I learned this from Emily Schnee and rely on it, especially for academic courses I teach. The form is simple, an interview activity with a report back and a chart to collect the information. But the content is rich: how have we learned well, what does that tell us about how learning is best done, what does that say about teaching and how it is best done? Starting with a skill also helps people recognize themselves as people who have skills and know how to learn, rather than starting where most education starts, with people's ignorance and lack of skill.
In a group, people pair up. Each person needs a sheet of paper and something with which to write.
The joker introduces the activity, explaining the process and the purpose: to discover how we learn well. Then, the joker asks everyone to think of something they do very well, some skill they have. Preferably something non-academic (because this brings out interesting things about how we learn when we are not students).
The joker asks for a couple of people to state their skills, to make sure the idea is clear. When all are ready, the joker writes six questions to be used in the interview on the board:
- What is your skill?
- When did you learn it?
- Where did you learn it?
- Why did you learn it?
- How did you learn it?
- How would you teach it?
The pairs take time to interview each other, each taking notes of the other's answers. When all are done, or time is up, people take turns introducing their partners to the whole group. "This is Matt. He is good at helping people plan education activities. He learned this twenty years ago in his job. He learned to do it because he enjoyed it and he felt it was a way he could be helpful. He learned mostly by doing it, by listening to what people wanted and by asking many questions about the context and the goals of the planners and the participants. He would teach it by teaming up with someone and watching/listening and asking questions."
As each pair reports back, the joker takes notes on a chart on the board/wall. My chart usually has four categories: SKILLS, WHY LEARNED, HOW LEARNED, HOW TEACH. Where items are repeated, just add a check mark, but be careful to record meaningful nuances. As always, when note-taking, it is good to check with the speaker to be sure the note is not misleading or putting words in their mouth.
When all are done, ask people to look at the chart. Ask questions in the Jacotot vein: "What do you see? Do you see patterns? Where? Can you show me? What do you not see in this chart? What do you think about what you see here?"
Once the chart has been thoroughly described and the various ideas verified -- "show me in the chart" -- the question is "what does it mean for us as learners/teachers? If this is how we have learned well, what does that mean for how we should learn here?"
You can end with an open discussion, small group discussion, or asking people to write about what they see and think.
Timing. The report back can drag, but it is essential, so feel free to insist that people give each speaker respect, but also feel free to set a fast pace. On the other hand, don't rush the analysis. It may be better to copy the chart (or take a picture) and analyze it at a future meeting.
Specificity: While people are doing the interviews you may want to listen in and urge people to be more specific and concrete, if necessary, especially when it comes to why they learned, how they learned and how they would teach.
Verification: any time someone sees something in the chart, have them prove it by showing where they got that idea, what item(s) on the chart they are using in forming that idea. The idea is to be sure that we all understand each other, with reference to a common object.
Explication: it is tempting for the joker (typically the teacher) to slip into explicating the chart, interpreting its meaning for students, rather than asking them questions to find out what they are seeing and thinking. Feel free to have your own answers, but just as the chairperson in a meeting should not use that role to speak on an issue, don't use your role or position improperly. As Jacotot would say, it is important for the teacher to "take your intelligence out of the game," leaving the students to meet the intelligence of the chart with their own intelligence.
(If there is something you see, that you think is important, and no one mentions it, you can add it, the same way the students do. But, what is crucial, is that you do this in a way that doesn't interrupt or replace the interaction of the students and the object. Probably, you don't need to add it. Instead you need to listen very carefully and attentively to what they say, and be sure everything is verified.)
In this example, I only record answers to four of the questions. You can also track the "where" and "when," but in my experience those have been less interesting and too many categories makes the whole thing a bit harder to use. (The questions are worth asking in the interview process, though, because they help people be concrete about their skills.)
I am always fiddling with the questions. Some times I ask people, "Who taught you?" "How did they teach you?" This can be useful for bringing out the question of the roles "teachers" play and the separation of the teacher role from the teacher position. (Role being a temporary function, position being a more or less ongoing place in a system.)
For example, one student learned to sail a small boat. His father taught him by forcing him to go sailing with him even when he didn't want to, and giving him orders when on the boat. Students saw here that the student's initial lack of desire to learn was overcome by the father's commands. It was a pure imposition of force, based on the father's position. At some point, the student developed his own motivation.
Or, you can skip the teacher questions and ask: "How did you learn? How would you help someone else learn?" (You could even start by asking people to think of a skill they learned without a teacher.) This would be a way to focus on the learning we do all the time but often don't recognize, Jacotot's "universal education." It would also lead to an interesting discussion of how to help someone learn. What is the proper role of someone who wants to help others learn, without "teaching" them (in the traditional sense of explication)?