It’s not just What you teach, it’s also How you teach that’s important

Notes from the workshop presented at the Forum
Melbourne Middle Eastern Festival 2008
Saturday July 19th
Basically I am going to explain just how the brain processes information. This can mean the difference between a person comprehending something quickly, rejecting it completely, or struggling to get it.

This information is useful for anybody, whether you are a dance instructor, teacher, student, Manager or supervisor in a workplace or a parent.

Intro on how the brain works and learning modalities:

The brain has three main ways of accessing and processing information;
Auditory – hear (instructions, music)
Visual – see (watching demonstration of a move, build a picture in their mind) and
Kinesthetic – feel (how it feels to do it(physical and emotional), how it feels on other people, feel the beat of the music)

Examples of how limiting it is to use only one modality

1st person: demo a move and get them to repeat it
2nd person: tell them to do it using a technical name(Basic Egyptian right leading)
Note: using “jargon” can block people off as much as using a foreign language.
3rd person: describe the physical aspect of a move and get them to do what you say (steps of Egyptian Rumba)
4th person: tell them how it feels to do a move (it’s a gushy soft move – wanting hip fig 8)
5th person: give a visualisation on how to do a move (piece of string attached to middle of bra and pulled by a puppeteer = rib lift).

Using just one method does not work. Most people have one area in which they are strongest, but mostly tend to be (on average) 50% 30% 20%. However, some people are really strong in one area in particular, so if you don’t use that type of communication, you will miss them completely. People have a habit of teaching in line with their own preferences. This is why you might feel you “click” with one teacher and not another, they are speaking your ‘language’ (or not).

Further info using language cues, and breakdown on sub-types of modalities.
You can reach more people and help students learn quicker and have more confidence at the same time by using all modalities, it also helps to identify if people are strongest in area. You can find this out by listening to the language cues they use.
List of words used by people from each group:
Visual: appear, clear, crystal, focussed, foggy, hazy, look, reveal, picture, see, show, view.
Auditory: be all ears, deaf, hear, listen, question, resonate, rings a bell, silence, tune in/out, sounds like
Kinesthetic: catch on, feel, grasp, get a handle of, get hold of, hard, tap into, slip through, throw out, touch, turn around,


Words to avoid when teaching (or anytime)

Eliminate from vocabulary!! (unless on purpose)
The brain processes ‘but’ to mean ‘disregard everything that came before the but it is untrue’. For example: “that was really good, but lets do it better” person hears “wow that must have stunk, I’m crap at this!”. People either get low self-esteem or defensive when hearing ‘but’.
Use: ‘and’ to replace ‘but’; “that was really good, and lets do it again even better” person hears “it was okay, I’m getting there, just need some practice”. Another alternative to use is “which is why” eg “I know these moves are a bit tricky, which is why if we keep doing them it will get easier”.

The word ‘try’ implies ‘not succeeding” if you were succeeding you wouldn’t be ‘trying’ would you – you’d be doing it! (Think of Yoda “Do or do not – there is no try”) So for a teacher to say “let’s try that again” says to the student “you are not getting it or doing it right”. If that is not what you mean simply say “let’s do that again”. If you want something constructive changed say “let’s do that again, and this time lets really focus on… stepping on the beat etc”
Think of the phrase “he/she is really being trying:” is this a positive? No! Especially bad with kids. “I can see that you are trying hard with your maths” kid hears “you suck at maths and are not doing it right!”. Use “effort” and “do” so say “I can see you are putting a lot of effort into your maths homework, is there anything you need clarification on to help you do it even better?”


Don’t tell me what not to do!
Don’t think of a stripy elephant!
I said DON’T think of a stripy elephant!

The brain cannot process a negative without first going to the positive and then erasing it (the stripy elephant). Instruct people on what you WANT them to do, not what you don’t. eg “don’t forget your veils next week” what are you actually saying? You are telling them to forget them! Remember your veils is what you are really asking.

Very important with children. Parents say; “don’t hit!” often without something to replace the behaviour, so the child will continue. Instead use “No Johnny, be gentle, hitting is unacceptable, be gentle show Mummy gentle, that’s right! Well done!”
Notice how often you give people a negative instruction and then stop and replace it with what you are actually wanting them to do. Make it clear and concise and it has a much greater chance of sticking.

Ongoing task: notice how often you use the above words or negative instruction. Then catch yourself as you do it, then stop before you do it and replace with a more appropriate instruction.

How to use modalities to teach or learn
So how do we put all this together? These are snake arms. You start by having your arms by your sides making sure your fingertips are touching your thighs. Now using the muscle on the back of the arm (the tricep) lift the arm up keeping the lower arm relaxed and shoulders down. Imagine you have a fit ball and it is inflating under your arm see the arm gently curved around the ball? What colour is your ball? Now as you lower your arm, it rotates slightly in the shoulder socket and the elbow leads the way down. Your fit ball is now balanced on top of your arm, see the curve? This move is incredibly strenuous as well as relaxed at the same time, you will feel the muscles in your arms and your shoulders straining to keep the move soft and slow.

Notice how with that description I used the physical description or “how to”, plus the visual of me doing it. Then you also have the visual imagery of the fit ball, as well as how it physically feels to do it. All of which was verbal. All the modalities are covered.

Good luck and go out and be the best communicators you can be!

Comments are closed.