Adlt 606: #4 Field of Dreams-Embracing the why

“People will come, Laurie.  People will most definitely come,” say my gardening friends.  Asking a master gardener about the validity of a program such as the “Community Gardening Day” events designed for the adults of student gardeners is like preaching to the choir.  Master Gardeners gravitate to any training or educational experience that enhances one’s skill as a gardener.  Trainees, those who matriculate through the state program register for the course understanding that there are many previous ideas and assumptions to be challenged.  They take the “why” harder than the well-seasoned gardener. It is common to listen to the sighs of frustration between presentations. Our instructors, university professors, county extension agents as well as those engaged in private practice, are well skilled in releasing the whys behind their presentation.  They have no problem telling us what we are doing wrong and presenting the science behind it to validate their statements.  We accept the why and embrace it.  After all, to refute the science behind the why is to make oneself look less than enlightened.  On numerous occasions, I have jokingly suggested that one of the training sessions should be “Partner/Spouse 101,”  you know the individual (s) that we live with who not only refuse to embrace the why, but whom at times, sabotage the why of our work.  Laughter erupts, listeners nod in agreement and the conversation moves on to another topic.  I am left holding the proverbial bag, thus exposing a weakness in our program.  Where do I go from here and how do I engage others to embrace the why? Help!

James Earl Jones, in his Field of Dreams monologue reminds Kevin Costner’s character, Ray, that baseball is a part of America’s past.  It reminds us all of what was good and could be again. All he needs to do is to build the baseball field and then people will miraculously come.  How different is this idea about baseball, the Great American pastime, and America’s roots in gardening?  All I need is to create a gardening program and the community will come, yes?

Take any small group of people and give them a little time to reflect and reminisce.  Conversations about gardening and family members reflect significant experiences for many adults.  Older adults share memories of how gardens created to sustain families during the depression transitioned to Victory Gardens during World War II.  Middle-age adults recall hippy parents who become exurbanites who live organically.  Many within my surrounding area talk about how their grandmothers “put up” fruits and vegetables to enjoy during the winter months. Time spent with family doing work that is useful and meaningful reminds adults about what was and can be important.  Conversation almost invariably moves in a circuitous manner, as adults wonder why they no longer garden.

An important component to state and local gardening initiatives is to show that gardens provide nutritious food for family members with minimal cost and maxim health and economic benefits.  I have considered these ideals when creating a series of gardening events for adult learners.  Cafarella’s Successful Transfer of Learning Model considers the elimination of barriers a component that does not affect a program in isolation, but rather is interconnected with other factors. The Community Garden program, encompassing four learning events is broad enough to make the learning experience complex.  I found it challenging to take twenty or more initial objectives and condense the program into eight achievement based learning objectives (ABOs). Successful transfer of learning is crucial to the participants overall feeling of time well spent, as well as the acquisition of useful skills.  When writing this program, I considered carefully the myriad of ways Caffarella suggested as possible reasons for the lack of transfer.  The “other important people in the learners’ lives” is the one aspect of change that causes me concern.

I have neither the tools nor the experience thus far in my own gardening life to assist others.  When faced with an unknown I typically reflect on my experience as an educator and as a student for inspiration.  As a student in the Teaching with Technology track, I am reminded of the power of crowdsourcing as a way to problem solve.  In the world of digital learning, one is never alone.  There are many gardeners on Twitter ready to supply an idea or suggestion.

There are many changes necessary for learners to become successful gardeners. Embracing the changes necessary to create a community of gardeners means being willing to embrace a period of transition.  William Bridges suggests that every transition begins with an ending, is followed by a period of confusion, which eventually leads to a new beginning.  While some adult educators may consider this a misuse of his theory of transition, I would like to suggest that the learning events in this program indeed require greater effort, time and consideration, on the part of the learner, prior to making the leap to change old behaviors with new ones.

What behaviors will need to end?

  • Composting means that participants need to create a new routine for waste management along with time to sort the harvest. This practice is easier said than done.  Composting eliminates excessive garbage and smell during the warm months, yet means remembering to sort correctly and to feed worms that are living in your home. (To which some readers say, “Yuck!”)
  • Gardening preparation means that participants will need to consider the health of the soil by testing and amending it. The clay soil in Virginia leaves much to be desired!
  • Intensive gardening means considering not only the spacing of plants but also the need for resources and beneficial partnerships with other plantings, such as flowers and herbs.
  • The old method of plop and go does not yield a successful crop of vegetables, as a friend recently lamented when telling me of the death of his garden.

The structure of the learning tasks provides a safety for the learners as well as accountability for me as the designer.  I structured a time for dialogue and discussion during the induction period of each event. The time to understand the context in which learning occurred engages emotional intelligence on the part of the designer and implementers. Leaders should strive to develop a personal relationship with each participant.  Bridges suggests that individuals keep the connections to the people and places that define who we are. Learners who feel a sense of connection to the community garden and a sense of acceptance among the volunteer gardeners may develop a positive reaction to their new learning. Merriam and Clark suggest that in order for the experience to be significant it must be attended to and reflect on.  Dialog provides a place in which the learner could tell his or her story about the learning. It is my hope that the learning events produce positive effects on the learners through education. An increased sense of worth, because of the learning and relationships developed through the program, makes the effort necessary to produce this program well worth it!

I listen to Margaret Roach’s podcast “A Way to Garden,” while doing housework or while waiting for soccer practice to end.  I find her weekly dose of “gardening know how and woo woo” inspiring. Through her podcast interviews, I have met many gardeners of national importance, who share failures and successes of a life of gardening endeavors.   She is Terrance Mann and my fellow gardeners are the baseball players of games long gone. She is standing in the community garden telling me, “If I plan it, they will come.”



Adlt 606: #3 “Liberating the why.”

Those who follow my blog know that a good scene in a movie is one that resonates with me.  The thread of an interesting line, the reaction of a character to a situation that may seem inconsequential to one viewer can make a significant impact on me.  Enter Peggy Sue.  While the time frame for this film is at least twenty years before I encountered high school, the setting could have been taken directly from a day in my life.  Hollywood presented a character who spoke what I had thought for so many years about the study of mathematics.  Where in the world would I use it and what made it essential for me to study it?  My teachers provided no viable reason for learning the subject and certainly didn’t enlighten my ignorance. Light years before the STEM movement, educators rarely discussed the relationship between mathematics and the rest of the world. Why should I give countless hours of my time to learn formulas and theorems that appeared to be little more than rote memorization and endless hours of dittos and worksheets?  I hated the subject, saw little relevance to my life and didn’t believe that I possessed a mind that could comprehend the subject.  I became a devout “Math Atheist.”

Dr. Herta Freitag, known for her work on Fibonacci numbers, joined the faculty of Hollins University (then College) in 1948.   The first woman to serve as the section president of the Mathematical Association of America would certainly be an interesting guest speaker at the local business woman’s dinner meeting.  I knew that my supervisor would relish the idea of an opportunity to hear her speak, let alone sit and dine at her table.  What my supervisor did not envision was what would follow my introduction. I extended my hand, introduced myself and stated that I was a “reformed Math Atheist.”  Dr. Freitag’s laughter did little to assuage the embarrassment of my guest.  Her warm smile and request to repurpose my expression was a sure indication that a mathematician could have a sense of humor.

Somewhere between the end of high school and this dinner my ideas surrounding the subject of mathematics rotated a full 180 degrees.  Enter fifth grade. I loved the age group, yet, bemoaned the idea of being responsible for a subject that was of little use to me.  My colleague claimed language arts and social studies which left mathematics to me.  How would  a “Math Atheist” present learning tasks  to a group of eager and enthusiastic students? The world of manipulatives, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, small group instruction and most importantly, the world of “why” turned my life around.   The late 1980’s and early 1990’s were a time of great fun for me as a teacher. A transformation occurred as I began to question the purpose behind what I taught and how it was presented to me as both a learner and a teacher of learners.

As anyone who works with elementary children knows, the teacher does not lecture, but rather designs a situation that ensures that learning is meaningful for the learner.  An experience full of purpose does not occur without dialogue, as Jane Vella asserts.  “The dialogue in dialogue education is not between the teacher and the learner but rather among learners, of whom the teacher is one.”  (p. 51)  I began to question the reason behind the imprisonment of the “why?” While my education did not offer the necessary background and context for understanding the “why’s” of mathematics, the teacher training was a wealth of rich contextual experiences.

The ideology behind questioning authority, while central to my teachers and babysitters of the 1960’s, seemed to take a back seat to the adage, “Children should be seen but not heard.” To question the relevance of a subject, the reasoning behind a lesson or assignment was considered disrespectful.  The social activism of the last century brought transformation to many systems within society. In what way did it impact my role as a public educator, I wondered?  When posed with the question “why” my students often struggled to both ask and answer questions that allow them to engage in self-discovery.  Adult learners often question each other  about the reason a training must occur, particularly when a worker’s load of responsibilities is already overwhelming.   Rarely, if ever, have I heard an adult voice concern within earshot of the presenter.  Comments are routinely voiced during break time, while visiting the restroom and in passing materials and resources to one another.  While it would only seem natural that learners would begin to question the purpose of a learning event, “why” continues to be imprisoned. Adults learners need rich contextual experiences that show respect for their time and effort.

In Design and Delivery of Adult Learning programs, I am charged with discovering the needs of my learners and the importance of assessing those needs prior to any learning event that I create.  The work invested in the program, Community Garden Day, shows evidence of the work that my learners will do in a small group setting. This evidence comes with hours of preparation, research and much reflection.  Do these events adhere to the “safety in design” ideology proposed by Vella?  If the group loses energy, will they have a the tools necessary to discuss the questions posed by the event? For years I have told my students that good readers, like good movie goers leave the story asking more questions  than they had entering it.  While I have never seen my needs projected or discussed at the beginning of any meeting or training, I am convinced that to do so at the Community Garden Day programs will show careful consideration and planning for a positive learning opportunity. Adult learner must see themselves as a focal point of the learning event.

The mantra of  those who design programs for adult learners should be “Tough verbs and tangible products.” It would certainly spark some interesting conversation, if not a few puzzled expressions. I love how Vella describes the importance of the tough question.  All research begins with a question, yet we often fail to consider how every learning event should surround one as well.  She ascertains that it’s a cogent indicator of learning. (p. 57)  ( sites 34 synonyms for cogent, all of which are pretty tough in their own right!  Go Vella).

A cogent indicator of learning must be the liberation of why!

Adlt 606 #2: Serendipity Happens…

Conversation regarding my program of study in Adult Learning is often met with a puzzled expression.  I’ve memorized a canned statement or two that describes the program.  Two weeks ago I gave away the new glossy flyer published by the department. The flyer is attractive, of professional quality, and one that I would willingly distribute.  The recipient was pleased to have it, signalling that the door for further conversation had opened.  After all, who considers the learning needs of adults? Unfortunately, relatively few, as my experience tells me. “Design and Delivery of Adult Programs” provides greater opportunity for extended conversation. How often does one find that learning events and real life coincide?   Two opportunities to observe and participate in training would occur this semester giving me a wealth of opportunity to consider the material discussed in class.  Rather serendipitous, yes?

Leadership development occurs in a myriad of ways in the volunteer organizations where I am a member.  Leadership training is the result of an invitation rather than a request on my part. In both instances, a member of the executive committee asked me to attend an event for the organization. The ability to meet with others in my region for one organization occurred in September.  The next event begins tomorrow with a different organization. Stationed in both camps at one time or another, as attendee and organizer, I find each role to be equally satisfying as well as overwhelming.  I’ve attended enough conferences and events to spot the professional attendee, the person who navigates a ballroom with finesse. She is able to select the booth with the best corporate giveaways. He is the participant who chooses the most engaging break-out session with the most prestigious speakers.  The consummate organizer strides a hotel foyer, bearing a name tag full of ribbons signifying his or her importance to everyone.  These people live and breathe events!

I watched the leadership conference develop with a new lens, program developer, as I consider the components necessary for adult learning.  Many components of organization unfold along the lines of instruction proposed by both Rosemary Caffarella and Jane Vella, providing a concrete example for me the D&D learner.  Assessment of learning needs and readiness to learn prepared attendees and trainers with information necessary to offer exceptional training.  The self-talk that I needed to engage, to stay focused and positive, is not one developed in a graduate course, but one learned informally.

Our focus of study asks me to consider how models of transfer and learning enhance to apply or inhibit learning.  While careful time and consideration is devoted to crafting a learning task, I wonder how much time and thought is given to the physical needs of learners?

Will these conditions enhance or inhibit a participants overall experience? 

Parking-I arrive to a conference to find that parking is limited.  An additional ten minutes is necessary to locate parking outside of the complex, in a steep area without sidewalks.    I have no idea if I am allowed to part in the lone spot that I discover, and worry if my car will be towed.  Will I leave the conference and find a ticket on my windshield?   Sigh…I didn’t wear walking shoes. I’m glad that my arthritis isn’t bothering me today.

  Will this situation enhance or inhibit my overall experience? 

Temperature-The weather is unseasonably warm, the building is stuffy and crowded.  The central air conditioning unit has broken. Sigh….am I really giving 7 hours of my time to sit and roast?  Will this situation enhance or inhibit my overall experience? 

Layout-The conference room is small, individuals are seated close to each other, many hugging the wall.  The room is configured for lecture .  Sigh…am I really going to sit on a chair and juggle my drink and writing materials for 7 hours?  I like collaboration and group discussion and I am wondering if this is going to happen. Vella says that tables allow people to face each other and do the “hard work of learning.”  I am one of those learners that she says  feels physically protected by a table in front of me.

Will this situation enhance or inhibit my overall experience? 

Amenities-The walls of the room are covered with information that is could be either highly distracting to some attendees or racially insensitive to others.  There is one restroom for women, yet half of the attendees are female.  Sigh…I will need to wait for the restroom.  I will force myself to avoid the work on the walls.

Will this situation enhance or inhibit my overall experience? 

Self-talk was on order for the success of the day.  I reminded myself, repeatedly, to focus on the content and to consider the work and effort of those who presented the learning experience.  Overall, the event was a positive and one that was worth my time,  The information that I learned about the organization, coupled with the two presentations provided information in a new and interesting way. Because I am already a stakeholder in the organization, I was able to refocus when necessary.  Professional reading is a blessing and a curse.  I carry Carol Dweck’s theories about mindsets in my head like two opposing characters.    When the warmth of the room and the hour of the day began to nag at me, I  remember to use a  “growth mindset.”

I can not assume that every adult who participates in my event will approach it with the same skills.   With all things being equal, time spent considering the physical comfort and needs of the participants, in my opinion, is worth as much time as the other components.  In a national convention, a state or local conference participants leave workshops, or cut out of presentations to explore the town and savor the local scene. No one notices, particularly if your supervisor hits the town with you.  Participants commiserate over a glass of wine while roasting an inept presenter.   Attendants wail about the poor content and the time wasted.

It is my responsibility to consider the learning needs of those who will attend my program.  Preparation involves considering the physical as well as the affective and cognitive needs of the participants. Here’s hoping that no one walks out on me!


Adlt 606: #1 This I believe…


A mission statement is a common element found in every academic institutions where I have worked.  In my early days of teaching, I would stand in front of the elevator at the end of the day, laden with a cart full of objects, and stare at the mission statement for my school.  The statement, created several years before I arrived, was an idea that I was to uphold. It was understood that it would best serve the needs of the community.  I wondered if this statement, crafted with great care after hours of meetings, reflected the verbiage and ideas relevant to the community?  This institution is not necessarily any different from any other in which I have worked. In all the planning, are the stakeholders, namely those of the community of educators, parents and students involved in the discussion and writing of a statement about them?

Design and Delivery of Adult Programs promises to be an incredibly useful course, one that is certain to establish a path for how to create and unfold a program from the beginning to the end!  I enter this stage of my graduate studies with the understanding that I will relive the myriad of ways in which I have skirted through programs by the seat of my pants.  I will be confronted with all of the errors made in good faith. I’ve offered numerous programs for both children and adults.Small after school activities, such as “Yarn Girls,” a program for elementary girls interested in learning how to knit required relatively little planning on my part.  Three day events to Wallops Island the Eastern Shore of Virginia meant suffering one year through the beginning stages of pregnancy to the next year where I brought my infant son on a marine biology excursion with 7th grade life science students.    The adults who accompanied me were warm and supportive. They marvelled at my tenacity years before Americans saw, “Keep Calm and Carry On,” in every shop. I reflect on those years of program planning with little or no experience and wonder how not only I survived, but how did the participants survive? (Thank goodness all of these programs occurred prior to Facebook, Instagram and text messaging.)

Dr. Rosemary Caffarella, in her short interview with Dr. Terry Carter, recalled an assignment that she gave to her students, “This I believe.”  A clearly defined set of beliefs, she recalled, should be the basis for every educator’s practice.  For surely, what one believes certainly affects one’s practice.  With this idea in mind, I began to consider the informal learning and reading that I have done during the last year. The authors that I have read and several of the MOOCs that I have taken since January have not only influenced my beliefs, but have certainly challenged them! A smattering of ideas that have circulated throughout conversations, writing and hangouts this year contribute to the ideas below.

This I believe….about Adult Learners

  • The “School of Hard Knocks” is probably the single most connective experience that joins all adults.  Yes, some skirt around it while others wallow in the hard lessons learned as an adult.  I believe that these knocks color one’s outlook on life and often shape the way an adult progresses.  When developing relationships with learners, there’s always something that binds us, even if it’s not the most outstanding moment of our lives.  I believe that experience shapes an adult. Informal learning is often more significant than formal learning.  It’s important to acknowledge every experience and understand how it may guide the life and work of the adult. (No time limit on this schooling, as it is unfortunately on-going!)
  • Years ago I discovered the work of Michael Gurian.  His latest work, The Wonder of Aging, celebrates life after fifty! Imagine research that extols the virtues of wisdom that comes with age? Gurian segments the second half of life into three stages; The Age of Transformation, from the late 40’s until the early 60’s, The Age of Distinction, from the mid-sixties until age 80 and The Age of Completion, from 80 years of age until death. The ideas proposed in this work are important for me to consider as an adult educator. We life in a society where older adults can enjoy the benefits offered by senior centers, institutes for lifelong learning and volunteerism.  I that as an educator, I believe that I can help aging adults through transformation to completion as Gurian suggests. I believe that older adults have so much to offer young people, yet they often speak disparagingly of  themselves.  Diversity is a politically correct term that peppers many conversations in higher education. I believe that diversity in learning and working environments should also encompass the inclusion of older adults in the workforce rather than the exclusion of them.  Michele Woodward’s interview about Working Life After 50 is certainly worth the time to listen.  (Don’t bother looking for this book in the library or the local bookstore, as it’s “out of stock” in all of the Barnes and Noble stores around my area!) (Read: August 2013)
  • Life in a university town certainly certainly offers residents a wealth of resources.  I spent the last two years as a public school educator participating in the CASTL (Center for the Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning) research program at the University of Virginia.  One component of the research study asked me to respond to questions about my attitudes and perceptions about learning.  A quick look at Carol Dweck’s  quiz will provide an idea about how a teacher’s perceptions might “color” the behaviors of students.  While I knew what the test hoped to uncover, I found that my answers often fell in either the the non-committal column.  I just wasn’t sure about the statements asked on the survey that quite frankly resembled those on Dweck’s quiz.   My ideas about learning and teaching experienced a shift as a result of her work.  (Read: July 2013)
  • The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle should really be read in tandem with  Carol Dweck‘s work. Duke University used the first chapter of this book for a Coursera writing course.  While many students shredded his ideas, I found that once I waded through the first two chapters that Coyle’s ideas were grounded in research and provided ideas about the concept of practice, dedication and most importantly mistakes.  Adult learners have lived a lifetime either in fear of making a mistake or of paying for their mistakes.  I used the example of knitting in my review of Coyle’s first chapter.  The task really doesn’t matter, what matters is one’s mindset about effort and building myelin-that broadband that results when deep practice occurs.  I spent two days knitting, ripping out and restarting a new project.  The ideas proposed by Coyle make me believe that it’s worth my time to go back to the source of my mistake and to participate in deep practice.  I learned the pattern…spoiler alert… for this year’s BFF Christmas presents! This ol’ dog continues to learn new tricks! (Building myelin also gives one a chance to keep those “choice” words polished and in working order, yes?) (Read: June 2013)
  • My mentor is amazed at the number of social media and technology skills that I have cultivated at “my age!”  While I laugh and tell her that I paid $2k to learn these skills, I wonder if her reaction is steeped in the myth of Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants?  If there’s one complaint that I have regarding work with adult learners, it is the common belief young people have technology skills because it comes naturally to them.   I listen with patiently as adults provide a variety of reasons for their lack of knowledge.  I remind them calmly about all of the technological changes that they have welcomed and enjoyed.  Ah, yes, they nod.  We have all enjoyed electric windows for years, electric garage door openers and keyless entry for our automobiles. My older teacher friends recall with fondness the days when we were required to wear stockings and heels in classrooms with no air conditioning, “Said no teacher ever!” (If you have teacher friends the someecards circulate FB with regularity.) So what makes the computer, a smart phone and social media so intimidating?  One component of the E-Learning and Digital Cultures, a MOOC through the University of Edinburgh, was the discussion of Natives vs. Immigrants.  The language is itself presents political challenges to so many people, yet the Marc Prensky’s ideas permeate the thinking of many adults.  The connectivist approach to this on-line course fueled a global approach to discussions around concepts such as the meaning of digital prowess.  A class colleague, Andy Mitchell, shared David White’s work, which provides a more accurate and graceful way in which to begin a conversation about digital literacy with adult learners.  I believe that the emergence of social media presents many challenges for adult learners, one of which is a natural suspicion for anything linked with the internet.  Connective theories of learning are exciting ways in which adults cultivate relationships at every stage of adulthood. (Coursera Class:  January 2013)

This is an exciting time to be an adult learner. I’m transitioning through Gurian’s “Age of Transformation” as I look forward to this next segment of my graduate studies.  I welcome opportunities to develop ideas about adult learners through traditional coursework, v, as I cultivate relationships globally through Massive Open Online Courses and while exploring facets of adult learning through the design and delivery of programs.  Beliefs about learning, unlike mission statements, are fluid.