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Engaging Students in Learning: 10 Controversial Tricks from a Master Manipulator

LESSON 1: DO THIS AND YOU’LL HAVE THEM EATING FROM THE PALM OF YOUR HAND What is the difference between ordinary teachers and great teachers?  The mo...

LESSON 1: DO THIS AND YOU’LL HAVE THEM EATING FROM THE PALM OF YOUR HAND


What is the difference between ordinary teachers and great teachers?  The most important difference, above all else, is the ability to engage students in learning. It’s the teachers who know how important this is and who go to extra efforts to learn how to do this, that ultimately make the greatest teachers with the best teaching practices.


The thing is – you already knew that didn’t you. The other thing – I knew you knew that. I wrote this article for teachers who know that engaging student learning is important and feel that they want to learn more about ways to engage students.


It would seem logical therefore, that telling someone something they already know is a waste of time right? Wrong.  In actual fact, telling your audience (or students, customers, congregation, victims etc.) something they already suspected was true is a great way to initiate ‘engagement’ by establishing rapport. Why?


Because confirming someone’s suspicions triggers off a little emotional buzzer in the brain that says “Ooohhh…yes, that’s exactly what I thought too…..hey this person thinks like me….” By confirming someone suspicions, you’re effectively sliding your ‘initiate engagement’ ticket into the machine, opening up the boom gate which regulates the ‘critical minds’ flow of traffic – thus, allowing you to drive your lesson in past the first barrier.


Confirming suspicions by the way is different to stating the obvious. If you state the obvious, the effect is lost. So think of it this way:  the aim is not to tell the learner what they know is true as much as it is to tell them what they WANT to be true (regardless of whether it actually is or not).


ENGAGE STUDENTS IN LEARNING - LESSON 1: CONFIRM THE LEARNERS SUSPICIONS – IT ESTABLISHES RAPID RAPORT BY MAKING THEM FEEL SMARTER AND MORE CERTAIN OF THEMSELVES – TWO THINGS ALL HUMANS CRAVE.

LESSON 2: DO THIS AND THEY’LL TRULY ‘GET IT’.


Does it kind of feel like I just messed with your mind a bit there? Did it feel like you kind of walked into a trap, just so I could prove my point about innovative teaching methods? Well…..good. Your feelings towards me are probably a bit more defensive now that it feels like your mind was violated. The point is that you felt something. Getting the learner emotionally involved is the first step to engagement.
And even though I threw the words “congregation” followed by “victim” in there as though it was no big deal – you still picked up on it didn’t you? What did you think when you read that?  Depending on your personality, it may have even appealed to your naughty side a bit.  Did you think: “Hang on….did he just say…. “  before you forgot about it and continued reading?


Let me ask you another question……are you smiling….even if only mentally….because it feels like I’ve anticipated every thought along the way? Perhaps you’re frowning because you don’t like being tricked. Either way, I got your attention didn’t I? And that’s the whole point though isn’t it. You came here looking for ways to create engaged students. Well guess what? There’s no better way of teaching someone how to do something than by getting them to experience the effects of it first.


ENGAGE STUDENTS IN LEARNING - LESSON 2: PROVE YOUR POINT BY GETTING THE STUDENT EXPERIENCING THE EFFECTS OF IT BEFORE YOU TEACH THEM HOW DO TO IT.

LESSON 3: LEARN FROM THIS TRUE STORY


To give you a memorable example of this, in my first year of being a year 9 science teacher, I attempted to murder a boy to test an idea I had about engaging activities for students. The learning objective was to understand that a hormonal response to stimuli lasts longer than a neurological one. This is because the hormone floats around in the blood stream for a while, whereas nerve transmissions are instantaneous.


Anyway, after having them all record each other’s heart rate and breathing rate, I started getting very irritated with one of the more ‘naughty’ boys sitting up the back of the class named Matt. I attempted to exert my assertiveness by verbally warning him, only to receive a sarcastic reply from him. This verbal ‘back and forth’ continued to escalate, as did my obvious frustration. I appeared visibly angry, so much so, that I suddenly snapped. I grabbed the first item I found (a stapler from my desk), and charged up the back of the class shouting uncontrollably “I’m going to kill you” over and over.  I proceeded to lay into Matt with the stapler, belting him senseless whilst screaming my desire to murder him.


Suddenly I stopped. I smiled, as did Matt. I turned to the class and announced that everything was okay - it was all a big joke, and that Matt was in on it.  I calmly walked back to the front of the class whilst Matt had a good chuckle at everyone else’s expense. I then explained to them the purpose of the demonstration.


“Right now” I explained “your brain knows that you are safe. It knows that Matt is safe, and that it was all a big joke. No part of your neurology feels threatened any more. Whilst your nervous system fired up when you felt threatened, it has now returned to normal. The hormone adrenalin however is still flowing through your blood. It’s no longer being pumped into your blood, but the adrenalin that was pumped into your bloodstream a moment ago is still there now.  Measure your heart rate and breathing rate now to see what I mean.”  They did this, most of them laughing about the humour of the prank, yet admitting that whilst they found it funny, they were still physically shaking from the effects of the hormone.


The purpose of telling you all this is not to demonstrate an example of engaging activities for students, nor is it to demonstrate the effectiveness of getting the student to experience your point before you make it – I already did that with the previous lesson. The purpose of this lesson is to demonstrate the effectiveness of telling an interesting anecdotal story as a means to stimulate engagement. If you were not a teacher however you probably couldn’t associate with the anecdote above quite as well. You are a teacher however, which is why I picked a story that you would find personally relevant.


ENGAGE STUDENTS IN LEARNING – LESSON 3: TELL STORIES THAT THE STUDENT CAN PERSONALLY ASSOCIATE WITH WHICH DEMONSTRATE YOUR POINT.

LESSON 4: WHAT’S YOUR OPINION OF THIS?


There is of course a good possibility that even though the story above was a very interesting one to associate with when it comes to effective teaching methods, it was a very reckless and potentially unethical thing for me to do just for the sake of student engagement. There is also a good chance that you’re probably thinking critical things towards me now about my different teaching methods, such as “he should not be advocating such reckless behaviour as a person of responsibility – this guy is advocating irresponsible student engagement strategies.”  Well…..I got you again.


The story above may be a true one, it may be completely made up, it may be an exaggerated version – I’m not going to tell you. But it made you generate an opinion didn’t it? It got you thinking something – whether you thought it was a great thing to do or thought it was terrible.  If I stimulated enough of an emotional response to generate some kind of opinion about it (even if it’s one that provoked a critical response)......well…..guess what – you’re engaged! The media does this all the time – it’s called ‘controversy’. In fact, talk back radio presenters specifically are the king of controversy. If they can’t get their listeners engaged enough to want to phone in and join a debate - they go broke!  So if the media uses this strategy for commercial gains, why not use this with your students to generate an engaging learning environment?


ENGAGE STUDENTS IN LEARNING - LESSON 4: STIMULATE ENOUGH EMOTION TO GENERATE OPINONS, DEBATE OR CONTROVERSY, AND YOU’VE CREATED INSTANTANIOUS INTERACTION.

LESSON 5: I HOPE YOU WANT TO LEARN THE MOST POWERFUL TRICK


Whether it’s in the media, salesmanship or any kind of persuasive art; the most powerful way of getting someone to do something you want them to do is this: Plant thought into their mind in a way so that they actually believe that it is their idea.  Similarly, when we are planning strategies for engaging students in learning, we need to manipulate the situation to ensure that the student’s mind WANTS to be involved in the learning process.


Imagine you could get your student’s to WANT to learn what you have to teach, every single time! In fact, everything I have been discussing with you so far has simply been setting the stage for the number one most powerfully influential trick I’m about to expose, when it comes to how to engage students in learning. I guarantee, this will change the way you teach, and therefore change your life.


Are you ready for it?


Only kidding, there is no such trick. Now if you felt a bit of disappointment there…..then good! It means you were engaged. You actually wanted to find out what was going to happen next. I presented you with an exciting idea about the future. This is called ‘hope’ and humans love it. It’s like holding a juicy piece of stake in front of a hungry dog.


Remember; the stick is only for people who don’t know how to master the carrot.


ENGAGE STUDENTS IN LEARNING - LESSON 5: TALK UP SOMETHING THAT’S ABOUT TO HAPPEN IN A WAY SO THAT THE STUDENT WANTS IT TO HAPPEN.

LESSON 6: WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT BEING DIFFERENT?


Let me ask you something – does this read like an ordinary article? Was it exactly like you expected it would be when you read the title? Chances are; probably not. There is every possibility that I’ve taken your mind on a bit of a roller coaster ride throughout the entire article. There may have been times where you thought I was brilliant. There may have been time you thought I was a complete wanker. There may have been times you got excited, disappointed, argumentative, etc. Let me ask you this though – why do you think I went to such effort to disrupt your expectations? Why did I intentionally set out to be different?


ENGAGE STUDENTS IN LEARNING - LESSON 6:  (FILL IN THIS PART OF THE LESSON FOR YOURSELF – IF I’VE BEEN SUCCESSFUL IN PROVING MY POINT YOU SHOULD KNOW EXACTLY WHAT THIS LESSON IS. _____________________________________________)

LESSON 7: WHAT IS THE ANSWER TO THIS QUESTION?


The lesson above of course is to think outside the box when planning activities to engage students. Disrupt the norm a bit and cause the student to feel something and think something they weren’t expecting. Do these things, then BAM – you have them engaged. (The only exception is to make sure they don’t feel like they are overloaded with too much information or information they will struggle to understand). Now I could have just worded that for you in the brackets above rather than asking you to fill in the answer for yourself.  So why do you think I did that?


Well I actually don’t care what you think to be honest. But I do care that you are thinking something. That’s what I must do if I am to engage you in this article. To engage a learner, you must kick start their brain into thinking mode, by getting them to explore a concept. This is very different from listening mode where they simply observe you explaining it.


So, if you think back about your past experiences both in a teaching role as well as in a student role…..what do you think were the best ways to get someone to think about something? Go on….have a guess. Have you thought of any ideas? Say it out loud….I’ll give you a clue; it’s one word…..it starts with a Q……figured it out yet?


Before I tell you – let’s explore this a bit. Tell me - why do we think? We think to find solutions to problems. A solution is therefore, an answer. And what precedes an answer? Got it yet?


That’s right…..you got it…..Questions! (You did get it right?) Unless our mind can find a reason to answer a question, it’s like an engine just waiting for someone to turn the key and fire it up. No question - no problem. No problem - no need to find solution. No need to find solution - no need to think.


Why then did I ask you to fill in the brackets to lesson 6?  The answer is because asking engaging questions is necessary to stimulate thought. Why do I keep asking you questions even if I don’t care what you think about them? The answer is because if my aim is to keep you engaged, then I am only concerned that you are thinking, not what you are thinking. The important part here is to ask the right questions, and by right questions, I mean questions that will stimulate interest.


A students mind can be like a car with an incredibly powerful engine. If you rely on explanation and passive listening; you might as well be pushing the car downhill whilst steering and hoping for the best. If you can get the student’s mind to explore (analyse, evaluate and synthesise) ideas - you’ve just turned a key to fire up an engine capable to powering up the steepest of learning hills (see Higher Order Thinking Skills). The key to your learners ignition (and therefore engaging students in the classroom) then becomes how you can get them to explore ideas by thinking for themselves.


ENGAGE STUDENTS IN LEARNING - LESSON 7:  ENGAGING STUDENTS IN ACTIVE LEARNING MUST REQUIRE THEM TO THINK FOR THEMSELVES. THE BEST WAY TO DO THIS IS TO ASK ENGAGING QUESTIONS.

LESSON 8: SNEAKING PAST THE BARRIER TO THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU WANT


The reason I want you to think about these things for yourself before I dump an explanation on you, is because exploration is a big part of creating engagement in your students learning environments. Want to know the number one mistake most teachers make? They place more emphasis on explanation than they do on exploration. Explanation requires listening. It’s a passive process for the learner. Exploration however is an active process for the learner because it requires them to think.


Explanation means delivering a wheelbarrow of information to the minds yard, dumping it on the grass and leaving a mound of it there to blow away in the wind. Exploration however means that the learner is going to get out there with the shovel and dig a great big hole. This way, when the wheelbarrow comes along to dump the explanation - it goes right in the hole that was already dug for it – and stays there. I have been spending a large portion of this article trying to get you to dig that hole in your mind. If I’ve done my job right, the explanation I’m offering here will fit in there a lot better. Is it working?


What is the importance however of creating an explorative experience before delivering the explanation? And then, when the explanation does arrive, what’s the most important trick for making sure it fits in snug and tight? Well firstly, to know how to deliver our message the most effectively, we need to know what barriers stand in our way so we can know exactly how to sneak around them. There are numerous theories about this and I suggest you have a think about this for yourself – but here’s what I think:


I think that our mind can only make sense of new information by fitting it into familiar experiences. Like a game of Tetris – if the mind can’t connect the new piece with the pieces it already has, it tends to reject it, or just squeeze it in awkwardly. If our mind is bombarded with too much unfamiliarity at once; it’s too exhausting, and our mind will reject it. We don’t like the unfamiliar. Unfamiliarity is instinctively bad to us, even if only at the unconscious level.  Even right now I suspect you can think of examples of human nature where we instinctively fear that which we cannot understand or cannot associate familiarity with. 


Whilst this instinct is designed to protect us, in modern times however, our instinctive anxiety towards unfamiliarity prevents us from having new and productive experiences. On a global scale, our fear of the unfamiliar it’s the cause of racism, cultural discrimination, religious hatred, sexism, homophobia and intolerance in general. Pretty big barrier then isn’t it? In the classroom however, the same human instinct we’re talking about here is also going to be the number one barrier preventing your students from learning everything you want to be able to teach them.  


So it would seem that this instinct to reject the unfamiliar is a crucially important barrier.  It’s not very easy to overcome this barrier, but there is an easy way you can sneak past it. That’s precisely what I’m going to show you how to do in the next lesson. You’re going to read on, because you want to know how to get your students to learn more, thus making your job easier and more rewarding aren’t you. The fact that this same knowledge could help contribute to solving many of the world’s more serious issues is great, but it’s less of an incentive than the effect it will have on you directly, isn’t it. Does this make you a selfish person? Yes. Is this a bad thing? Depends on how you look at it – I think it just makes you human.

The lesson here:


ENGAGE STUDENTS IN LEARNING - LESSON 8:  REGARDLESS OF HOW IMPORTANT YOU THINK IT IS, YOUR STUDENT MUST SEE SOME KIND OF PERSONAL CONNECTION TO BE INCENTIVISED TO LEARN.

LESSON 9: PAINTING A FAMILIAR PICTURE


So you want to know how to sneak past the barrier of unfamiliarity? To do so, we need to understand that our conscious mind and our unconscious mind are separated by a thick, solid door protected by heavily armed security guards. This door is called the ‘critical’ mind, and is there to protect the unconscious mind from the harshness of reality. The unconscious mind is very scared and very vulnerable – it thinks just like a 5 year old child. Just as a parent would protect their 5 year old from traumatic experiences by filtering their exposure to them, this is the role your critical mind plays in making sure you don’t experience a reality that is too hard for your inner child to deal with. An overload of too much unfamiliarity will cause that door to lock even harder and the guards to stand to attention. Only information with the right security access is allowed through the door. Imagine you knew a trick that could make you invisible to the guard, allowing you to sneak right past the door with instant access!


The catch is; I’ve been sneaking past yours on numerous occasions throughout this article. Although I took you on numerous ‘explorative’ journeys, each time I had to explain something to you, I had to sneak past your armoured guards a bit to creep undetected inside your unconscious mind.  The explorations were designed to manipulate you into digging just the right hole.  The explanations however were delivered in a way so that they would fit right in. You don’t even feel like your delicate little ‘inner child’s mind has been affected do you.


Tell me (okay, tell yourself seeing as I’m not there with you right now) – you’re looking at text on a page right now, yet you’ve been seeing many other things throughout this article haven’t you? Not with your eyes, but in your mind.  Did you see a ticket sliding into a machine? A boom gate opening up and a car driving through? Did you see a car rolling down a hill, only to have a key turned and power uphill after firing the engine on? How about the wheel barrow and the hole in the ground or the security door with the armoured guards standing by? What did they look like to you?


The lesson here is not just to use visual imagery as powerful explanatory tool either, even though the ability get your students mind to translate words into pictures is important as well. It was the specific use of metaphors and analogies which, if successful, snuck past your barriers. I didn’t need to be too specific about what the hole in the ground, the wheelbarrows contents, the car, the engine, the key, the boom gate, the ticket or the guarded door represented. I gave you just enough of the puzzle so that your unconscious mind would join the pieces to paint the picture. Why did I do that? The reason is this: so that you would not just understand the concepts I wanted you to understand, but so that you would experience them by constructing them yourself based on what you already understand about the world.


The unconscious mind just loves analogous representations by the way. After all, when we have no conscious control over our mind, the unconscious mind spends most of its time processing the world around it by using analogous projections – aka ‘dreams’.


Let’s say you wanted a simple fisherman to join your team of disciples and you give them a detailed explanation of the job description. Unless your explanation involves something that the fiishermans past experiences can associate with, they’ll probably reject the job offer even though it would be a fantastic learning opportunity. Instead, it would be far more effective to describe the role as being as “fishers of men.”


Analogies and metaphorical representations form the basis of dreams, and are used to sneak past the critical minds ‘unfamiliarity’ barrier as they allow the unconscious mind to connect with experiences it is already familiar with. Analogous representations are used heavily in advertising.  Analogous language forms the basis of hypnotic suggestion. Most importantly however, ever since the days of ‘parables’ - they’ve been used as incredibly effective teaching tools to help learners form new associations with otherwise unfamiliar concepts. (See Constructivist Teaching).


ENGAGE STUDENTS IN LEARNING - LESSON 9:  WHEN TEACHING NEW CONCEPTS, DO SO BY LINKING THEM TO CONCEPTS THE STUDENT IS ALREADY FAMILIAR WITH. USING ANALOGIES AND METAPHORS ARE ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT WHEN MAKING NEW INFORMATION FIT COMFORTABLY.

LESSON 10: DO WHAT YOU LOVE BY LOVING WHAT YOU DO


Right now I’m feeling pretty proud of myself knowing that I’ve been getting your mind actively involved in this article. I know full well I’ve taken you on a mental roller coaster ride. I’ve probably even annoyed you at times. Well…..sucked in. I like making you think….it’s fun. Want to know the absolute most effective way to become a more engaging communicator?


Remember playing “dirty chook made you look” as a kid (or some kind of variation)? “Hey is that guy bleeding from the eyeballs?” I’d say to my friends who would instinctively turn to look in the direction I was pointing; only to realise they were duped as they hear “ha ha, dirty chook made you look!” Engaging students in learning should be one big game of “ha ha made you think!” That’s right - it should be a game. At every available opportunity, the objective of the game is to ‘trick’ your student’s into thinking something. Most importantly, you should have fun whilst doing it. Why? Because if you enjoy doing something; you’ll do it automatically. It will become deeply engrained into your unconscious habitual behaviours.


In fact, can you remember a time where you did get your students to actually stop, and think about something you were trying to communicate? Do you remember a time when you did this and, as a result, you were able to change the way they understood or thought about something you were trying to communicate to them? It feels good to have that kind of impact on a person’s mind doesn’t it?


Not all people feel good about having this effect by the way. But if a) you’re a teacher (or workin a training role of some kind) and you pride yourself on being good at it, or b) you’ve read this article all the way to this point, then there’s a good chance that you have the kind of personality type which enjoys having some kind of impact on the way other people think. If you’re a teacher, you probably feel that the way you do this is a noble skill. Far nobler than the way that say, a salesman, a politician, a cult leader or a con artist uses the same skills. And yet, did you know that all these professions share similar personality traits?


Actually I have no idea if they do or not, I’m just firing your brain up again. Haha…dirty chookArticle Submission, made you think!


ENGAGE STUDENTS IN LEARNING - LESSON 10:  TRAIN YOURSELF TO BE AN ENGAGING COMMUNICATOR BY ALLOWING YOUSELF TO HAVE FUN IN THE PROCESS OF MAKING OTHER PEOPLE THINK

Source: Free Articles from ArticlesFactory.com

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Stuart Adams is a Teacher, Careers Advisor, Dietitian, Author and Master Manipulator.



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