The Readiness is All
“The attempt to bring about change involving growth, development and progressive improvement in the [movement,] use and functioning of the human organism, calls necessarily for the acceptance, yes, the welcoming of the unknown in sensory experience; and this ‘unknown’ cannot be associated with the sensory experiences that have hitherto ‘felt right’.” – F.M. Alexander
Decades ago, I got to browse a copy of F.M. Alexander’s book that had been given to Marj Barstow. After looking at the many hand-written edits in the book that were made by F. M. after the book was printed, I turned to the first few pages to read what Alexander had dedicated to her, the first graduate of his first teacher training program. Above his signature and dedication to his first graduate, F.M. had written: “THE READINESS IS ALL”.
This quote from Shakespeare has given me many occasions to think about what motivates people to dare to want to tap the unknown.
What gets people in the mood to question their own ways of doing things?
I guess the short answer is that certain conditions for readiness to change need to be in place for different people. More often, challenges to questioning the way one does things can be met with often violent, self-preservation-like resistance that dramatizes habits into having a sense of identity – when these habitual ways of thinking and doing things really don’t add to anything beyond merely being customarily familiar. I’ve learned to become suspicious for the need for change when I would find myself reciting a spirited ritual justification to myself or others. I have begun to accept this question of what “READINESS” means as a virtual question; a type of question that I will often ask with fruitful results.
There must be some general conditions that allow people to dare to face the unknown, a readiness to maybe learn something right now. Certainly, no matter how much anyone knows, there is always something more to learn – if not only how to recall and put into use what is already somewhat known to make it richer and more sophisticated.
What helps me as a learner to be willing to voyage where I’ve never gone yet – and really be willing to take on learning something totally unfamiliar or developing something that was merely a nascent idea? While thinking back to situations where learning became fun, exciting or drew out your fascination… What helped you get ready to take on a challenge?
Perhaps a first condition is to provide safety. Somehow it has to be safe to fall on ones’ face and make mistakes – to do the wrong thing. How can it be OK to ask the wrong question? How can it be not so much of a disaster to try out doing something that will probably not work as intended? Without experience and a sense of safety, nobody can expect themselves to be able to foresee everything going perfectly well. Even if it does happen perfectly the first time through, who can continue from there and continue going forward? (I’ve never seen it happen yet.)
I once had a man on a hitchhiking trip tell me a story about the first time his wife played golf. She hit a “hole in one” in every green on the whole 21-hole course, verified by the caddy and the owner of the golf course who were playing with them both. Unfortunately, his wife opted to never play another game of golf after that splendid success. She was willing to walk into the unknown for only a limited time of the 21-hole course; she thought it wiser to “rest on her laurels” forever after. Her husband declared to me that she didn’t think it was safe for the marriage to handle her being a better (or luckier) golfer than he was!
People love to hear someone’s story about how they began to become interested in their passions; how they started their business, how they came up with a unique idea, how they first applied new information as they discovered it.
Certainly every business has a “back-story” that makes their solution understandable and hopefully desired by a potential customer. Upon hearing a story of challenges like these, following along gets exciting. The learner-investigator asks unique questions that are probably also their own listener’s current questions. I like following someone’s continuity of inquiry without having to do the hard work of making the mistakes and experiencing the frustration that they did. I find myself searching for how my own unique knowledge and abilities could add to their questions, answers and challenges as I follow their progress. Experiencing first-hand what makes someone’s point of view unique can be motivating to learn from and in tandem with them.
For most learners, it’s helpful to have a framework to hang information onto, even if it’s just a list of the number of items or points to expect.
(BTW, this article has about 1800 words. You’re a little less than halfway through it.)
Also what learners often need is some way to correct for time of arrival of this new confusion that is going to be coming in from the teacher. If the teacher doesn’t provide this framework, can the student be expected to build this framework on their own? Many do, but the first time through a learning experience, most students will expect to miss most of what is being delivered. This means much of what is new will be ignored or go unremembered. The student will get to a state of “Too Much Information” overload really fast and the teacher must be alert to this state in their students. Students will have to take a break to integrate new and unusual information has just been delivered, or they may need to tune out and ignore the rest as they chew on a certain new part.
Some teachers have found that learning backwards is a splendid way to address this issue – For instance, if what needs to be learned is sequential such as a play, a piece of music or a series of Tai Chi moves, starting at the end and working gradually toward the beginning may work well. Then once the student is able to start at the beginning, they will be working towards what has been practiced the most often.
Recognizing this challenge, here’s another way of confronting “information overload” has emerged in traditional classroom teaching of high-content subjects such as chemistry classes. It involves switching the lecture-homework conventions, termed “Flipped Classes.” From a necessity to help students who had to miss class to catch up, teachers hit on the idea of recording their lectures and spending class time tutoring during what was normally spent as homework. Now all students can play classroom lectures as their homework on DVD or .mp3 players. Instead of lectures during class, time is now spent with the teacher doing “homework.” Think about it; who’s the most knowledgeable about the subject and would be best capable of tutoring during the real learning process? What a pleasure it would be for a teacher to actually teach!
Perhaps if a lecture format must be used, giving students a chance to indicate where they are losing what the teacher has to say would be handy to have in place. Feedback is most useful when it is in “real time.” Pass out cards to students they can hold up that indicate to the teacher, “I’m lost;” “I get it, go on to the next step before I get bored;” and the most important one: “My brain is now on overload.”
A solution for this was put into place in a large co-housing group – a kind of “condo-mune.” A group of people had to make many construction decisions about the unique ways they were planning for how their unique apartment housing was going to be built. Decision makers were given colored cards, signifying “Agree,” “Block,” and various gray areas, such as: “Disagree but will not block” and “Agree with additional conditions.” There were also “Suggestion” notices that could be combined with other cards that indicated a possible solution idea or other contribution that might enhance the currently nominated decision as it stood.
Illustrated or Story Learning
To make learning easy, the most useful tactic to note is that examples and stories connect former experiences to new ones. For each point you want to teach, find a starting place that is commonly understood and go from there toward what you’d like to illustrate that is unique and unfamiliar. The more examples, the better and faster your students will learn. Think in terms of prerequisites; for instance, if you’re a kid learning about circumference, it’s essential to already have the experience about how long the outside of a circle really is. Sometimes you really need to have the students guess and to take a real string and wrap it around a bottle, your wrist or your neck – were you surprised?
A good teacher will choose examples that interest their particular students; memorable examples that gradually lead their students’ thinking along a path of first-hand discovery. The more of these illustrations there are, the more a splendid teacher will make their students imagine they “already knew” that which most people would consider to be difficult or complicated.
In my first year in college I had a teacher who got me to agree to study Chinese with him since I already knew the content of the class I was enrolled for. After hearing about the way I memorized songs, he selected one very complex Mandarin character three or four times a week and broke each of the parts of the character apart, linking the various written marks that made them into a historical song-story. This not only taught me a whole group of “character families” at the rate of thirty to forty characters a week, but led me on a fanciful and entertaining romp through Chinese historic stories, songs and fables. If you add that up, it meant had I been able to continue, I would have become literate at writing and reading 3,000 characters in less than two years – (an unheard of pace for learning any language, let along that one.)
Learning from an Inspired Teacher
Lastly, if you notice a brilliant teacher in action, don’t be shy to learn whatever it is they love to teach. It will become memorable, no matter what the subject is. You’ll learn much more than content, if you’re paying attention. Probably you’ll learn about patience, about lessons you will be able to apply broadly to lessons of life, and there is the potential to learn about yourself. Hopefully there is the chance you’ll learn something about the way you learn best – and that’s one of the most valuable lessons you can gain from any experience.
“Now be quiet, be still, and allow for it, for the unknown. Not in your wildest dreams can you imagine what it will be like.”
- Margaret Goldie, F.M. Alexander’s niece and later teacher of his Technique for 40+ years.