Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Challenge of Listening

Throughout my career in the business world, I was amazed at how many times both employees and customers had to be told something before they fully comprehended it. No doubt this was something which frustrated even the most skilled sales professionals who attempted to right the ship, and once again I am experiencing this same mindset with high school students. I fully understand that not all 100% of my students will always hear everything I say the first time, and their glazed look of amazement can sometimes get the best of me when I expect a minimal effort.

The true challenge is getting them to understand the benefit of listening not only to me, but their fellow students as well. After all, the ability to hear is part of the overall concept of WHY do some individuals fall short in realizing this benefit? As a society are we becoming so focused to providing our comments and opinions that we lack the ability to listen to another person?

On the average we remember only 25% to 50% of what we hear, but I am convinced that these figures are much less for high school students. Whether I am presenting an important idea or concept, as much as I think they are listening to me, chances are they don't hear me. When the assignment is due in two days, they are confused as to when I spoke about it and what they had to do. While other educators are frustrated, I seek ways to attack this problem in order to correct it.

Another sidelight to this concept is our failure to listen to the inner voice inside, the conscience which each of us is born with. If we choose not to hear it and neglect to listen to its message, it becomes all the more fainter and fainter until even if we wish to listen to it, we are completely null of its existence. In watching the development of my students, I consider listening as one of the most important skills that they can ever develop. How well a person listens in life has a major impact on their job, much less the quality of their life at home and with friends. I constantly remind students that we listen to obtain information, to understand, for enjoyment, and most of learn.

More than ever before I believe that listening is a skill that we can all benefit from improving. By becoming better listeners, my students will improve their productivity in and outside of school. They will also add skills which will allow them to influence, persuade and negotiate with others later in life. And better yet, they'll learn to avoid conflict and it in the workplace or at home.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Learning abut the "Fiscal Cliff"

My block class of senior students studying Economics can sometimes be a challenge as they are mandated to take (and pass) this course in order to graduate. For many this topic is not the most interesting as I have found that they fear math concepts they do not understand and vocabulary they find strange. My job has been to break it down by simplifying it to the world around them. Our discussions have included talk about opportunity cost, competition, simple supply and demand, inflation, and the business cycle. Yesterday I backed off a bit and I injected the current events topic of "The Upcoming Fiscal Cliff."

When you mention "video" to high school students, they often reply in a positive way since their generation is loaded with visual learners. I opened the class period by asking how many of them had heard the expression "fiscal cliff" and I was flabbergasted by a total lack of knowledge. 100% of them had NEVER heard of it, despite the ongoing conversation on network and cable news, and if anyone was going to feel its impact it would be them once they graduated next June.

I began with two distinct segments which introduced the term "fiscal cliff" in different ways. The first was an offering from RT News, a Russian news agency which ironically publishes some credible reporting- so much so that Pew Research has labeled RT News as the #1 source for the most popular videos on YouTube. If you'd like to sample that video, here's the link: Another informational video was served up to the class, this one by Paddy Hirsch, an acclaimed artist who explained it in a different light...again with a visual lesson. I knew I had the attention of my class when I asked them to think about the consequences of driving off a steep cliff without any security of having a job, much less an education to rely on.
Based on the responses offered up, they were able to directly associate the terms of inflation, depression, recession, GDP, and unemployment. Suddenly these had meaning and association with their life, and they were ready to wade a little deeper into the pool of opinion and politics of the day. I reminded the students that I was not there to promote my opinion, but rather I wanted them to think for themselves. The next two segments would include perspectives from opposite ends of the political spectrum, one from Howard Dean, a liberal politician who believed that the fiscal cliff will bring about necessary change in the economy. The other opinion came from Peter Schiff, a conservative investor who fears that such an event would be catastrophic for the economy.

Upon completion of all the videos, I opened the floor for discussion and was amazed at the good thinking take place in front of me. Not everyone agreed in the same way, which is only human nature. Some were passionate in their speech, others somewhat confused as to WHY they had not heard of "fiscal cliff" before in their daily journey through current events. Regardless, they now knew what might be in store for them and the rest of the country after December 31, 2012. Rather than opening class with a written prompt, I saved this routine for the back end of class, asking each student to reply with a minimum of a half-page which offered up their opinion on the subject. Total silence ensued as pencils and pens made contact with paper like never before. This lesson was a true success if only to get them thinking about eonomics and the world around them! Cool stuff!!