• Setting the Table for Learning

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    I recently read an article describing a shift in restaurant reservation policy. There’s a trend toward asking for a credit card when taking a reservation in urban, upscale establishments. (In case you’re interested, here’s the story: http://nyti.ms/1GfiF0J.)

    I haven’t experienced this. As I’m on the phone, or making the arrangements online I envision a romantic evening with my husband, or a gathering with special friends or family, sharing a high quality meal, really good wine, flowers, candlelight, quiet music, and ambience to match the cuisine. Restaurants that require a reservation are signaling that dining there will be a wonderful experience, one that requires planning ahead, and is worth waiting for. The act of reserving a table should generate anticipation for a memorable event.

    The author, a restaurant critic, described his response to the credit card policy this way: “Whenever I give up my credit card number and am told I’ll be charged for bad behavior, I hear several messages, none of them warm and fuzzy. It says that I’m not trustworthy. It says that the restaurant sees me as a revenue source before it has had a chance to treat me like a guest. It says that a reservation isn’t an appointment with pleasure; it’s an obligation to be kept.”

    • Lack of trustworthiness
    • Students as a revenue source/nuisance, not as a partner in learning
    • Anticipation is replaced with obligation

    I’m thinking students experience feelings similar to the critic’s when they read a syllabus that focuses on policies instead of learning. Or when the first class period is devoted to reviewing a syllabus filled with rules and “thou shalts” instead of whetting their appetite for the subject. And when teachers don’t strive to get to know them.

    How can we set the table?

    • Incorporate anticipation and enthusiasm. Enthusiasm goes a long way toward generating and sustaining student interest. Provide hints about upcoming activities. Give students something to look forward to, akin to an invitation to a special event, something they wouldn’t want to miss.
    • Know your “guests.” If I’m hosting a small dinner party, I sweat the details. We use the good dishes, the silver, there’s a centerpiece, and the menu is planned carefully. I consider food allergies and preferences. Teaching requires we know our students in order to respect and address their needs to maximize learning.
    • Share in the planning and execution. If we’re hosting Thanksgiving or a large group of friends, I enlist others’ help. Everyone brings a dish. Or, someone assumes the role of sous-chef and others become chefs-de-partie (line cooks). Someone is stirring gravy, someone else is cutting bread and warming dinner rolls, a few others are constructing the salad. We can do likewise with our students. The teacher/chef plans the menu (lesson/learning objectives). Follow that by asking students for input about the portion sizes (course weights), timing of each course (deadlines), and clean up (assessment).

    The article was a gentle reminder of the importance of first impressions and the subtle ways negative, implicit messages can quickly mar the learning environment.

    What strategies do you use to set the table for learning?

    Photo credit: http://corbettrestaurantgroup.com

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