19-23 August: Indoctrination (INDOC)
The focus of the past two weeks has been on learning how to be a faculty member at the Joint Forces Staff College. The first week focused on the fundamentals of teaching. This included an introduction to Bloom’s Taxonomy, a discussion of personality types we might meet in the class room, and a couple blocks of instruction on how to write a lesson plan.
The introduction focused more on the running of a classroom. In a sense, this is where I am beginning to see the similarities between teaching and leadership. The seminars in JFSC typically have 16-18 students and last ten weeks. We discussed how over the course of ten weeks building the seminar into a cohesive team is an expectation. Indeed, the social aspect of the education here among officers from each service is an important part of development.
The seeds of teaching relatively senior officers joint planning and joint operations comes from understanding andragogy, or the adult learning model (opposed to pedagogy). Unlike teaching children in public schools, students at the adult level come to the class voluntarily. Further, each student brings a wealth of knowledge and experience from their previous assignments. Indeed, in an adult classroom the students should be treated as equals who fell unfettered in their contributions to the learning environment. Moreover, each student will need to relate what they are learning to how they will apply it in their future work or future assignments. Not only do we have to teach the material, it is vital to have them gain an appreciation for how they will use it.
Other aspect of teaching introduced this week was the domains of learning, which include the affective, cognitive, and psychomotor domains. The cognitive domain is often referred to as “Bloom’s Taxonomy” which is completely new to me. Each domain has levels, and the cognitive domain moves through six levels starting with Knowledge, moving through Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and ending with Evaluation. Each of these levels has associated terms which lead to the creation of lesson objectives and samples of behavior in the classroom. Or as I frame them in my mind, objectives and endstates.
With regards to classroom interaction, we discussed how cohesion will create more noise, more disagreement, but lead to more learning. Other aspects of classroom control we discussed was creating a tradition in the classroom. Thinking through what traditions we can develop in a ten week course (a weekly award for most embarrassing incident for example) may be a challenge.
Other aspects of classroom instruction that run parallel to running an OPT is the ability to manage disagreement, and just as important the ability to manage disagreement. In a 10 week course consisting of majors and lieutenant colonels (Navy lieutenant commanders and commanders) discussion in the classroom is what enables learning. It is incumbent on the instructor to enable the discussion, and to ensure each student participates. Just as in OPTs, classrooms will contain A-type extroverted personalities, and B-type introverts. Nobody should have a monopoly on speaking time, just as nobody has a monopoly on knowledge.
The INDOC also featured a fast introduction to learning theory. This featured a review of behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism. Fundamentally our discussion on the three types centered on whether we believe we have the ability to change a student’s behavior, change the way a student thinks, or adjust the reality from which students will approach problems. We came to a consensus that over ten weeks we will probably combine elements of each approach to the seminars.
Finally, the INDOC ended with discussion on what makes for a good lecture. Most of the times we use the lecture model in class it will tend to be informal, with considerable interactions with the students (both questions and discussion). Most of the faculty here tends to avoid PowerPoint lectures, leaving that as a tool to show examples of planning products. The method here most seem to use to teach joint concepts, joint planning, and joint operations, is the lecture - example - practical exercise model.
26 - 30 August: Week 2: Writing and Philosophy
Writing is a skill. Evaluating someone else’s writing is a skill. Both require practice, development. The latter skill is new to me, and I believe will take time to develop and refine. Week two of instructor indoctrination focused on the skill of evaluating and coaching other people’s writing. Here is how it went down.
We began the week with a discussion on the purpose of writing. We concurred that generically, writing can be broken down in to four basic elements 1) writing is a process of communication 2) writing uses a conventional graphic system 3) writing conveys a message 4) the message is conveyed to a reader. What will push military students and writers is that the audience or reader is not necessarily the instructor. As students who attend the course are in relatively senior positions, their writing should have a larger audience.
Concerning writing in the military, the class discussed various forms of writing. These include emails, orders, decision papers, information papers, white papers, and PowerPoint presentations.
Teaching Philosophy: At the conclusion of day 2, we were asked to consider a teaching philosophy. Most of us were familiar with leadership or command philosophies, so this was a new concept to us. I outlined a draft, but will be taking the time to write a complete one over the next few weeks. Twitter was a fantastic resource to gain additional insight on developing one. One professor from the Army War College sent me a couple examples, and others chimed in with their thoughts, to include a former director of SAMS. Twitter can be a hellhole of a site, but it can also serve as a way to connect to other leaders, thinkers, and writers who we normally don’t engage on a day to day basis. It’s all in the way you use it. Going back to the teaching philosophy, I plan to post it on this blog as I complete it, or at least what is appropriate to put out there.
A factor of writing in JCWS is students are expected to write to learn. Writing to learn allows students to practice discovery thinking, and to explain course material to themselves. Further, having students write forces them to make decisions in their thinking. Moreover, writing to learn enables students to understand the course material better. A more comprehensive understanding of the course material transfers to improved communication. That is to say, writing or explaining new material to one’s self is the first step of explaining something to others.
When the course moved into grading papers, I discovered a glaring weakness in my own ability. Let me explain.
Each of the new instructors took a “draft paper” to mark up and make comments on. As I marked up the paper, I focused on grammar, spelling, and other small errors throughout the paper. When each new instructor talked through their markings, others were able to capture bigger ticket items such as logical inconsistencies in the paper’s thesis and argument. I became so distracted in the weeds I failed to see the forest. My corrections would be of little use to a student trying to formulate a thesis with supporting evidence.
This being said, the technique we talked through, as a class was to make small corrections on the first one or two pages, and ask the student to revise the rest of the paper as they work through drafts. The final product should be error free and grammatically correct. It is my belief that senior leaders can become distracted by small errors, and tend to ignore any products that contain them, no matter how important the content may be. Indeed, writers who submit products riddled with small errors tend to be labeled as hasty, careless, or uninformed. Further, senior leaders rarely want someone to represent their organization if they present sloppy, error filled work.
Balancing the content, the arguments, and the clarity with a tendency to act like a grammar nazi will be a continual challenge I will maintain at the forefront when coaching and advising students on their written work.
Plagiarism, also known as the death sentence of writers was our final topic of the week. This is a paramount topic for writing in the military. Day to day, the military plagiarizes thousands of documents. This may be in how we have generic write ups for awards and evaluations, or in the way that unit SOPs tend to have similar language. These are accepted practices in large organizations. However, officers must leave this practice behind when attending professional military education (PME).