No Fishing, Please!
Foresaking Facipulation & Faux Inductive Learning
“Training, huh?” the GO bus driver asked me. “Have you read….” and then he proceeded to tell me about a book he was reading on management theory and then asked, "Do you know what the first thing that disappears when a relationship goes bad? he asked.
"Uh, no.", I replied, curiously. "What?"
"Guess", he said, glancing up into his rear view mirror smiling.
"Um, I dunno,....Trust?"
"Nope. Guess again."
"Nope, way off!" he said, clearly enjoying this game. "I'll give you a hint: It's a 7-letter word....."
I counted off the letters on my fingers: H-A-P-P-I-N-E-S-S? Nope, too many letters. A-F-F-E-C-T-I-O-N? No, that's 9 too..... E-M-P-A-T-H-Y? Seven!
"Empathy," I said proudly.
"Nope! Guess again...."
"Sigh...." This line of questioning ran on for five more kilometres of stop and go traffic. But by the time he "revealed" the right answer***, I was so annoyed that I really didn't care anymore.....
Beware of Fishing
Guessing games have a long and storied history that dates back to Rumpelstiltskin and the Riddle of the Sphinx. But when I come across them in training workshops, I wonder if they are really the best way to teach.
For example, I was attending a brownbag lunch where the facilitator asked us to call out why participation was important in community development planning processes.
“Great,” I thought. “An Anchor task where he demonstrates Respect for our previous experience and knowledge as adult learners by asking us what we think”.
We dutifully named off our reasons: ownership, accuracy, efficiency, justice, power relations....etc.
"Thanks", he said, flipping to the next slide, "But here's what I really wanted you to say..."
Doh! You could feel the energy hissing out of the room.
This is what I’d call a “faux inductive” exercise in which the trainer is kind of just pretending to elicit your ideas in order to get you to say what he wants, making us feel like a bunch of ventriloquists dummies.
Or worse yet, the point of the fishing expedition is to get you to name the wrong answers so he can then “reveal” the surprise “right” answer, making us all just feel, well, ….dumb.
I often see this in facilitators’ guides – those top secret manuals that only trainers ever get to see!”: “Ask the audience what they think about this. Get them to say things like….X, Y, Z….”
“Get them to say?” – That’s “facipulation” (Noteboom 2004) at its worse.
Perhaps the designers see this as a way of encouraging “audience participation” in what is otherwise a one-way presentation. But to my mind, fishing for the right answer just reinforces the power dynamics of the expert-learner relationship (especially when the learners aren't able to say the “right” word). And fishing for the right answer also eats up a lot of time.
A Better Way
To avoid fishing, remember Jane Vella’s axiom of “Don’t ask what you can tell; tell in dialogue”. Or in other words, don’t ask a question if you already know the answer.
Instead just state some of the key ideas up front and then invite them to actively reflect on these ideas in light of their experience.
For example, if I was teaching a parenting class, I would forego the fishing expedition in favour of “telling in dialogue” as follows:
A. With a partner, review these 10 tips for helping your child manage conflict and:
- Note any tips that require clarification
- Put a checkmark beside any tips that you’re tried that work
- Cross out any ideas you’ve tried that don’t work
- Underline any new ideas that you’d like to try,
- Add any additional tips that you think should be there.
We’ll hear some highlights of your reflections in the large group after 5 minutes.
Of course, you may want to just choose 1-2 or those instructions, but look how this learning task shifts the focus away:
- from my voice and knowledge to the participants' voices as they are engaged in actively learning through dialogue;
- from just transferring knowledge -- what Friere called the "banking approach" -- to providing opportunities for the learners to take the content and run with it: to delve deeper down through Bloom’s deeper levels of learning to “comprehension”, “analysis”, "evaluation" and “synthesis”.
Imagine the difference it might make for the learners and for learning.
***Can you guess the answer to the bus driver’s question, “What is the first thing that disappears when a working relationship goes bad”? Put your answer in the text box below and I’ll make a $25 donation to the Living Oceans Society in your name when I receive the first right answer! Save the fish! Stop fishing!