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Monday, February 17, 2020

The Experiential Learning Cycle: Promoting Positive Teaching Practices

The Experiential Learning Cycle -

Promoting Positive Teaching Practices

Regardless of yourteaching experience, the Experiential Learning Cycle {ELC} provides a framework for informing and transforming our teaching practices. [to see the first post on this, click here]

Teacher Training with TESOL TrainersThough the ELC has been around in some form or another, it was David Kolb who brought detail to the stages of learning that everyone, on some level or another, pass through as we engage in experiences and encounters.  Common phrases such as ‘we learn from our experiences’ and ‘trial and error’ capture this natural process.

Educators can use this basic process to frame how they approach teaching and learning.  With a little effort and a bit of practice, teachers can support their own understanding of what helps/hinders learning and their ability to improve their own teaching practice.  

Using the ELC is a critical way in informing and transforming your teaching practice.

The Stages of the Experiential Learning Cycle:

Concrete Experience            
Having a real teaching experience in class.
Reflection and Observation
Think about the experience and what seemed to help/hinder learning.
Abstract Conceptualization
Generalizing about how the experience informs us of the teaching & learning paradigm.
Active Experimentation
Planning how this experience will affect the next teaching experience that we have.

If we unpack these stages, we get something like this….

Concrete Experience:  This is a step-by-step description of the segment of our teaching that we would like to focus on.  This may be a whole lesson or even a technique that you used or an activity that you tried.  It's always helpful to somehow recreate the steps of the lesson in order to uncover the golden nuggets of learning that await.

Reflection and Observation:  Here, we think back and try to identify specific student behaviors that hinted how learning was supported or stifled by our actions/non-actions.  Perhaps things went smoothly and you noticed how scaffolding helped them.  Perhaps you forgot to model the instructions and the activity was a disaster.  However it turned out, it presents a rich opportunity to learn.

Abstract Conceptualization:  By this point, some sort of generalization about what the experience has taught us in terms of teaching and learning is clearer.  It might be that you really noticed how dividing the lesson into tiny baby steps helped the students;  It could be that you realize how invaluable modeling an activity is to its success.  Whatever the learning is, pay attention to 'why'.

Active Experimentation:  Here, we take our learnings and project them onto the future.  Hopefully the reflection has given us an idea of what to keep doing and what to change.  By using this experience to consciously approach future classes, we open ourselves up to more opportunities for growth.  It is this 'action point' that we give ourselves that keeps us learning as much (if not more) than our students.
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Since ELC is a cycle and not a circle, we travel through these stages every time we have a teaching/learning experience.

Being conscious of this process and making conscious changes when necessary, helps protect us from the 'running rat' syndrome in going around and around in circles without any progress.

It is also true that we can enter this process at any stage:

 At stage #4:  I just planned a neat activity to work on comparative adjectives.  I’m going to try it out and see what happens….
 At stage #3 I just read a book about strategies for teaching comparative adjectives;  based on this knowledge I’m going to…..
At stage #2 I noticed that students really seemed to be stuck on comparative adjectives.  How come they seemed lost…….
At stage #1 I just taught a lesson on comparative adjectives.  This is what happened….

Let’s explore how this looks if we jump into this process from stage 1, the concrete experience (Notice the colors)….

I used an inductive approach to working with comparative adjectives.  Students separated the adjectives into categories.  Then, they added the comparative (er/ier/more) to the adjectives.  After that, the class came up with a rule.  Then, in pairs they put the rule into practice by describing people using the adjectives.  Finally, they gave short presentations to their peers using the comparative adjectives.  I noticed that Raul and Olga seemed more involved that normally is the case.  Even though they struggle, they kept up with the process.  Esteban seemed a bit bored in the beginning and stopped answering questions (a first) but once the pair and group work started he got really involved.  It could have been because I wasn’t quite comfortable with helping the students make the connections.  The students said they like the experience of ‘discovering’ grammatical rules.  Inductive approaches to learning can be very beneficial.  This is where students come up with the rules from examples.  They engage students and make them think more critically about language.  Though it’s challenging to plan, I can see how encouraging students to draw their own conclusions can encourage their complete attention.  It really helps students take more responsibility for their own learning.  The next time I teach, I’m going to use a similar strategy of getting the students to come up with the rules from the examples that I give them.  Then, I’m going to make sure they have a chance to apply that knowledge in language practice.  I am going to make sure to show both examples and non-examples so that the lesson is clearer to the students.

Here is another example (notice the lack of colors); try to identify the stages:

1.     Well, I was nearing the end of the lesson and I wanted the students to cocktail around
2.     asking the question, “what did you get out of this lesson’ and answering using the
3.     pictures they had.  I then wanted them to swap pictures and find another partner.  I
4.     told them what to do and got them up.  For the next five minutes, the students just
5.     stood around.  Manuela asked the question once; I didn’t hear her answer any.  Jesus
6.     and Jose asked one another the question twice, but they didn’t interact with anyone
7.     else.  I saw Jaciel asking a bunch of people around her, and I even heard her respond
8.     using a variety of different verbs, but I didn’t see anyone else do it.  So, why did it
9.     fail?  Well, I think it was the instructions.  I told them what to do, but I didn’t model
10. it and didn’t have students model it either.  So, they never saw how it was supposed
11.  to look and I never got a chance to see if they understood me.  This really highlights
12.  the importance of clear, effective instructions that have me showing and telling and
13.  have me taking the pulse of the students by having some students model the activity
14.  before having everyone do it.  So, the next time I teach, I am going to make the
15.  instructions crystal clear.  First I’m going to tell them, then I’ll show them, and finally
16.  I’ll have two students show me and the rest of the class.  That's effective teaching.

Which lines correspond to………………………….…...?

  1. Concrete Experience: 
  2. Reflection and Observation:
  3. Abstract Conceptualization: 
  4. Active Experimentation:
can be a powerful tool to encourage teachers to consciously approach how they inform and transform their own teaching practices.  While the formalized structure may look strange, the internal
processes are quite natural.

Using the ELC gives us a lens through which we can look objectively at our own teaching and what we do that helps/hinders learning.

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