Friday, June 27, 2008
  Teaching like Cats & Dogs
Thanks to Problem Attic I discovered a fun site with yet another "personality theory". I am a sucker for personality theories, anything that makes some sense of the confusing jumble of human relationships has to be good - as long as you don't take it too seriously ;-)

This one claims that we are all either "Cats" or "Dogs". The description is fun, and I'm sure you can guess which you are!
Cat: Scratch my ear. Ex-cellent. May I use your leg as a scratching post? No? Hmm, how about I sit on you instead.
Do not move. ... Well done. Now feed me.
Dog: Hello, let's do something. What should we do? ...
Yes, the stick fetching game would be acceptable.
... However I find that stick you are holding uninteresting. Try again. ... Ah, yes, yes! That stick I find quite exciting! Ok, I will fetch the stick. ... That was fun!
You see, recognisably Dog and Cat, as we meet them in everyday life, but also recognisably roles we play in social contexts. Not necessarily actually as built-in personality, but at least roles we adopt in particular situations, and probably as preferences too?

Paul Harrison links it to a more complex discussion of "dominance" about which I am less convinced, but he gets really interesting again when he talks about Dogs and Cats in education:
When teaching a class, the teacher naturally takes the cat role. Therefore, the students are in the dog role, and adopt the dog cognitive style.
Brian: "You are all individuals."
Crowd: "Yes, we are all individuals."
Most of the time, this assignment of roles is correct. However when teaching a creative or assertive skill (for example, programming or feminism), it may be important for students to practice using the cat cognitive style: they will need to use this style when applying what you teach.

Simply asking questions of your students will not put them in the cat role, as it is still you that initiates action. Thus, asking questions is not a good strategy for waking students up and getting them engaged, something that causes much frustration to teachers.
I know that frustration! The answer is to be sneakier in avoiding the Cat role:
I once had a lecturer called Damian Conway (yes, that Damian Conway) who avoided taking the cat role by making his students set the agenda. At the start of the lecture, he would ask for questions, which he would then write on the blackboard. This took a little coaxing, usually when you go to a lecture your brain has switched to idle before your bum hits the seat. He then ad-libbed the lecture from these questions. (It's no good to ask for questions at the end of the lecture, by then everyone is comfortably in dog mode.)

Another way to flip roles is to do something blatantly and obviously stupid, and hope someone points it out.
Performer: "Where has it gone? Where-ever can it be?"
Audience: "Behind you! Behind you!"
I can't see me adopting the "act stupid" idea much - I guess I'm afraid they might not catch the irony ;-) but I've always been tempted by the idea of getting the students to design the class...

Do any of you have ideas for making encouraging a class to act more "catlike" during parts of a session?


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