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Weaning the Helpless Handraisers: Part 3 Teaching to the Physical Modality

An Ounce of Prevention

This is the third installment of a series on the Helpless Handraiser. (link to Part 1 and Part 2) Previously, we have focused on giving brief, efficient corrective feedback during Guided Practice as a means of weaning the helpless handraisers. By replacing four minute tutoring sessions with a ten second verbal prompt aided by a Visual Instructional Plan, we can eliminate the continual reinforcement of learned helplessness.

However, it is a truism in behavior management that the cheapest way to fix a problem is to prevent its occurrence. How do you prevent the need for corrective feedback during Guided Practice? Is it possible to teach a lesson so effectively that the need for corrective feedback is nearly eliminated?

A Return to Fundamentals

What you are about to read may change the way you teach forever.

  • We learn one step at a time.

  • We learn by doing.

That is to say, learning requires performance. The student needs to be active rather than passive. They need to do your lesson.

Once you see the lesson as kinetic – as performance – then your role becomes clarified. You are a coach. Your job is to coach correct performance – to create it and practice it until it becomes easy and automatic.

Even if you are teaching concepts, you teach through performance. The students must do the concept in order to learn it. How they do it is your call – talking, writing, drama, art. If the students do not perform the lesson, they become passive rather than active. Prepare yourself for, “In one ear, and out the other.”

Say, See, Do Teaching

In the classroom we typically teach to three modalities of learning - verbal, visual and physical (say, see, and do). Think of each modality as a different way of learning. If you can integrate them, you get three for the price of one.

How do you integrate them? Just do them at the same time. The brain only stores patterns of neural activity. Performance welds the various modalities together to form a single pattern as indicated below.

To this add the notion of teaching one step at a time, and you get a single cycle of the teaching process:

  • Tell them what to do.

  • Show them what you mean.

  • Have them do it before they forget.

To teach a lesson from beginning to end, you structure a series of say, see, do cycles as pictured below. We will call this Say, See, Do Teaching.

Models of Teaching

There are only two basic ways to teach a lesson.

  1. Input, Input, Input, InputOutput

  2. Input, Output, Input, Output, Input, Output

Our nickname for the first one is, “Bop ‘til you drop.” Our nickname for the second one is, “Say, See, Do Teaching.”

You have extensive experience with the first model. It was most of your junior high, your high school and your college with a lot of your elementary school thrown in. Bop ‘til you drop is the norm in American education. Teachers talk from the front of the classroom for minutes on end while students sit passively.

Teachers typically report being tired at the end of the day. With bop ‘til you drop teaching this is hardly surprising. Even people in show business don’t have to do six matinees a day.

Reducing Learning and Behavior Problems

Say, See, Do Teaching by its very nature reduces many of the learning and behavior problems that you face every day in the classroom. It does so by attacking structural problems which underlie bop ‘til you drop teaching. For example:

  • Cognitive overload: After only a few sentences a student begins to experience overload. Imagine the overload from a teacher’s presentation that lasts 5, 10, 15 or 20 minutes. Soon the mind begins to wander.

  • Forgetting: When the teacher’s presentation comes to an end after 15 minutes, where is the information from the first minute. Remember, in one ear, and out the other.

  • Passivity: When a student is sitting with nothing to do except listen for minutes on end, thoughts wander and entertaining oneself comes to mind. Will it be talking to a friend or passing a note? Their goofing off becomes your next discipline problem.

Strike While the Iron is Hot

There is only one predictable outcome of learning, and that is forgetting. A forgetting curve is just like a learning curve turned upside-down. On the forgetting curve pictured below, X marks the spot where “doing” occurs during Say, See, Do Teaching.

When putting students to work, you want to “strike while the iron is hot.” Put them to work immediately and exploit short-term memory. Short-term memory is nearly total recall, but it doesn’t last long. Use it because it is all you have. You haven’t built long-term memory yet.

If, instead of putting students to work right away, you continue your presentation, you will find yourself attempting to engage the students later - somewhere on the slippery slope of the forgetting curve. Do not be surprised if only your best students participate.

A Role Reversal

When you begin to experiment with Say, See, Do Teaching, you may experience a role reversal. Rather than being a performer, you are an activities director.

You will find that putting students to work slows down the lesson. Doing takes time. With Say, See, Do Teaching, most of your time will be spent observing student performance. You will have time to carefully observe performance and provide immediate corrective feedback, as would any good coach.

The objective of good coaching is to build performance correctly from the beginning. The only alternative is building a bad habit. As Vince Lombardi said, “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” Building it right the first time using Say, See, Do Teaching will save you a lot of corrective feedback when you get to Guided Practice.

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