How sticky are you? NO seriously! How sticky are your thoughts, your ideas, your personality? And if you teach, how sticky are your lessons? Because it seems that without ‘stickiness’ you’re one dead duck as far as the craft of teaching goes! No one is going to remember the half of what you cover… if they do, it will be no doubt because you have the sword of Damocles – exams – hanging over their heads. Yet, except for those ‘sticky’ lessons that just won’t go away, that haunt them, when the exams are done and dusted the students' mental educational slate for that year will be wiped clean and it will be back to tabula rasa for the coming year!
More than 40 years ago a group of 9th graders walked into a biology class to find two stencils (we are talking pre photocopiers here – at least in schools!) on each desk of what appeared to be male and female genitalia. A hushed silence descended upon the room then the nun who taught the class walked into. She announced that the topic of study for that lesson was to be reproduction (everyone held their breath) in rabbits. What the students had in fact been staring at were diagrams of male and female rabbits (no one had wondered why both were bow-legged). A long expiration of breath and nervous giggling followed – they had all been thinking the same thoughts – then they quietly settled down to let Sister Angelus get on with the lesson. Forty years on and I can still remember that lesson and I know for a fact the other 39 girls in that class can too.
Fast forward to 2001.The teacher walks in carrying a covered bucket in one hand and a large bowl in the other. Strange and ominous noises emanate from the bucket. The bowl seems to contain some white black-flecked gooey mixture. She groups the students around the bowl and asks them to put their hands in. “Describe what it looks like, feels like.” “Sticky,” “Jelly-like,” “Disgusting,” “Dotted” come the replies. The teacher pulls out a jam-jar and fills it up with the gooey mass. She then uncovers the bucket and out jump 3 large frogs: the girls scream, the boys jump back, the teacher laughs. When the cries have died down and the frogs have been corralled into a large metal box the students examine them at leisure, the way the loose skin around their necks ‘pulsed like sails’. “They are so gross” says one girl. “Disgusting!”says another. The ‘slap and plop’ as they make their way across the tiled floor echoes strangely. So starts a lesson on Seamus Heaney’s ‘Death of a Naturalist,’ one of 17 Heaney poems being studied by this cohort of Chinese secondary school students for an English literature public exam.
Do we plan for ‘stickiness’ or is it just part and parcel of what a talented teacher does? Does it happen by chance? Sometimes! But usually the stickiest of teachers plan their sticky moments, moments to learn from and with. Is it possible to become a sticky teacher? According to the Heath brothers, Dan and Chip, the answer is yes. They say that there are six principles that can help make a ‘message’ sticky so that it sticks:
1. Simplicity – profound yet simple
2. Unexpectedness – the element of surprise
3. Concreteness – sensory-driven
4. Credibility – you can test it out for yourself
5. Emotions – it makes you feel something, anything!
6. Stories – it tells a story you can relate to
In other words success in making ideas sticky is down to SUCcES!
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