Popping Corn Discussion: Leadership Minor Follow Up

Three sets of notes here as part of following up the 30 July leadership minor discussions session:

I. A synthesis of the planning notes in order to “un-mask” the thinking and learning processing of task and options behind the session.

II. A set of Second Time Around ideas – (a) which changes I know I’d make in a second iteration, and why.

III. Closing Comment on making decisions about establishing patterns in a course to both anchor learning and infuse discussion.

I. Synthesis: Alternatives to Popcorn Style Readings Discussion – aka, leading a discussion linked a specific reading while using facilitation techniques different from “popcorn discussions.” Where popcorn discussions are often built around, to generalize, a series of generative question to which self-nominating students respond – sometimes starting out questions seek response to ideas about in light of reading and/or experiences. Often the ideas offered reflect Personal Concerns of learners and/or teachers, or Particular Content related to concept or topic being covered.

Developing Discussions more akin to Preparation, Process and Rituals of Popping Corn – The science of Popping Corn, the cultural histories of corn (eg, indigenous north, central, south American cultivation with nutritional and cultural significance far before maize shows up in, for example, European agriculture; also, “corn’ was used as a generic term for whatever was the prevalent crop of a geographic region – so in England “corn” used for wheat, in Ireland and Scotland for oat crops). Popping Corn eschews – as I’ve talked about elsewhere – discussions seeking or bounded by implicit or explicit Political Correctness, whether conveyed as higher education institutional norms or a dominant ideology’s regime for public communication. In place of the old PC, teachers who design courses for learning – where learning and teaching as understood as processes intended to provoke change – will be creating discussions shaped by Principled Considerations such as the ones noted in the slide above.

What Could This Popping Corn Discussion Look, Sound and Feel Like: Synthesis of my handwritten planning notes:

  • Start with a task that requires all participants somehow to be part of an initial conversation applying what they’ve learned and thought about while reading and responding to the readings individually, ahead of meeting together (with some sort of reading/annotating prompt attached to the reading).
    • Grouping Options: learning circle, pairs, small groups.
    • Topic Options: common question or scenario; set of related tasks linked to topic or issue significant to the entire group; group selected focus within overarching topic.
    • Sharing Options: reporting out could use technology (google doc, ChimeIn, white board or post it) to record ideas at each stage of the discussion within for just that group with need to figure out how/whether/when to report to other groups; OR groups finish the discussion cycle then merge with one other group taking on similar topic to synthesize ideas, noting points of convergence/divergence as heart of discussion; OR participants could turn attention back to whole group at key points with a strategy for calling people into the discussion to share emerging ideas.
  • Move into building a discussion of the reading based on ways group members apply its principles to topic/issue at hand, making room for questions about the reading itself, about author’s analysis/application of concepts, about participants’ own perceptions of reading or of task at hand, and about tensions related to ideas shared by other participants and related to not having fuller access to all the ideas circulating in the room.
    • A way to moderate this – ask a 4 participants to be “designated listeners”: if learning circles or small groups they act to synthesize and to note points of view that have been left aside/smothered, misstated/ignored; if pairs within topic areas – two will rove with me to hear ideas in groups and be part of reporting out, while the other two will be called into closing whole group segment.
    • Note – these are instances that clearly show we will never have access to or means to cover “all the content” even again – how to bring this up and to bring in some attention to – if not discussion of – the action steps following discussions now that we are, indeed, learning in a complex world?
  • Closing. More like Closings? OMG what to close with given that this is one shot discussion rather than a class session? In that circumstance the closing option really is that of acknowledging an incomplete closing – an opening as it were to go as individuals next into the sorting that each participant is responsible for conducting/engaging as reflection/reflexion – writing, walking, talking with a personal network. So, to spark that? Maybe a Learning Audit with some version of the basic “What one thing have you gained as a potential practice AND what one question can serve as a base for investigating what you need/want to know more about?” Ideally, there’d be time to close somehow with learning, unlearning, relearning as base for/of teaching. Maybe I use some of the slides I prepared as I was grounding myself in this HUGE learning and teaching task. Maybe just to let it stop for the day. The most difficult decision in a oneshot.

In short: This session’s requirements – explicit and implicit – called for attention to

  • active reading – pitched at subjective and objective understanding,
  • informal writing (what I call writing to learn),
  • discussion (which I call speaking to learn when the purpose/outcome at its base asks students to make meaning from what they have and are learning) that incorporates a number of strategies to meet two part goal (to talk meaningfully about resistance and to provide a platform for meta-awareness if not -discussion of discussion alternatives),
  • learning as a construct that is parallel to – and in my humble opinion comes before – teaching as a process to be understood as we construct courses and class sessions, and,
  • oh yes, the full range of participants in the room – preferred ways of learning interacting with new ways of learning, experience in time and mode with teaching, past experiences with or as resistant learners plus cultural constructions about place/role/responses to resistance in general and in high education in particular.

In, essentially, one hour. So, how to create something that will be messy (cognitively confusing with affective overlays) that makes room for enough substantive points in terms of content (resistance) and process (discussion) for someone to use tomorrow in thinking again about the courses about to be taught?

II. Initial Considerations for a Second Time Around – first reflection responses so that I remember these initial thoughts when I do come back, for the hosts of reasons that I’m likely to come back, to making this into a similar session.

Starting Out: focused on resistance/dissonance being part of learning; very mini-presentation making use of some version of this slide as a handout – lots of room for making notes and can be an anchor along the way.

Topics: Still three, but a shift of one, which is feeling still a bit emergent: (1) First Day – Student-Teacher or Student-Student dimensions, (2) Early-Mid Term – Student-Teacher or Student-Student, and (3) Beyond the Classroom – Teacher-Non-Student Actors including coaches, peers, community partners, administrators.

Initial Writing before Pairs begin talking: What questions, concerns, experiences, worries, tensions – resistances – do you bring to this topic? Brainstorm then pare list to two and link these to Brookfield.

Work of Pairs: Essentially the same – focusing for each round of paired discussion on ways of addressing, normalizing, mitigating, naming the resistances, with reporting out to afford some idea sharing and synthesis across the topics. Ideally in the time 2-4 things listed could be addressed.

Closing: Bring it back to the courses at hand with attention to this diagram as anchor for linking ideas to course design / syllabus building / class session planning. And to the Popping Corn idea as a way to debrief what we just did – so that if time doesn’t permit, that becomes the focus of follow up email – something a few colleagues and I do for all our teaching/learning presentations.

Or – what I’d do in setting this session up for my Fall 2012 Friday morning “Teaching in Higher Ed course? These changes and the debrief would be to have student teams remake the session with ideas from a bigger collection of Brookfiled materials – a reading on adult learning and broader collection of slides he’s generated focusing on discussion.

Or – if the whole afternoon block came around again?

  • Responding to writing and Discussion alternatives get linked: Informal writing you generate (new prompt linked to teaching-learning scenario in your experience) becomes base for response. Resistances generated as part of cohort group talking. Planning for teaching becomes focus of last session – ways of setting up discussion, peer responding, inter-personal and classroom conflicts rooted in resistance…. With the three segments, it’d be a way to model a full learning circle, which could be a look at a week/single night class/chink of a hybrid course – a bigger span of teaching possibilities done in an afternoon.
  • Ditch the reading and move to “read” the threads of the day not wrapped up, ideas caught in “middest” – middle, midst – as time moved schedules along, and use these to identify resistances.

Handout: Two diagrams noted here, the page on Popping corn, the page on learners / learning as alternative to students / studying, and the adaptation of Stephen Brookfield’s slides on discussion patterns.

III. Closing Comments: When I teach undergraduate courses I establish a pattern to anchor learning and infuse discussion. I’m a fan of constructing discussion as a foundation for learning with work leading into and out of it, especially after both experiencing it being “thrown in” or “added on” and reading the research addressing all the reasons that doesn’t work well for students’ learning short term or long term. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t regularly dense, complex, multi-strand – confusing – discussions to enter into and then sort from time to time. By planned and unplanned circumstances./blockquote>
Anchoring: A foundation that’s worked for me is the Learning Circle (What? So what do we make of this? Now what do we do with this?). It works as a way to sequence each day of a 3 times a week course (which I typically have to select) and with 3 hour night courses and hybid/online structure that sometimes come along. It also helps me think of the homework, in class work, larger assignment work of each class session. And it allows circling back to those complex parts. Just can’t always use the “everyone talks in turn” pattern to structure each round, or have each round be a speaking one.

Infusing: I use one of two patterns on a typical discussion day: (1) Whole class session with paired writing/discussion/task at key points so that students compare, extend, apply what they’re hearing in the discussion (whole class with guiding questions) or interactive presentation (teacher or team prepares) that day. (2) Small group sessions with groups of either 3 or 5 (odd numbers do seem to help break group think) that have work to accomplish together – peer responding, reading jigsaw, creating response to a case or video, developing a document (print or virtual) for an audience outside the class.

Lots of resources that you could call up with a virtual search – overwhelmingly so; if you have a specific query, let me know and I’ll pinpoint a resource that can be a solid starting point for you. Finally, thanks for a great day – lots of thinking for all of us there.


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