Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Nothing Rhymes With Unt

I'm convinced that more dancing in class and less talking will result in faster and more in-depth progress, if we need to talk though we should be aware of the consequences. The regular way to talk, when teaching, is to describe the desired outcome. We can enhance this by using images and analogies. A way more powerful kind of talking is suggesting. With this method, people think of what you would have said by themselves, and that's why the content sticks better.


The Benefit

I make a distinction between describing something and this way trying to make the student form a mental image versus suggestion. In the first option there is nothing happening unless the student tries to form the mental image. Suggestion on the other hand works without explicitly saying something but rather implying it and hence getting students to draw the conclusions more as a reflex or logical conclusion than an active action. 
But why is suggesting more powerful? It is because students think the thought, or create the mental image by themselves. To them it is a logical conclusion or ending to what you've been saying and it happens passively. Because it's logical to them, they will be remembering, what ever it was, better and also find it more convincing. They thought of it - it must be correct.

Suggestion can happen by accident, which I believe is most often the case, or used intentionally. An example for utilizing the power of suggestion intentionally can be seen in creative uncertainty. There we say that if something "is" something, the possibility of it being something different becomes excluded. We restrict the object to one purpose. If we say something "could be" an exit to a move, we imply and hence suggest that whatever we just showed, could be used differently. This is what enables people later on to use content of classes more creatively.

In the example above we suggest more possibilities and it's the way I use suggestion most, but with suggestion we can also limit variety of possible answers.

... or

If you have guests at your place and you want them to leave without saying so you could say "Somebody wants another beer or ...". They are very likely to decline and soon people will leave. By keeping the end open, people finish the phrase themselves. You suggest a yes-no answer, so they will conclude the phrase in their minds with the word "not". Humans strive for accord and that is what makes thinking "not" and answering "yes" difficult, that is why they will likely decline the offer.
The suggestion of the word "or" comes in nicely when you talk about coin-options, like yes-no, left-right, top-bottom, leader-follower etc. "So we can do this move on the left side or ..." .

... but

Take the word "but". This word suggests that what is said before is not really the case. Sadly, the word "but" is often, hopefully unintentionally, used together with positive feedback. "What you are doing is good, but keep your rhythm a bit more". All that sticks is "Keep your rhythm more". The positive feedback got lost. Positive feedback is a essential part of motivation, loosing it because of a three-letter word is such a waste. Throw the word "but" out of your vocabulary unless you want to negate the formerly made statement. If you have the feeling you need it, try figuring out what it really is that you want to say, and say that instead. If it is really both you want to say, - make it two independent phrases.

As a side note, verbally formed suggestion works best on native speakers.

The power of suggestion is a two-edged sword. I find it OK to use, just apply gently and be aware of what you are suggesting. Sometimes a limited amount of choices can help, sometimes the exact same can inhibit progress.

Share how you think how this could be used constructively in class in the comments below!