Adaptive Action: A Tool for Teaching and Learning

I count this time of year as a special kind of “new year” that opens possibility for my lifelong adventure of learning. Maybe it’s because teaching is in my blood—both parents, a grandmother, and three sisters involved in education and schooling. Maybe it’s because I have spent over 40 years in the annual cycle of public schools. Whatever the reason, this time of the year holds a special appeal to me. Children return to school as teachers prepare for the next months of exploration and learning.

In a conversation with one of those teachers last week, we talked about how he can use Adaptive Action to help his students understand and take action in their world. I asked him how he uses Adaptive Action, the iterative cycle of exploration and action that asks:

  • What? do I see, experience, know?

  • So what? does that mean in this context?

  • Now what? action will move me forward and lead me to my next What?

He thought for a moment and then named four different ways he uses Adaptive Action in his own preparation and learning. We talked about how these are useful for students as well. As he left, he was thinking about how he can position these approaches in his instruction and post them in his classroom for students to access this tool for their learning. I left the conversation wanting to share his insights with others.

It’s a problem-solving approach.

When you get stuck with a complex challenge you can’t understand, start a new Adaptive Action cycle.

  • What is the challenge? What do I know? What do I not know? What have I experienced in the past that might be similar to this? What might I be able to learn from someone else?

  • So what meaning can I make from my observations? So what does my earlier learning tell me might be possible? So what does my gut/logic/intuition tell me? So what possible steps might I take, and what might be the outcomes?

  • Now what am I going to do? Now what steps do I need to take? Now what will I look for? Now what will tell me I am on the right track? Now what will measure my performance in my next Adaptive Action cycle?

It’s an analysis tool.

When given a complex body of data or information to sort through and understand, start a new Adaptive Action cycle.

  • What information is here? What patterns or categories do I see? What do I see in the relationships between and among the pieces of information? What are my “hunches” about what is here?

  • So what meaning can I make from what I see? So what groups/categories seem to make the biggest difference or have the greatest potential to influence the situation? So what is both true and useful among the patterns I see? So what recommendations or insights might be meaningful to others? So what might the implications from any of those insights/recommendations?

  • Now what am I going to share? Who is going to get the results?  Now what will I see that can inform my next Adaptive Action cycle? Now what will be the most effective and efficient way to share my findings? Now what will inform my next Adaptive Action cycle?

It’s an organizing tool.

When there is complex data or information to organize into a compelling story or to help others make sense of their world, start a new Adaptive Action cycle.

  • What parts need to be organized? What are their relationships to each other? What do I want to accomplish by organizing these parts?

  • So what pieces go together and why? So what relationships need to be highlighted, given what I want to accomplish? So what connections, order, coding will make sense and help me achieve my goal?

  • Now what arrangement will accomplish my goal most effectively? Now what will I look for to know that it is doing that? Now what will let me know I have accomplished my goal? Now what will inform my next Adaptive Action cycle?

It’s a planning tool.

When you have to plan for a complex event, meeting, or assignment, start a new Adaptive Action cycle.

  • What is the ultimate goal or purpose? What are the parts that I need to consider as I plan? What other people, activities, goods, outcomes need to be considered? What are the constraints?  What are the opportunities?

  • So what are relationships exist between and among the most relevant pieces? So what steps can move this event/meeting/assignment from the launch to a logical conclusion in the most useful path? So what order or arrangement would make the most sense to accomplish the goal of the event or assignment? So what are possible options for actions that will move me through to accomplish my goal?

  • Now what actual steps will move me toward the goal? Now what traps or opportunities will I watch for along the way? Now what will help me know whether or not my plan has been successful? Now what will inform my next Adaptive Action cycle?

This list represents only a few ways Adaptive Action can help you, in all areas of your life, make sense of your world. Whatever the challenge, the common-sense and informative steps of the Adaptive Action Cycle can move you forward in your learning. Try it and let us know how you use it.

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