Book review: From Telling to Teaching: A dialogue approach to adult learning

Yesterday, I received this book in the mail and I was pleasantly surprised by what I read. Joye Norris has described a learning design approach for adult learners that just makes sense. In From Telling to Teaching: A Dialogue Approach to Adult Learning*, she outlines a strategy for developing interactive learning lessons and workshops.

While learning a little bit more about Norris, it was interesting to discover that Norris’ method has been explored by Cooperative Extension agencies across the nation to include the University of Wyoming’s Cooperative Extension Service.

From Telling to Teaching is divided into three sections: laying the foundation for teaching instead of telling, lesson or workshop design, and resources.

In section one, Norris provides clear explanations why the common method of instruction does produce the best results and she explains why a dialogue approach should be adopted. Throughout the book, she leverages advice from other works such as Quantum Teaching: Orchestrating Student Success* by DePorter, Reardon, and Singer-Nourie, as well as, Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach: The Power of Dialogue in Educating Adults* by Vella. She uses these works to describe how she implements her method for lesson and workshop design. For example, she notes Quantum Teaching when she describes setting the learning environment. She points out you should prepare your learning environment just as you would your house when receiving special guests. Perhaps the most important piece of section one focuses on how you asked questions when conducting warm-up exercises, lesson activities, and closure activities. She advises to ask reflective rather than recall questions. This shifts learning from teacher to the learner.

Section two is devoted to the actual design of a lesson or workshop. Norris begins with instructional basics of needs assessment and objective development. She stresses, “We should be teaching half as much in twice the time” (Norris, 2003, p. 80). Norris demonstrates how to weave the needs assessment, learner objectives, and learner activities into a lesson using a storyboard. I personally found this to be an effective strategy. When developing the learner activities to address the learner objectives, she uses a learning task model. While I have never seen this model, it seems to have great potential to drive home a lesson; I will be exploring it in future lessons. At the end of section two, Norris describes how to actually use the dialogue approach. She focuses on asking questions the right way, waiting for answers to be formed, acknowledging the participants, and  turning the results into a learning moment.

Section three focuses on resources. Norris provides two lists of recommended reading materials; the first list highlights books referenced in the text, and the other is additional recommended readings. She also provides a second example of how the storyboard is used for a lesson.

Norris’ book From Telling to Teaching readily complements other books focusing on learner-centered teaching such as Enhancing Adult Motivation to Learn: A Comprehensive Guide for Teaching All Adults* by Wlodkowski. While Norris does not explicitly address what makes an adult learner tick, she does take this into account with her method of instruction. I certainly  recommend From Telling to Teaching: A Dialogue Approach to Adult Learning to other adult educators.

Norris, J. (2003). From telling to teaching: A dialogue approach to adult learning. North Myrtle Beach  SC: Learning By Dialogue.
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