Teaching From The Back of The Room: Agile Manifesto Principles

It’s been a couple of years since I got introduced to Sharon Bowman’s excellent book: “Training From the Back of the Room!: 65 Ways to Step Aside and Let Them Learn” (Amazon or Indigo).

Training from the back of the room!It’s a fantastic book for anyone involved in training. Initially, I’ve used it in the development of a set of Agile Engineering multi-day classroom courses with Alistair McKinnell of valuablecode.com. Since then, as I find myself doing more training, I think Sharon’s book is a great resource to enable better learning.

I suppose anyone who’s been involved in teaching and learning have had their share of learners feeling disconnected from the material being presented, especially when PowerPoint is mismanaged.

Source: DILBERT by Scott Adams @ http://dilbert.com/strip/2010-02-22

Over the years I’ve experimented with the Takahashi-like method of presentation: (Very few words in huge font taking over the entire slide – sometimes I would spice it up with a picture). In the end, I wanted to avoid the abuse you find with, unfortunately, many PowerPoint-led classroom training. Incidentally, Don McMillan has a funny clip on: “Life After Death by Powerpoint 2010


The Training From the Back of the Room book is full of great tips to nurture learning. The book explores 4Cs to help learners engage with new information: Connections, Concepts, Concrete Practice, and Conclusions.

As a trainer, I found setting up the class to be full of interactivity engages the students and allows for deeper learning. In her book, Sharon dives into six learning principles. There’s a brief summary of it at SlideShare: Six Trumps: Six Learning Principles that Trump Traditional Teaching


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It seems that almost every Agile training deck out there has a slide that references the Agile Manifesto.Agile ManifestoI find that some organizations have a culture of being PowerPoint deck heavy when it comes to training, but how effective is that for learning? For example, how would you get learners, especially those new to Agile to have a deeper understanding of the reasons for the Agile Manifesto and what are the principles behind it?

Agile Manifesto Principles
Source: http://agilemanifesto.org/principles.html (Image source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/281193570460387777/)

One technique that I found useful in my training that is line with Sharon’s princple of ‘talking trumps listening’ is to divide the class into groups, most likely by table and then I would ask them to review the principles individually and then as a group so that they can have a discussion on what stands out for them. I would ask them to select a couple of the principles as a group that stands out for them for whatever reason – perhaps it feels most puzzling, interesting, have some questions about it, or would like to talk about them.

After giving them about 5-10 minutes to work in separate groups, I would have a class wide discussion on the principles that they had selected. It’s interesting to see the kind of discussions that come up as they reflect on the principles. In the end, it’s neat how the class becomes super engaged and it enhances their own learning.

The ten-minute trainerIf you enjoyed reading the Training From the Back of the Room book then I’m sure you’ll find Sharon Bowman’s other book worthwhile: “The Ten-Minute Trainer: 150 Ways to Teach it Quick and Make it Stick!” (Amazon or Indigo).

I’m keeping my eyes open on upcoming train-the-trainer program for TBR (Training From the Back of the Room). There’s a growing list here: http://bowperson.com/training-from-the-back-of-the-room/


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