contextualise and pitch it right.  Pedagogies remain largely similar.

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