The Most Underused Teaching Technique in Adult Education
During a closing statement at a workshop on improving the quality of teaching, I said this:
“Finding the correct answer, answering obvious questions, filling in the blanks are all boring activities —and stand in the way of effective student learning.”
A participant from the back of the conference room quickly raised her hand and said, “How about the CASAS, the TABE, and the GED test? Don’t we have to prepare our learners for these tests?”
I liked the question. It’s a classic one that I almost always get when I speak about using engaging teaching practices in adult education.
Now you must be curious to know how I answered the question. Aren’t you?
OK, I’ll cut to the chase. Here was my response:
The naked truth about prepping students for the test
I have yet to meet an adult student that is dying to take a standardized test because the content and the questions were so interesting. It’s obvious adult learners want to do well on these tests, but they aren’t crazy about the questions per se.
It’s true, helping learners ace a test is the sine qua non of effective teaching. However, adult ed teachers who want to prepare students for the test in a traditional kind of way—with worksheets and quizzes—run the risk of being very boring. And the outcome? Almost no learners left to test at the end of the semester!
The most underused teaching technique
But the most important thing I said was this: We prepare students for the test while keeping them interested in attending classes. How? By exploiting their curiosity. Why? Let me explain…
Adult students might not like to think critically because it’s hard. But they are all curious. How do I know? It’s human nature!
For instance, my favorite cognitive scientist, Daniel Willingham, put it this way: “People are naturally curious, but we are not naturally good thinkers; unless the cognitive conditions are right, we will avoid thinking.”
To tap into curiosity, we need to avoid using obvious questions and chasing correct answers. Rather, piquing student’s curiosity forces them to think about and engage with the content in a deeper way—which leads to better information retention for the test.
Learners have the desire to understand, to try, to seek out what’s coming next—but this desire needs to be activated. Once they get a whiff of what’s cooking in the kitchen, they’ll get hungry coming up. Imagine having a group of students that can’t wait to start the next lesson.
Now it’s your turn
Now that you have this information, what are you going to do with it? You can move this conversation forward by sharing the post with your favorite adult-ed and workforce colleagues. And subscribe to our adult ed blog to be the first to get our new insights.