Monday, February 2, 2015

Key to Engagement: The Launch of a Lesson

I have led enough staff development to say this with certainty: No matter how much time I have available to teach adult learners, I can completely jeopardize the effectiveness of my entire time with them within the first few minutes of our meeting.

How?  Failure to launch (not necessarily a reference to that Matthew McConaughey movie)!

Almost every teacher I have worked with has thoughtfully engaged in the instructional planning process.  They have thoughtfully selected the lesson they deliver to students for some meaningful, often instructional purpose.  Most teachers are even excited to share those lessons with their students.  That tends to be a constant -- teachers plan and teachers believe in what they do with students.

So why does it so often happen that students (especially our older students) tend to disengage and find little relevance in these well thought out lessons so quickly and so consistently?

After watching a few classrooms this week I was reminded that it might just come down to a failure to truly launch a lesson in a meaningful, engaging, inspiring way.

What I notice about adult learners is that I have about five minutes (on a good day) to hook them on learning some new tool or embracing some new strategy.  Unfortunately, the "hook" isn't always the first thing I need to share with them -- it doesn't come first in the chronological process of learning to utilize the tool.  If I miss that window I tend to lose my least dedicated audience.  And every additional minute or two after that I can visibly see waining interest in a growing number of learners.  Sometimes I can recover and bring them back, but it often seems as if we never get that initial enthusiasm back if do not plan well and miss that initial opportunity to hook them.  And truly no marvel of technology that I can share with them is going to bring them back!

This means I have to plan a little differently. I have to think about my intro.  I need to answer questions like, "Why does this matter to my audience?" or "What is the most important or interesting element in what I'm sharing with them today?"  When I know that, I have to strategically re-think my delivery -- how do I deliver on these elements early in the lesson without completing losing my audience.  Teachers hold the ability to do exactly that -- re-structure a lesson order and then find a way to tie it all together in the end.

This week I saw some pretty interesting lessons on topics that should definitely be of interest to students!  However, in several cases an initial failure to make a compelling argument as to why the topic was worth the investment of time and energy to students, or a failure to hook students and develop an interest right from the start of the lesson, left many students visibly disengaged from the meat of a well developed lesson.

 In journalism taking the most pertinent element of the story and burying several paragraphs in is called "burying the lede."  Instead, be the salesperson you want to buy from!  Put a little showmanship into the first few minutes.  Be dramatic.  Be fun!  Oversell the product a little.  We all want to be part of something special, and the first few minutes of anything seems to be the key to making something stand out from the ordinary.  You already plan great lessons.  Now just spend a few extra minutes thinking about the sizzle that is going to draw them in and find ways to highlight that first.   Once you have them hooked, it is amazing what learners are willing to put forth.