Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Believe Me, I'm Lying

When you teach bloody beginners they don't know you and there is no reason for them to trust you. That's why you might need to take additional methods to convince them. Eventually, you want to build trust with them though. Trust makes relationships a lot easier and for both students and teachers. As student there is a lot less inner resistance and and as teacher you will face more open students. It also makes for a leaning environment. This article tackles a situation I've seen happening and that is not only infringing trust but also tripping hazard to the learning process.

Flat Earth

Lots of teachers give their students rules, like "Your arm never goes beyond your body". I call those "beginner-rules" because you use them in the beginning to assist with some problem and eventually you have to throw the rule overboard, e.g. when you are teaching a movement when the elbow has to go past your body. It will be extremely difficult, especially if you have corrected them multiple times on "... and keep your elbows in front of your body". The reason is that this rule had implications. Your students trained to keep their elbows in front of them, and now they have to break their mindset and establish a new one. As a side note, Flat Earth teaching can easily result from strong bottom up structure.

Do you remember how long it took to go from flat earth to round? Some people died on the way. I'm glad that won't happen if you tell someone not every move starts with a rock step. 
Learning is connecting new knowledge to knowledge that the person already has.  Now if that old knowledge is absolute ("you always do x, y and r") you have to break that at some point. Usually this goes along with losing habits that you've trained hard to get in the first place. I've seen people dancing for 10 years and still facing problems that have to do with getting rid of habits they trained when they started, but were only rules for beginners.
When you teach a beginner-rule, you assume that your students can't handle the real way. They can - true story! The solution is simplification of the content of your classes instead of flat-earth-teaching. Simplified versions extend well. You can derive new truths while keep the existing beliefs and additionally go with the natural process of learning. For an example of simplification check out the math analogy in section Putting Technique Where It Belongs.

Another moment where you can make or break trust is when you mess up. It's not a sign of incompetence if you mess up, but a sign of humanity. So instead of hiding your mistake, acknowledge it and move on. It will increase credibility, because your students will see matching between what you say and what you do. Since we strive for harmony (...or), this will feel give your students a good feeling. Besides having other nice side-effects.

Not having to break any beliefs and seeing congruence in what you do and say makes you a lot more trust-worthy. Why should your students believe you, if you told them a rule in the beginning, that you break later? Why should they assume that what you are telling now is the real deal? Why should they trust you, if they see one thing and you say another? Be honest with your students right away, tell them what Lindy actually looks like to you, and not some phony version. It's worth it!

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!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Creative Uncertainty

The Words we use play a major role, like take the power of phrasing instructions positively. By using words, we create an image in people's minds. Talking about things not to do, we imagine those things. I've always wondered why so many people don't dance more creatively despite the vast majority of teachers teaching leading and following, which makes creativity and the leading and following of new movements possible.

The piece that makes the picture complete came in a book called "Mindfulness" by Dr. Ellen Langer. She has conducted a series of studies about the influence of words used when teaching about new objects. The results are that when new items were introduced conditionally e.g. "This could be a pencil", people would find a lot more possible alternative usages than people that the item got introduced to unconditionally, as a fact, e.g. "This is a pencil". Introducing new items unconditionally creates a bit of uncertainty because it suggests that it could be used differently. She calls this creative uncertainty, because it allows for creative usage of the items. Creative usage means usage of an item in a, for that person, new way.

Langer's results clearly show why people often have trouble using the material taught in classes creatively. We teach new moves as "This is a swingout", "This is the beginning of a swing out". Saying a swingout could be a swingout feels off to me. Exits and entries to moves on the other hand are quite variable. Saying "This could be an exit to XYZ" sounds actually quite ok. Check out where you introduce facts in class, by stating something is something and try to see if there isn't a way of introducing it conditionally.

The other result that I found interesting about her studies to this piece of puzzle is that when things get introduced as "this is one possibility" - items get used more creatively than unconditional introduction but less good than "real" conditional. Introducing something as "This is one possibility" can be seen from time to time by lindy hop teachers. If you are already at this step, go a step beyond and go try conditional teaching. If you are not at this step yet, feel free to skip it. It's a bit like the fax machine. If you went from telephone to e-mail right away you didn't miss a thing.

By changing your phrasing, and I'm sure you can come up with more conditional phrasing, you will be able to teach creative usage of your material at the same time as your material. How cool is that?

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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Dance Etiquette And Other Nonsense

Do I have to do one dance or two? Can I refuse a dance? Am I supposed to say thank you, or is that the little sister of "This dance sucked balls"? It's those questions that one faces at a certain time once you've travelled a bit. While there have been many heated discussions about this topic, I'd like to offer a different perspective on these questions. One where it doesn't matter what side you chose.

It is completely normal for any social group to have a set of certain rules. They define the design of interactions and accepted behaviours. It might even be part of the groups identity. Social rules make interactions inside of the group easy and comfortable. Social dance rules arise from the fact that dancers form groups, sometimes country-wise, sometimes city-wise and often even smaller.

Taking A Look At Rules

Let's take the rule how many dances are polite. In the some countries, e.g. USA it is completely normal to dance one dance. In others, e.g. Switzerland it is completely normal to dance two. Now what I've seen happen all over the world that when two people from different countries with different rules meet on the social dancefloor, that one feels afterwards insulted. One might think it is rude of the other person to want two dances, while other one might think the partner didn't like the dance or that they themselves dance like crap and that's why the refused a second dance or said thank you and left. Is one of them right and the other one wrong?

Another example of a common rule that is heavily debated is refusing dances. Is it impolite to refuse a dance? Often the answer is simply yes. But what if your feet hurt? What if you want to dance this song with someone else, because it's your song? What if you need a break? What if you hate this song? What if you don't feel like dancing currently?

Sticking To The Rules

The lindy hop scene is a world wide scene with people travelling all over for workshops. People from different social groups mix all the time. Naturally everybody grows up with a different set of social dance rules. Is there a correct behaviour? There doesn't seem to be, unlike teaching methods, here things are just different. The problem we are facing hence is not that certain people are not complying to the rules and being rude, but rather comply to a different set of rules.

Based on the rules we are used to, we have the tendency to make assumptions about the reasons for someone's acting. The two above described situations usually result in either a bad feeling for oneself or in bad mouthing about others. Both results are going against a good atmosphere and good feelings.

We should remember how we make those assumptions - we make them based on our rules, rules that are supposed to help us get along better. The actual results can hardly get any further away from the original intentions.

Since we've learned in the meantime that pushing our rules onto others doesn't really work well, based on all those hurt feelings from rejections and bad mouthing, we should try to find another way to solve this. 

Breaking The Rules

Ask yourself how important those rules are to you. Ask yourself if they are important enough to feel bad about yourself or make others feel bad. 

Bending those rules or throwing them out of the window is not easy. It also requires a bigger inner calmness to notice those moments where we make assumptions that make us feel inferior or get a bad impression of others. But if you allow for bending those rules and allow for more possible reasons for a person acting in a certain way, it will be worth it, because you'll feel happier and others will too!

If you like being happy, comment on, share or like this article.