"The means is dialogue, the end is learning, the purpose is peace." ~ Founder Dr. Jane Vella

Learning-Centered Conferences: All’s Well that Ends Well


After a plenary or panel session at a conference, it is helpful to protect time at the end to engage the audience with the content just presented. One idea for doing this is to pose a question for people to reflect on or discuss with others around them (or at their table): 

  • “What key ideas were offered in this presentation that you feel are worth trying?”
  • “What did you hear from [the speaker] that resonates with your own experience? What was new for you?”
  • “What ideas were offered here today that you find most challenging?”

Another idea to help engagement and personalize the content is to invite personal reflection:

  • “On your own, what one idea do you want to share with your team? Write this in your conference booklet.”
  • “Take a few minutes on your own to write one key learning from this session that you want to take back to your work with you. What is it, who do you want to share this with, and when.”

Although this engagement time is often short, even 5 minutes is time well spent. Whether you frame it as a “take away” or “key for me” or “now what”, facilitating it well is important. Here are a few tips:

  1. Be simple and clear. Since time is limited there is no room for complex instructions. Projecting the task on a screen at the front is helpful and recommended. This way no one is wondering what was just asked.

For example:  “We just heard [the speaker] offer us much food for thought. Now we are going to take some time to consider what was most important for each of us. At your tables, share what was most important for you, your team or your organization to hear today, and why that is so.”

  1. Set the task and get out of the way. There is no need for discussion or explanation. Once the task is set, let the participants start the dialogue. Your voice has to stop, in order for theirs to start.
  2. State the allotted time. People need to know how much time them have. If they hear they only have 5 minutes, they may start their discussion a bit faster than if they think they have an unlimited amount of time.

For example:  “In groups of 2 or 3, take 10 minutes to…”

  1. Encourage digging deep. The audience has just been passively listening to a presentation and may need a bit of encouragement to get started and engage authentically in small groups.

For example:  “… as you discuss this at your table, think of the communities in which you work. What is critical for them in light of what you heard today?”  

  1. Affirm the group. After everyone engages with the task you asked they to do, thank them. They have just shared their thoughts, questions and sometimes tough issues – this should not be taken for granted.

For example:  “Thank you for sharing all you did and for the tough questions and stories you shared. Although we don’t have time to hear the dialogue that happen at your tables, I invite you to continue these conversations over lunch and during the breaks.” 


Jeanette Romkema is a Senior Partner at GLP.  You can join her and GLP Partner Michael Culliton in the January 2016 online course, "Learning-Centered Conferences".  

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Who Gets to Tell What Stories?


"We dream in narrative, day-dream in narrative, remember, anticipate, hope, despair, believe, doubt, plan, revise, criticize, construct, gossip, learn, hate, and love by narrative."

-Barbara Hardy

If you have ever attended a Glocal Mission Gathering you may have heard this quote: “We are made of stories.”  We are constantly being told stories that shape how we view the world and treat those who are in it. These stories are part of who we are and we grow in our understanding of them in the sharing of them.

As a fiction writer I have found that whenever I go over to the non-fiction side of writing I am unable to tell my own story without including the stories of my friends, loved ones and even strangers I have met. I struggle being as truthful to their experiences as I am with my own. This often involves sharing what I have written with them and asking for permission to use it, before submitting it to publication. When I write fiction the depth of any characters is determined by the depth of my relationships with the people in my life. Stories are never solitary things but live in relationship with all that is around them. We are characters that step in and out of ongoing narratives that started before we arrived and will continue long after we have parted.

As storytellers it is important that we share and listen to each other’s stories with great care and love, especially when there are unequal relationships involved.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you share stories in both your professional and everyday lives.

Storytelling Challenges*

  • In relationships where power is unequal, our understanding of other people’s stories is shaped by those who have access to the tools of the media – including the press, books, computers, and more.
  • It is important to think about how our representations of others’ stories might be shaped by our own cultural preconceptions.
  • Are we representing other people in our stories as they themselves would see their own lives?

Storytelling Questions to Ask

  • Who gets to tell the story?
  • Who has access to the tools and platforms of storytelling?
  • What stories are not told, and who is expected to be silent?
  • Whose stories are valued and important, and whose stories are ignored?

What else have you found to ring true in your experience?

[*Excerpt from: ELCA Global Mission, Accompaniment Document]


Kristina L. Diaz is Resource Coordinator - Mission Formation of Evangelical Lutheran Church in America based in Chicago. 

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I Doodle to Listen


          [doodle:June 2014]

"Am I boring you?"

I was doodling during a university faculty meeting. My department head noticed I was working on an elaborate abstract shape while he was talking about research budgets and changes in the grading policies. He assumed I wasn't paying attention. But I was doodling in order to pay attention.

And I was paying attention in a very focused way. Brain studies suggest that when listening to complex or tediously delivered input, doodlers retain far more of the key information than non-doodlers. It has something to do with how doodling keeps you from daydreaming. Daydreaming during a lecture, explanation, or presentation, takes up so much complex processing power, what cognitive scientists call "executive functioning," that your brain turns off the comparatively boring stuff and you retain almost nothing. Doodling, in contrast, takes up very little processing power, and in a weird way, keeps the brain from daydreaming by using just enough executive functioning to assist the listener's focus and retention.

A little personal background: I'm a lapsed painter who walked away from art about 25 years ago and moved to Japan. I didn't do any art to speak of for years. But I've always doodled. University meetings, church sermons, lectures, conference presentations--I was the one with a pencil and paper, sketching abstract shapes as I listened.

But then I got an iPad and stumbled into the world of art apps. My long buried art persona was revived and I started "painting" again. And along the way my iPad became my doodling tool. I was curious if it would be possible to make art while using very limited processing power, while listening to someone talk. And what the art would look like.

Art apps are uncannily tactile, simulating the feel of doing art. The only thing missing is the expense of art supplies, the smell, and the mess. And a lot of the steps of doing art are automated with redo/undo functions, layers, copying and pasting, magnification, and instant filters. No stretching canvas or waiting around for oil paint to dry. No cleaning brushes. And once you've climbed the learning curve of a new app, art comes really fast. 

          [doodle: September 2014]

Doodling has become more sophisticated as I am creating what look like finished works of art during a sermon or a lecture. However, I'm reluctant to consider them more significant than they are--they're still just doodles.  Doodles are disposable. Doodles are free. The fact that my doodles are digital make them substantially different from what I used to do as a painter, which is in a way liberating for me. Maybe it's a cop out, but it's nice not having to submit them for any sort of aesthetic critique.

My doodles tend to be stream of consciousness. I don't try to illustrate a sermon or a lecture. I paint and draw as I listen, not planning the image, but letting it develop on its own. People sometimes ask me what the sermon text or topic was, and then look at the doodle, trying to decipher some hidden meaning. It doesn't work like that.

My primary aim is to remember what I'm listening to, and not daydream. Sometimes the image is successful and pleasing. If so, I might share it online, and some people might even enjoy it. If it isn't, I toss it. It's just a doodle.

Doodling works for my brain to focus my attention. What works for you?  Why? 


Sylvan Payne sylvanjpayne@me.com teaches academic English skills in the PACE Program at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo.

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Play it Again, Sam


This is a true story: In 2001 I was invited by Jossey-Bass publishers to do a second edition of Learning to Listen Learning to Teach.  I thought, "Before I agree, I should read that book again!"  I was working in California and faced a long airplane ride: a good opportunity to read the book and ponder the possibilities of a second edition.

I sat by the window, reading, chuckling quietly at the humor, weeping silently at some of the stories. My companion in the aisle seat looked over at me: “Looks like a good book!”

“Oh, it is wonderful!” I replied. “I would love to meet the author!”

For the past two months I have been doing a customized special course for my adopted grandson, Zachary, and a very special friend, Beth, of TeachingHorse.  Both are young, hungry to learn about teaching and learning. We are using three of my books: Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach, Taking Learning to Task and On Teaching and Learning.

Preparing for this week’s class, I re-read Taking Learning to Task. Published in 2001, it anticipates on every page the work of James E. Zull, The Art of Changing the Brain.  It needs a second edition, showing all that we have learned since 2001. I have asked my friend and colleague, Sarah Gravett, Dean of the Faculty of Education at The University of Johannesburg to work with me on this.

Please, read it again – marvel at the explicit, well-sequenced directions that enable you to build your own

viable system of learning-centered programs. Look for the second edition, hopefully in 2016. David Brightman, my editor at Jossey-Bass/Wiley is now a senior editor at Stylus Publishers who published Zull’s work! Now that is Synchronicity with a capital G for Gift!

What strikes you as most useful in this text as you read it another time? 


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Themes That Motivate our Learners: For Few or for Many?


Using certain themes in our learning tasks can have an electrifying effect in motivating learners. But how do we find themes to motivate most of the learners in our group rather than just a few? This post is about how I have grappled with that question.

What motivates me?

The BBC radio debate on ethics had been background to my listening but suddenly it switched to foreground. From then on, I was giving it my full attention. In making his case, the speaker started to compare society to a garden. He argued that as with a garden, some actions can be detrimental to society while others help it flourish. My thoughts went to my own garden – struggles with tomato plants when soil became soggy and success with squashes that flourished with flowers nearby. I got his point that both in gardens and society everything can be permissible but is not necessarily beneficial. As the debate drifted on, I listened on, but not as much as before. Part of my mind was still in the garden.

I asked myself afterwards why my interest had peaked so much at that particular point. Some of my interest arose because I agreed with the speaker, but I had done so at other times too without such heightened interest. I realised I had resonated with the topic of gardens, what Freire would refer to as a generative theme of mine.

What motivates many?

Yet other listeners would presumably resonate with different points in the debate, drawn by their own generative themes. This raises a challenge for dialogue educators: how to find shared generative themes given the wide diversity of learners often in our classes. We may find a theme to engage some of our learners, such as talking soccer at a youth club. But what of others in our group who won’t engage with that?

Something I have found useful to engage a wider number of learners is this picture of a person reaching for stars and two questions about that picture. Learners signing up for training come reaching for a “star” which is typically more generic than the “star” the facilitator wants to have them grasp. For example, I taught software skills to learners whose “star” was to facilitate translation of reading materials into unwritten languages from English, French etc. My “star” was much more specific – learning how to use software to help them do that work, as it had helped me in my own time in Ghana.

How do I find what motivates many?

Thus, my first question in looking for shared generative themes would be: What “star” are learners reaching for – why did they sign up for this training?  

Asking that got me thinking about what other generative themes exist around the learner “star”, which in this case was their desire to see translation started. One such theme was their curiosity as to what everyday life would be like in another country. So I started to use photos and stories of my own time in Ghana as part of the training resources for the class. For one class I created a text about a pangolin, an animal I had encountered in Ghana. I included a photo of me with one to show the sorts of animals they might meet too. I was then able to carry the energy generated from that over to the more complex topic of using software to analyse that text, the “star” I really wanted them to stretch for.

Another generative theme I found around their “star” was their curiosity about how language works. I told them I would write up a word that nobody had ever heard before and yet they all would know what it meant instantly, in spite of it never being in a dictionary. The word I wrote was ‘elephantless’. I asked them to analyse how they had determined its meaning, and was again able to use the energy from this generative theme to approach the more complex topic of using the software to handle linguistic concepts such as morphemes and interlinearisation.

So my second question would be: What other generative themes occur around the “star” that learners are reaching for?

If there is a big gap between the stars, I need to take care to use generative themes around the learner “star” rather than my own. In both cases above, if I had started by talking about the software I would not have seen such energy. The themes as used above brought widespread engagement because they were both very close to the learner “star”. Alternatively, a theme not close to either “star”, such as a popular news story at the time, may have engaged some learners but not as many.

Conclusion: the rewards

Themes like these often take time to find. Discovering them depends greatly on how well we know our learners. But the rewards can be rich. As in the garden theme above for me, finding and using deep generative themes can have an electrifying effect on our learners. The ASK – STUDY – OBSERVE model challenges us to know our learners. Considering the two questions above has helped me in that process.

What generative themes have you seen having an electrifying effect on a majority of learners who may not otherwise be motivated?

Why do you think they worked?


Peter Tate is a Certified Dialogue Education Practitioner from the UK and has been working as a training consultant for Hope Consultants International, developing teambuilding training for digital platforms. Previously Peter worked at Wycliffe Bible Translators UK leading their ‘Learning that LASTS’ “training the trainers” programme and their orientation training. Peter loves training, either providing or designing, with experience including making the technicalities of software and theology accessible for everyday use. 

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