Home Winsights No. 33 (September 1999)
"Add Depth and Richness..."

Page 2 of 2

1. I had already set context with a few opening remarks, but as always needed to then open things up with an initial exercise modeling some of the partnered and buzz-grouped methods which I was to teach both as content and as vehicle for other content. The announced topic of the first paired-partner round—since this was an education class for teachers—was a question, the answer to which I had them write out first so the first buzz could take off well. That question? — What was the main reason(s) why he or she had gone into teaching in the first place.

2. After the initial answers had been generated in written form, I had each pair quickly decide which of them was "A" and which of them was "B." I then called all "B's" up for an old-fashioned football huddle in the front corner of the room. (As you can imagine, this was in itself arousing and a signal that something was different from the routine in this class.) My simple instruction to the "Bs" — "To every answer of your partner, no matter what your partner says, say, ‘Why is that important to you?'" Then I sent them back to their respective partners and began the buzz on the question for "A" to answer, "What were your main reason(s) for becoming a teacher?"

That "Why is that important to you?" procedure, which usually gets to some pretty deep levels of introspection pretty quickly, is not original here. I had acquired it maybe three years ago during one of the annual Creative Problem-Solving Institutes in Buffalo, NY. If anyone reading this knows the source, I'd be much obliged to learn it since I like to attribute credit where it's due. But using it in such a sequence, or for purpose of being a back door into which to sneak listening skills, I believe is probably original.  (Editorial note: the source turned out to be Virginia Satir, as conveyed through NLP.)

Its further significance is apparent when one considers what makes a Socratic learning session meaningful: Where does the learner have to look in his awarenesses to find answer — into short-term shallow memory as in most classroom questioning, into long-term memory, into actual and sensory-based perception, and/or into deeper thought and reasoning? What is it we truly want to reinforce in ourselves, in one another, and in our students?

3. After letting that run for maybe 4 to 5 minutes, before the pat question became too apparent, I then used the signal system (3 ‘bings" on chime or waterglass as the usual pre-agreed instant talking-pause) to insert the following instruction into the ongoing proceeding: "Now for all "B's" — let's open it now and use every way you can to draw out your partner "A" further on his or her answers, not just with that one question. Draw out your partner further in every way you can, without getting in "A's" way or interrupting his or her flow..."

4. After a few more minutes I then had them flip roles, "A" getting some of his or her own back by drawing out partner "B" in turn on the same initial issue. After allowing an equivalent time:

5. I asked in plenary (didactic lecture) style how it felt to actually have someone listen to you on something that was important to you. As the very positive responses were reported, these teachers were educators enough to begin grasping already that there might be some significance to this for their profession as "educators." For other teachers, you might have to "draw arrows."

6. I then threw them back into "buzz," first as partners and then pulled into groups of four members each (could have been five or six and still worked), on the question, "What are some of the ways you notice, or which make you feel, that you are actually being listened to?" And then a few buzzing minutes later I asked them to "turn that into prescriptive techniques for how to make someone else feel he or she is being listened to?"

The first few times after that, when we went into other issues a la interactive "buzz," I simply reminded these teachers beforehand to practice their own prescriptive techniques, and those buzzes really flew! Everyone was well drawn out in what he or she could perceive in relation to the question or buzz topic. Everyone had much and in depth, once the flow was started, to be drawn out on.


Further comment
Ironically, it was a full year ago and many courses and workshops ago that I had done one other good thing in this context. It simply hadn't occurred to me to apply it as a lead-in for my own courses and workshops generally.

In a learning enrichment project in Ohio, I had taught parents in that project some skills at listening to one another. (Even some adults have never truly had the experience of being really listened to, and this seems to be a pretty transformative experience.) Then I had them practice listening to one another's kids — and for nearly every kid this was transformative because of never having had an adult really listen to him or her before.

I will have to check back to learn whether, as I hoped, any of that ever did transfer back into any of the parents' actually listening to what their own kids have to say. I'd like to revisit some form of this approach in other learning-enrichment projects, maybe through PTAs, and see if in fact this will make the kinds of profound home improvement which I think it can.

How productive and efficient could workplaces become if the common practice was to draw out one another's perceptions and awarenesses so that decisions and actions taken were at the top of people's capacities instead of at the lowest common denominator this side of getting fired?

The whole point of interactive learning, as Socrates discovered 2,000 years ago, is that most of the understandings we're struggling to learn or teach are there already, a priori, buried in prior exposures, experience and the unconscious. It is so much easier and more meaningful if, by one means or another, we force ourselves and/or one another to look within our own awarenesses and to respond or seek to respond from those awarenesses.

That response reinforces, per psychology's main Law of Effect, both those awarenesses and the trait or behavior of being aware. Whatever externally sourced information is still needing to be put in, integrates quickly, easily and meaningfully around that already-known core, once that is activated. With properly focused techniques, interactive learning is a remarkably effective way to teach, even for klutzes. But now I realize that a teacher who doesn't listen short-circuits part of the effectiveness. By not hearing the actual response of the student, a teacher cuts off and even reverses some of that reinforcement.

I'm publishing this here, in an article which has many non-teachers as well as teachers, because it is now overwhelmingly clear to me that one of the very best things we can do for one another, in or out of the classroom context, is to listen to one another, with full attention, respect and regard. Really listen.


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Win Wenger

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