April 01, 2007

Seth Godin on captive and not-so-captive audiences

  seth godin 
  Originally uploaded by Madalin Matica.

Marketer, author and speaker Seth Godin has written about his time with 75 eighth graders (S1 kids) and how some of them just weren't wanting to engage with him. He's right when he says that they miss out on something by not listening in to what he's saying, but he's wrong in apportioning the responsibility to engage on them.

As a teacher who's had more than his fare share of kids who start off not wanting to engage - with anything, let alone me or my subject - I had to find ways to get them engaged so that they did get something good out of their time.

So while Seth found himself giving more to those who were engaging with him I don't think it's right to expect an audience to engage with you "just because". You've got to give them a reason to engage and that means understanding each and every one of them quickly. How do you do this? Engage quickly with those who are not engaged and find new ways to get everyone on board. If you want to find out how, go and take a look in a classroom near you ;-)


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I am sitting in a middle school classroom in an inner city school district just thinking about how obnoxious and impossible the kids in the first period class that I worked with were. I did at one point get them sitting in the correct seats and many of them did some of the work, but much of the time it was so noisy I could not think. When I talked to the group about half acted as if I didn't exist.

I talked to another teacher here and she said that it is just that way in the school. It is not me! I know I am a substitute and have no relationship to these kids, so why should they listen to me. But I think that they are rude and disrespectful to all of their teachers and I get the feeling that very little learning goes on.

I think that there must be a magic approach that a substitute could use with a group like this... How will they ever learn anything? How do you motivate a group of kids who pretend that you are not even there?

I don't know if there's a magic touch, but there are techniques, for sure. In the kind of school you describe, where staff outside the classroom seem not to care, it might be better to go for Frank McCourt's strategy. I can strongly recommend his book Teacher Man about his time in vocational schools and hard NYC colleges. It'll make you laugh, and you might identify with some of the stories in there. His technique? Tell stories and get kids to tell stories back.

Best of luck, Janice!

Thanks! I will check that book out!


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Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

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