Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Don't Read This Article!

Have you ever been at a doctors and he told you "This is not going to hurt"? Let me guess - it did hurt. Have you ever heard a parent tell their child "Don't spill the drink"? You know yourself what happened. What if the doctor would have told you "You're going to feel better afterwards."? Throwing overboard an amputation gone wrong, - it would have probably actually felt better. What if the parent would have said "Please be careful with that glass"? The chances are higher that nothing happened.

As teachers a trap to fall easily into is thinking that if students wouldn't do one thing, they would do the correct version. The exclusion of one wrong possibility still leaves a lot of space for many more wrong possibilities. So in no case it's smart to instruct what not to do. But let's see what happens if you use negations. By the way, the terms wrong and right in this article only refer to what the teachers want of their students. Not actual wrong and right - we all know it's a myth.

Don't Pull On Your Partner!

A common situation is a teacher couple seeing a behavior that they dislike and their reaction is to put a lot of focus on that behavior, e.g. by demonstrating the bad example, by talking about why it's bad, etc. They do the same movement/exercise/whatever again and they see exactly the "wrong" thing happening again. How come?

The problem are not the students, but the instructions! Negations are tricky. What happens if you talk about the wrong movement/execution? (By the way, demonstrations of the incorrect versions are like negations) The problem lies in the fact that to know what not to do, we have to imagine the wrong version instead of the right one. Hence you make your students work the bad image and actions instead of the good one. Thus the wrong image is dominant in their minds when they try to execute it for the next time which explains them doing the opposite of what you want.
Another moment where the opposite of your instructions happen is when after you give the correct instructions you add just before they start for example "and don't pull on your partner!". When in this example your students pull on their partners, it's due to the recency effect.

So next time you are teaching, instead of talking about what not to do, tell them what to do! "Move your hip back" instead of "don't pull", replace "Stop talking" with "listen" and so on.

Now are Negations always bad? No. Demonstrating shortly a bad version might be good for comedic purposes or a quick realization what they are actually doing. Saying quickly what the situation is like can be good to get them where they are, before taking them where you want them to be. Just make sure, your focus is always on the correct version so it stays the dominant one. Also make sure to always finish with a positive formulated instruction or a good visual example so that the good version is the last thing they have on their minds.
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