"The means is dialogue, the end is learning, the purpose is peace." ~ Founder Dr. Jane Vella

Improve Your Writing – Beware Little Timidities

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The following post is adapted from one of the lessons in IMPROVE YOUR WRITING:  Ten Essential Tools for Streamlining Your Sentences, a self-paced online course facilitated by writer, teacher and former GLP Director Joan Dempsey. Joan employed the 8-Steps of Design in the creation of this course.

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short, or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

~ William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White, The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition

We all write.

Reports. E-mails. White papers. Grants. Letters. Blog posts. Articles. Briefs. Stories. Novels. Biographies. Histories. Memoirs …

When we write, we sometimes feel uncertain. One way we cope is to add qualifiers to our sentences.

Like this:

I have a bit of a tendency for adding rather unnecessary qualifiers to my sentences.

Wait. Let me revise:

I have a tendency for adding unnecessary qualifiers to my sentences.

What’s a qualifier?

  • rather
  • very
  • a little
  • pretty
  • sort of
  • somehow
  • somewhat
  • kind of
  • quite
  • too
  • in a sense
  • type of
  • really
  • basically
  • for all intents and purposes
  • definitely
  • actually
  • generally
  • specific
  • particular

“These,” write Strunk & White in The Elements of Style, “are the leeches that infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood of words.”

Prune out the qualifiers to strengthen your prose!

Follow the advice of William Zinsser in On Writing Well:

Don’t say you were a bit confused and sort of tired and a little depressed and somewhat annoyed. Be confused. Be tired. Be depressed. Be annoyed. Don’t hedge your prose with little timidities. Good writing is lean and confident.

Think deeply about the meaning of words.

Don’t write "very first time" or "very last time." It’s either the first time, or it isn’t. It’s either the last time, or it isn’t. Don’t write that the retreat was rather boring or very bland. Words like boring and bland nicely convey their own meaning.

According to Zinsser, by adding qualifiers you “dilute your style and your persuasiveness.”

"The larger point,” he continues, “is one of authority. Every little qualifier whittles away some fraction of the reader’s trust. Readers want a writer who believes in himself and in what he is saying. Don’t diminish that belief. Don’t be kind of bold. Be bold.”

Now it’s your turn.

Don't forget that only by practicing will you grow adept at recognizing when you use unnecessary qualifiers in your own work. To get the most out of what you've just read, try this:

Write 1-2 sentences with too many modifiers in each. Use the list above if you wish, or discover your own modifiers. Post your sentences in the comments section below.

******

Joan Dempsey is a Certified Dialogue Education Practitioner, teacher and author.  You can join Joan at IMPROVE YOUR WRITING:  Ten Essential Tools for Streamlining Your Sentences, a self-paced online course, available immediately upon registration. Want to learn more?  Check out this video.

 

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An Interview with Karen Ridout, GLP Senior Partner

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This is the second in a series of interviews conducted by Joan Dempsey, GLP's Dialogue Education Community Director, with people who believe deeply in the power of dialogue to influence learning that lasts. Today's interview is with GLP Senior Partner, Karen Ridout.

 A quiet mind listens to only what the speaker is saying; a quiet mind does not have its own agenda, does not form its response, does not judge—until the speaker has finished.  ~ Karen Ridout

Joan Dempsey (Joan):  What’s your favorite axiom, and why?

Karen Ridout (Karen):  Among my favorite axioms is THE DESIGN BEARS THE BURDEN. I have found that when I have gone through the process of wrestling with the who, why, so that, what, achievement-based objectives, when and where, going back and forth, creating, revising, refining, capturing new insights during the process of designing the learning tasks, I can (1) sleep the night before the event and (2) be fully present, adaptive, flexible and confident during the event, knowing the design is assuring my accountability. It’s got my back! A cogent design—what a joy.

Joan:  Name 3-5 of your favorite facilitation skills. Describe what you use them for and why they are favorites.

Karen:  OPEN QUESTIONS: Open questions have “universal” use in DE—by their very nature, they invite dialogue; they can be used in every/any situation—one-on-one, pairs, during a mini-lecture whether rhetorical or inviting a response, in a group of 4 or 400, in written or oral material. I use them when I am not the facilitator/leader and the class or meeting leader is not applying DE—I’ll ask an open question of the group to get dialogue started (subtle manipulation!). Works wonders! My response to learners when asked “How do I start introducing DE to my colleagues when they are resistant?” I say—start asking open questions in all of your interactions. (Of course, the questions must be robust and relevant to the topic and the learners.) Open questions are my backup—always ready, always appropriate, always productive!

LISTEN WITH A QUIET MIND: A quiet mind listens to only what the speaker is saying; a quiet mind does not have its own agenda, does not form its response, does not judge—until the speaker has finished. This requires intention, attention and discipline from me—I usually have an agenda and a judgment which I must put on pause in order to really hear what the other person is saying.

SMALL GROUPS: Safety and inclusion—every voice is heard!  And, learning is expanded—more diverse ideas, perspectives, solutions. The buzz of small groups is an indicator of the learning happening—there and then!

TRANSPARENCY: I have found that when my learners  know the what and why of a concept, a technique, an action, a decision, etc., their confusion dissolves, their resistance changes to acceptance, and their learning moves forward (rather than getting stuck).

Two Practices

  1. STAND WHEN PRESENTING NEW CONTENT; SIT WHEN FACILITATING DIALOGUE: This is not a skill—just a practice I use that seems to facilitate the flow. Learners expect a degree of authority from a teacher of new content and standing is a subtle way of affirming that, whereas sitting connotes an equality of members in the group of which I am one.
  2. HAVE AN OUTSIDE PERSON PROOFREAD ALL MATERIALS: Mistakes in materials, no matter how small, are an interruption to many learners’ flow of thought, creating a barrier to his/her learning. No one—none of us—can proofread our own material. Use another set of eyes just prior to printing.

Joan:  Of all the DE principles, which 2-3 do you like the best? Why?

Karen:  ENGAGEMENT: learning at the cellular level—promotes true, sustainable learning

LEARNER AS DECISION MAKER OF HER/HIS OWN LEARNING: Incorporates respect, relevance and safety; the learner embodies his/her own context

Joan:  When you attend learning events that are not learning centered, what’s your biggest pet peeve?

KarenBEING IGNORED AS AN INTEGRAL PARTNER IN THE LEARNING

Joan:  Why do you love DE?

Karen:  IT WORKS! Gives me a foundation, structure and principles that generate a confidence in me to enthusiastically trust what I am doing to create a robust, meaningful learning environment/experience for the learner. DE offers a way (to borrow a quote from Carol Folt, newly named chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill) “…to make sure that our students don’t simply learn what we know, but they learn to create what will be.” DE is a foundational attitude, a system, not just a model, approach or method. It is a way of being: "the means is dialogue, the end is learning, the purpose is peace" (Jane Vella).

Joan:  When you think about all of your work as a facilitator/teacher/consultant, what learning transfer makes you the most proud? Share the story.

Karen:  LEARNER’S MINDSET IS TRANSFORMED: Happens in multiple ways with multiple learners. One example—a brilliant, gifted, knowledgeable person with expertise to share exclaimed at the conclusion of her DE training “I now can pass on my learning so others can benefit! I’m so grateful.” Another—a non-profit which has infused DE into their culture as they serve and teach the needy with respect, engagement and skills.                                                                     

Joan:  What would you say to someone who’s new to DE to explain the essence of DE?

Karen:  DE SHIFTS LEARNER’S LEARNING FROM PASSIVE TO ACTIVE LEARNING, resulting in learning at the cellular level—the content has become a part of them. My mantra when designing a class or workshop is always to ask myself at every decision point: “What will enhance the learning?” “How will this (task, activity, content) enhance the learning?” “What in this design or environment will create a barrier/interruption to their learning?” If it doesn’t enhance the learning or if it creates a barrier to learning—don’t do it!

IT’S ABOUT THE LEARNING, NOT THE TEACHING

Joan:  What tips do you have for someone who’s been practicing DE for a while?

Karen:  KEEP LEARNING FROM YOUR EXPERIENCES WITH DE: DE is a developing system, a research agenda

NEVER UNDERTEACH, ALWAYS CHALLENGE (with safety)

ENTER WHERE THEY ARE: Build on the learners’ experiences, knowledge, themes and language

KEEP THE FOCUS ON THE LEARNING: celebrate what emerges, what is created.

Joan:  If you use other teaching methods that you feel complement DE, what are they and how are they complementary?

Karen:  HONORING THE PREFERENCES OF PSYCHOLOGICAL TYPES:  An introvert needs reflection space, an extravert needs expression space; one person needs concrete data, another needs a theoretical context, etc., etc. Our psychological preferences influence our paths to learning as well as barriers to learning. We want our learners to use their energy to wrestle with the new content, not have to spend energy on coping with the teaching method we are using.

Joan:  What else would you like to share?

Karen:  HAVE FUN!  Celebrate the energy you and your learners feel in all your cells and neurons.

*****

Karen Ridout is the co-coordinator of the Learning & Change International Dialogue Education Institute, Oct 24-27, 2013 in Baltimore, MD, USA, where she's also offering one-on-one private consultations. Karen is also teaching several upcoming workshops:

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An Interview with Peter Perkins, GLP Senior Partner

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This is the first in a series of interviews conducted by Joan Dempsey, GLP's Dialogue Education Community Director, with people who believe deeply in the power of dialogue to influence learning that lasts. She starts the series with members of the GLP core consulting team.

We as DE practitioners do not arrive; we journey into our practice, continually deepening our practice and adding our own meaning. ~ Peter Perkins

Joan Dempsey (Joan):  What’s your favorite axiom, and why?

Peter Perkins (Peter):  “Less is more!”

This axiom actually comes from schools of architecture, where the less that’s built into a home or office, the more comfortable and usable is the resulting space. I see myself as a designer of effective and sustainable learning, in much the same way an architect designs efficient, beautiful and enduring buildings. To do this, I must be careful and intentional about not over- or under-building the learning design for the learners.

Joan:  Name some of your favorite facilitation skills. Describe what you use them for and why they’re favorites.

Peter:  Silent Listening - I have moved from using primarily active listening (from Carl Rogers' person-centered-therapy) to silent listening, in which my silence allows me to listen more intently for the learner’s threads of meaning and new discovery. I listen for when I can add to the learning without usurping the deeper reflection and meaning-making by the learners themselves. I still have an important role with my voice, but I find it more useful to the learner if I listen deeply throughout.

Joan:  Of all the Dialogue Education principles, which 2-3 do you like the best? Why?

Peter:  The 6 foundational principles of Dialogue Education (DE) and learning:  Respect, Relevance, Immediacy, Safety, Engagement, and Inclusion

These principles are the basis of all the other principles and are simple, clear, and powerful when steeped into a design for learning events or consulting work with organizations. Malcolm Knowles and Jane Vella gathered these principles for two different types of research:  in formal university- and field-based discovery. These principles hold up over the test of time, culture, geography, class and content. For example, designing consultations or workshops that truly respect the participants’ knowledge, skills, attitudes and cultural settings will be far more successful than disregarding (disrespecting) them.

Joan:  When you attend learning events that are not learning-centered, what’s your biggest pet peeve?

Peter:  The monologist simply reading his notes or slides with little regard for those in the room … I can read on my own and save time and money, and forgo the illusion of learning.

Joan:  Why do you love DE? 

Peter:  I don’t love DE; rather I am thankful and indebted to those who contributed to its creation and its continued development as a gathering of ideas, theories, tools, and considerations in how I do my work.

Joan:  When you think about all of your work as a facilitator/teacher/consultant, what learning transfer makes you the most proud? Share the story(ies).       

Peter:  SURE-Fire meetings workshop – Following a successful redesign of a statewide directors meeting, the executive identified an issue and asked when we might meet to address this issue. A graduate of the SURE-Fire Meetings workshop paused and then – in true SURE-Fire fashion – rebutted:  “Do we need to meet?” They talked it through and in only a couple of minutes realized that meeting in person was not the best approach for what they hoped to accomplish; they set up a short phone conference-call instead.

Another time I was facilitating an organizational learning event and partway through our work, a participant blurted out that she still goes back to the Steps of Design every time she designs a workshop or other event. She had graduated from our foundational Dialogue Education course, Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach, seven years earlier!

Joan:  What would you say to someone who’s new to DE to explain the essence of DE?

Peter:  Dialogue Education is an accumulation of theory and practice from many practitioners tested across myriad cultures and content to deepen a learner’s engagement, increase meaning making by the learner, and result in more sustainable learning that is more likely to transfer in their own setting as they need it. DE is a way to transform facilitation and teaching to be more effective for the learner.

Joan:  What tips do you have for someone who’s been practicing DE for a while?

Peter:  DE is not static. We as DE practitioners do not arrive; we journey into our practice, continually deepening our practice and adding our own meaning. Continue to develop from within your integrity as a practitioner!

DE is not a set of tools; rather it is a way of thinking and being with learners. Use the principles – rather than the techniques – as your guide. Do your work differently on a regular basis – don’t let DE be defined only by sticky notes, or – as valuable as they are – the 4As for designing learning tasks (Anchor, Add, Apply, Away.) Let your work be defined by decision making to best meet the strengths and needs of those in the room.

Joan:  If you use other teaching methods that you feel complement DE, what are they and how are they complementary?

Peter:  I most often draw on studies and practice in human organizational development, sociology, and psychology to steep my DE work into a larger context of theory and meaning of being human in our individual contexts.

*****

Peter Perkins is co-facilitating a session entittled "Your Self as an Instrument of Change" at the Learning & Change International Dialogue Education Institute, Oct 24-27, 2013 in Baltimore, MD, USA, where he's also offering one-on-one private consultations. He's also teaching two upcoming workshops in Stowe, Vermont:  Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach (September 23-26, 2013) and Advanced Learning Design (November 18-20).

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What Good Are Warm Ups?

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When I was in 9th grade I attended an encounter group weekend designed to get us teenagers more comfortable with ourselves. The first thing we did was a “warm-up” exercise so we could “get to know each other.” What did we do?

We stood in a circle and passed an orange around the circle, not with our hands, but by holding it under our chins and passing it to the next person’s chin! Whoa! Talk about getting to know one another quickly.

What did the orange passing have to do with what we were there to learn? Nothing. In fact, it very likely made most of us less comfortable with ourselves. These trainers were unclear on the principle of SAFETY!

So what good are warm-ups? When well-done, they’re great. At GLP we do some learning tasks with warm-ups during our Advanced Learning Design class. Here’s what we like to say about them.

Warm-ups are thoughtfully created tasks completed early in a learning event that:

  • Directly relate to the content that will be learned;
  • Gently bring people’s attention to the work at hand;
  • Invite the learner’s perspective, linked to the event’s content;
  • Engage while building respect and safety;
  • Begin modeling facilitation skills such as waiting and affirming;
  • Honor the primacy principle (what comes first is most remembered);
  • Bring people in; connect them to each other, and to the topic;
  • Activate prior learning.

Warm-ups are meaningful, robust and have a purpose related to the group and the content; they are not activities that, once completed, are quickly forgotten (unless there are oranges involved.)

Take a look at these 17 Warm-Up Examples, developed by Darlene Goetzman, Certified Dialogue Education Teacher and co-owner of GLP.

What warm-ups have you successfully employed?

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If you’d like to discover more about warm-ups for yourself, please join us in Raleigh, North Carolina on June 19-21 for Advanced Learning Design. This course is unique because only in Raleigh can you have dinner hosted by Dialogue Education founder Jane Vella on her back porch!

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10 Axioms for Learning Design (and just what IS an axiom, anyway?)

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If you’ve been kicking around Dialogue Education circles long enough you’ll have heard a bunch of axioms bandied about. You might have read Dr. Jane Vella’s A Few New Axioms, about the new truths that have become apparent to her during her retirement years, or seen the results of the experiment Dan Haase and Kyle Tennant undertook as a result of an axiom.

But what is an axiom, really?

The American Heritage Dictionary defines it this way:

  • A self-evident or universally recognized truth; a maxim.
  • An established rule, principle, or law.
  • A self-evident principle or one that is accepted as true without proof as the basis for argument; a postulate.

In the world of Dialogue Education learning designs, we have ten favorites that we explore in our Advanced Learning Design course and we invite you to ponder them for a moment as you read them here:

  1. Don’t tell what you can ask; don’t ask if you know the answer:  tell in dialogue.
  2. Even a group of 4 (or 400) can be broken down to pairs: let every voice be heard!
  3. A warm-up is a learning task related to the topic.  It is not an extra.
  4. A learning task is an open question, put to a small group with the resources they need to respond.  It is for the learners, not you, the teacher.
  5. A critical incident (case study posing a problem) needs to be far enough away to be safe, and close enough to be relevant.
  6. Pray for doubt!
  7. The more teaching (professing), the less learning.
  8. We should generally be teaching half as much in twice the time.
  9. Aim for the proper sequence or flow, from simple to more complex.
  10. The design bears the burden.

In Advanced Learning Design we do a task together towards the end of our three-day course that’s focused on the axioms:

Think about what you have found most stretching and provocative during the past three days. Create your own pearl of wisdom to express your learning in the form of an axiom!  Write or draw it on the paper provided and bring it to our axiom wall.

 

Take a Gallery Walk and express your reactions to what you see.

While we can't have a typical Gallery Walk here on our blog, we do have a comments section below that will suffice. A lot of you are very experienced teachers, facilitators and trainers – what are your favorite axioms related to learning designs? We invite you to share your comments below.

If you’d like to discover more pearls of wisdom for yourself, please join us in Raleigh, North Carolina on June 19-21 for Advanced Learning Design. This course is unique because only in Raleigh can you have dinner hosted by Dialogue Education founder Jane Vella on her back porch!

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