Mark Needham

Thoughts on Software Development

ThoughtWorks University: Similarities with ‘Discussing the Undiscussable’

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I’m currently reading the final chapter of William Noonan’s Discussing the Undiscussable titled ‘Helping Those Who Teach, Learn’ and a couple of the ideas that he describes seem quite applicable to what we’re doing at ThoughtWorks University.

Modelling the skills

When teaching the Mutual Learning Model Noonan suggests that the practitioner needs to be able to produce actions consistent with the model in real time situations rather than just being able to do convincing presentations on the subject.

I think this is the same with teaching/facilitating the learning of ThoughtWorks University and it seems to centre around the espoused theory and theory in action.

The espoused theory describes our theory of what we think we do in a situation whereas the theory in action describes what we actually do.

I was a bit worried about doing a presentation/session on a topic where I would present my espoused theory about a topic and then more than likely not meet that theory in practice.

Over the course of the last month or so it’s become more clear to me that it’s not a big problem to make mistakes, even when you’re supposed to be the one who knows what they’re doing, as long as you’re open about your mistakes

Leading questions

Noonan talks about the use of leading questions when opening a topic to the group, something which I think is quite prevalent in sessions and workshops:

There are potential downsides to the approach of using questions to get to the predetermined correct answer. If the class doesn’t answer correctly, the teacher keeps asking questions like, “No, that is not it exactly. What other things can you think of?”

The students or participants hit a point of frustration where there is finally a collective call to “just tell us the answer.”

The intention is to try and make the session interactive but I’m not convinced that it helps learning and it often seems that if someone does actually get to the ‘correct answer’ that it’s because of guessing rather than real understanding.

Frankie and I unfortunately ended up using an approach similar to this when facilitating a session on the ThoughtWorks delivery model.

We wanted the group to come up with the different components of a software delivery project rather than have us do a presentation on it which would have been immensely boring.

They got 90% of these without the need for any intervention but we did end up asking leading questions to draw out the last 10%.

Rather than doing this, Noonan suggests the following approach:

The remedy is for the leader to follow the basic rule of thumb that if you have a view, state it and balance it with inquiry to see if people agree or have different views.

In this case that would have meant that we would have kept the facilitated discussion but then helped fill in the missing components before discussing those with the group.

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Written by Mark Needham

April 9th, 2011 at 10:38 am