Practical Andragogy with the Four Directions

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The instructor of adult students can have good success when teaching with the Four Directions of the Sacred Medicine Wheel. Many of the already developed instructional strategies will address the student’s needs in a particular direction. The key to using this method is first a deep understanding of the process by the instructor, and then careful selection of instructional strategies to support each direction in sequence. Elizabeth Barkley in her book, Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty (2010) outlines numerous steps to nurture the Emotional, Physical, and Mental domains in a holistic manner. See Chapter 11, pages 135-148

The East: Nurturing the Spirit of the Learner

Teaching in the Spiritual domain can be easily misunderstood. When we speak of the spiritual, we most often think of faith, prayer, and worship in a church, synagogue or mosque, and those are very spiritual practices. Yet, there are many other important and non-religious ways to use this domain in your teaching. The spiritual domain is when the student takes time to vision, or “see”, the importance of learning the material presented. Bell (2016) recommends routine, even daily, talking circles. This process gives the student a ‘voice’, and allows each to reflect on past learning. With good facilitation by the instructor, the student can also then re-start the daily learning process by visioning what they hope to learn this day. You can learn more about this at First Nations Pedagogy Online (see resource tab). Another way to support the spiritual domain is to collective nurture each student’s spirit as well as the class spirit by thoughtful team building and community development. Some of my favorites are “Who Am I?” exercises, and challenging (not childish) games in the first few days of class.

The South: Nurturing the Emotions of the Learner

Barkley (2010) explains Krathwohl’s taxonomy that identifies the needs of the student in the affective (emotional) domain. “This taxonomy addresses the manner in which we deal with things emotionally, such as feelings, values, appreciation, enthusiasms, motivation, and attitude.” (Barkley, 2010) Bell describes this as “relating” to the lesson. (2016) The student will not succeed if they are just willing to learn, they must also want to learn, and this is the intrinsic student motivation that each instructor hopes for. Talking circles work well for this domain as does reflective journal writing. Peer review is an excellent affective exercise. Most students (even adults) are their own worst critic.

The West: Nurturing the Physical Skills of the Learner

The psychomotor domain or the physical aspect of learning is the stage of “figuring it out”. According to R. H. Dave, in this stage, the student is practicing, demonstrating, replicating, or inventing from the lessons given by the instructor. (Barkley, 2010)  This can be a time of great frustration as some students take longer than others to figure out how to become proficient at the given task. It can be difficult to implement the psychomotor domain in arts courses such as history or English, but with careful planning, the instructor can introduce movement techniques. One example could be the Cocktail Party discussion where students mingle with their peers as they participate in the required discussion. (Barkley, 2010)

The North: Nurturing the Mental Skills of the Learner

The cognitive or mental domain is the stage when the learner knows how to “do it” and is ready to implement the task or idea. Anderson and Krathwohl revised the original Bloom’s taxonomy by replacing the terms “knowledge and synthesis” with “remember and create”. This domain is where the learner has confidence to successful complete the task alone, or the confidence to apply the knowledge in higher order thinking situations.


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