Newsletter for September 2009: The First Element of Effective Structure

September 8th, 2009

This newsletter launches a new series that will walk you through a five-step progression that can enhance your work with youth. The first phase is Introduction.

Take care not to overlook the importance of a good introduction. A great piece of literature depends on a well-crafted introduction. I remember reading the highly descriptive opening of Steinbeck’s “East of Eden.” I couldn’t put it down. It had all the qualities of a great presentation.

Your introduction is like a boat dock. By the end of the introduction you want to have everyone in the boat. Before shoving off you want to build a sense of expectation. This allows you to enter the process phase with full engagement.

Coherence is one of the chief goals of the introduction. Our brains crave coherence. Studies on the brain and learning demonstrate that when we detect dissonance our brains flush much of what we’ve learned. Eliminate dissonance and you encourage youth to retain and build upon what they’ve learned.

Build a solid introduction by answering the following four questions. If possible, ask students to help answer the second two:

1. What are we talking about?

[Insert topic here.] This is your theme. State in the simplest terms the topic you’d like to discuss. It may be teen alcohol use, suicide, the media, or relationships. Make sure everyone knows with absolute clarity what you plan to discuss. If you use demonstrations, insert them here.

Note: Your demonstrations work best during the introduction. But beware. If you use demonstrations, don’t confuse them with process (the topic of our next newsletter). A demonstration is merely a mode of communication. State the theme verbally. If you wish, restate the theme through a demonstration.

2. What do you expect from youth during your time together?

Let youth know how you hope they’ll collaborate with you and with each other to gain a deeper understanding of the topic. Will you be doing an activity? Will they be in small groups? Will they be sharing ideas? Let them know so they can prepare and know what to expect.

3. How does this topic relate to the topic you just discussed?

For the sake of coherence and continuity connect the present topic to past topics. We separate topics in order to examine them. But we understand topics best in their broader context. So, for example, explore how the media is related to refusal skills, how alcohol use might relate to relationships, and how life goals might connect to character goals.

4. Why is it important to discuss this topic?

Youth will engage in the process phase only if they see the topic as relevant to them. Before you transition to the next step, give them the opportunity to orient themselves to the topic and its import to their lives.

So now you’ve set the stage. You’ve piqued the curiosity of those with whom you’re speaking. You and your compadres are ready to move into the most important phase: process. We’ll look at this more closely in October’s newsletter.

It’s great to be working with you to promote positive change in the lives of young people.

Best,

Andrew

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