Lived Teaching Experience


How do you connect to someone without having the lived experience needed to understand and apprehend fully what are the real concerns and needs  of the other person? A key teaching problem. It applies to an adult teaching a topic to a child or a non handicapped trainer helping a disabled person to acquire a skill. Can you really capture and appreciate the learning needs of the other you are teaching?. Apparently not a serious issue considering the lack of an extensive debate on the question (1). We could call refer to it as the “reversed Meno” problem. Plato in his Dialogs (2) mentions a dilemma that occurs while he was teaching the slave Meno a particular topic. Without any prior knowledge on part of Meno it would be virtually impossible to introduce to him the essential concepts needed to grasp the topic. Therefore, Plato conjectured (sic) that for any learning to take place we have to assume that some prior knowledge is already present. Not an unlikely assumption. But does it work the other way around? Is prior, relevant knowledge present on part of the trainer, teacher, or mentor to truly connect to another person?; that is, to relate to the learning needs and learning abilities present. Of course, the necessary topical and subject matter knowledge most likely are in place but when referring to what might be labeled as “knowledge of the learner” this may be quite a different matter.

A study on training disabled persons might give some clues on what is happening on part of the trainer-mentor. The study made use of “intensive interaction” which is a kind of dialogical approach using the mimics, facial expressions and gestures of the trainee in order to establish a relationship in understanding. Three trainers were supported during their practice period with frequent feedback on what and how they reacted to their learners. The experience turned out to be a revelation for the trainers; stepping out of a professional teaching mode and really trying to mimic the learning language of their learners they reinterpreted their teaching altogether. (A pity though is that the study does not say much about the learning results on part of the learners).

So what can be taken from this? At least that being comfortably embedded in your own teaching mode can block a full appreciation and commitment to the learner’s needs. What seems to be implied by the results of the study is that the other’s perspective is desired, or more precisely, an immersion into the learner’s space (conceptually and emotionally) is wanted to really connect and build understanding. Sounds familiar to the truly teacher, but it will require deep engagement and empathy beyond ‘mere’ effort which probably has to do with an extended professionalism – teaching is incarnating your learner’s standpoint. Which brings us back to the Reversed Meno problem – can we accomplish that?


Teaching intensive interactionto paid carers: using the‘communities of practice’model to inform training Kelly Rayner, Samantha Bradley, Tees, Esk, Gemma Johnson, Jennifer H. Mrozik, Afua Appiah, and Maninder K. Nagra,

British Journal of Learning Disabilities, 44, 63–70    doi:10.1111/bld.12111






Like A Fish In Water


Education is talk. Talk is what makes teaching and learning go. It is all around us when a group of students works together on an assignment, or when a teacher explains something, or when a response is given to a question in a learning conversation. Talk is so self evident in instruction we almost take it for granted “like the air around us”.  But how we talk and in what manner we conduct a conversation will make it really a learning conversation (1). Talk in education is meant to express yourself in a content-related, domain-specific way; so others, i.e., your fellow students, your teacher understand, i.e, not misinterpret, what you mean. In a way it is accurate talk. Imagine following topic to be discussed:

Teacher (T): Can you tell me what stars in the universe are made of? Student (S): hot gases, I think? Or alternatively: T: In the universe stars are composed of certain gases, who can name a few of these gases more precisely by name? S: I know of Hydrogen.., and Helium..

The manner of these two conversations is creating a wide dispersion in learning potential. Whereas the first just taps a response to an inexplicit initiation, the second promotes thinking about retrieving the proper answer based on what is learned.

A recent position paper in the journal Kappa Delta Pi Record urges us to pay particular attention to how talk and conversation evolves in the classroom. To maintain a high level of ‘conceptual exchange’ (2) teachers can have a huge impact on the preciseness and detail they request of an educational conversation. So, unless teachers look closely at how they conduct talks they will not be able to help student to express themselves in a knowledgeable way.

It is so easy sliding into ‘engaging’ modes of asking and responding. But the words that are spoken affect the way students understand, and therefore a wakeup call for teachers to be aware of how they conduct conversations is needed to support the talking to learn. It is a bit like a fear of swimming in deeper waters, once gripped it opens new possibilities.


Gisela Ernst-Slavit & Kerri J. Wenger (2016) Surrounded by Water: Talking to Learn in Today’s Classrooms, Kappa Delta Pi Record, 52:1, 28-34, DOI:10.1080/00228958.2016.1123042

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