Recommended Techniques for Generalist Remedial and Complimentary Tutoring, Homeschool Teaching and Academic Coaching
Strategic Rapport is an approach to combining formative assessment, scaffolded independent learning and responsive didactic elements, developed by Rupert Pearson’s practice. The combined modality makes much of reflective listening and Socratic dialogue, together with open questioning — questions open enough to dare and reward the student with agency, while scaffolded enough for him or her to reach the necessary learning — for maximizing student autonomy without impeding tutor reach.
Education's beating heart — the classroom and class teacher — offers much that one-to-one tuition cannot; however, tuition does have one edge. One-to-one teaching allows lavish, fluent formative assessment that is precise, rich and certain; assessment that operates discretely, without disturbing flow; assessment that explores a learner's foundational and contextual concepts and assumptions as easily as it explores the student’s hopes and fears. Strategic Rapport takes advantage of this.
The foregrounding of practicality and situational reality by Strategic Instructional Model and its component method, Strategic Tutoring, as part of their techniques for development of student independence acted as inspiration to Strategic Rapport; nevertheless, Strategic Rapport is not structured in the same way. It draws on a wider range of techniques, allowing a more analogue, more nuanced, more painterly personalization of pedagogy to student.
Examples of just such approaches and techniques that fit well with Strategic Rapport and which are already developed and ready to go include these. Cognitive Strategic Instruction (CSI), finds procedures whereby learners apply metacognitions in order to enhance processing of learning: one such CSI procedure — known as SSDM/SRSD, or, Self-regulation Strategy Development Model — uses reflective listening, skill modelling and deep processing in ways that are in fact similar to Strategic Rapport. An exciting area to watch is the inter-disciplinary specialism known as Prevention Science. Prevention Science brings together and promotes evidence-based interventions, from the less well known, examples of which include Motivational Interviewing (changing attitudes, comprehension and behaviours), to the extremely well-known but well-neglected, such as plain, rigorous, frequent exercise (supporting and even repairing cognitions).
OPERATION OF STRATEGIC RAPPORT
Strategic Rapport’s emphasis on discrete, acute, qualitative formative assessment enables the necessary proactivity and fluidity of adaptation in learning content and scaffolding.
Adaptations to learning frequently include tight and precisely customized spiral curricula of misconceptions, misperceptions and missing or faulty fundamental and prefundamental skills. The adapted curricular items are then folded into the originally planned learning, remedially or complimentarily, using procedures similar to those of Embedded Discrete Trial Teaching, Imitation Method teaching, Incidental Teaching, standard best practice teaching.
By these means, the method keeps the student at the forefront of what they can do, from which advantageous position that student can be genuinely responsible for inferring powerful revelations about topics that formerly seemed to them quite opaque. This requirement for avoidance of over-scaffolding at the same time as managing very precise positioning of student and clues, requires insightful observation, empathetic evaluation and constant analysis by the tutor. Together with the importance of optimizing prompts and priming for the student’s experience of emotion at moments of epiphany (and Growth Mêtis), this necessitates student and tutor to have achieved an exacting quality of connection and rapport. Put another way, the student’s zone of scaffolded development, despite being pushed far into what would otherwise be the territory beyond reach, is kept tight by constant expansion of the zone of what can be done securely and independently.
TONE OF STRATEGIC RAPPORT
Strategic Rapport of course requires structure to the connection between teacher and minor, as would be necessary of any teaching relationship, but it must also have some discernible collegiality, some warm-heartedness and clear sincerity to its persona (perhaps more so in a home setting — and a bit less ‘more so’ in a school setting). For one thing, this further helps the learner buy into and personally identify with the approach. Although intuitive by nature, Strategic Rapport’s rationally adaptive and objective-focused yet curiosity-driven character needs to be consciously and continually modeled for the student. It seeks to instill excellence and responsibility not just as practical methods but as philosophical aspiration — as part of the student’s growing self-identification: That requires modelling and selling much well-choreographed opportunity for success. Thus, Strategic Rapport to needs sail as close to being advisory, mentoring, celebratory and collegial in style as possible; however, factors such student age will mitigate against that ideal to a varying degree, while memorably structured interludes of instruction, clear and reassuring in character, also have their place, sometimes planned, sometimes responsive and tactical: students — particularly younger school students and their parents — will always expect the appropriate degree of traditional leadership from any educator.
INCIDENTAL TEACHING AND MÊTIS
Incidental teaching, though offering little to classroom teaching, can bring much to tutoring and to therapy, especially when incidental teaching reveals strategic opportunities — identification of obstructive bottlenecks in skills and in knowledge — comprising opportunities for scaling advantage within restricted time-frames. A systems engineer would call this clearing congestion. An Athenian strategist might call it mêtis (μῆτις). Without inclusion of some technique like this, an hour’s tutoring per week will but throw pebbles at the tide.
This mêtis approach is further invaluable for students working solo assimilating any large or complex task. The ancient concept in question refers to an astuteness to a tactical situation in which one spies some concrete opportunity that is remarkable not only for affording the dramatic up-scaling of outcome, but remarkable also for the opportunity having been found, inspiringly, where only adversity had been presenting itself. No student will identify, clarify and verify misconceptions, fashioning them into successful learning, without something like it.
This is clearly a powerful and, to some extent, necessary ingredient for resilience and independence too, which means we are describing a two part phenomenon. The first part relates to the fact of thorough and insightful situational assessment leading to creative problem solving and transformational advance — the part I am referring to as mêtis.
The phenomena's second aspect, foregrounds the inspirational value to the problem solver of their achievement, especially derived as it was from taking control of assessment in order to acquire the means of innovating their advance. This second aspect, therefore, is all about the compounding of the experience into self-perpetuating practical philosophy of success.
Accordingly, whereas mêtis itself can be wielded as a practical tool for thinking your way through resistance posed by complexity or opacity, and for accumulating experience of doing so, it has an, as yet, unnamed second aspect that comprises a practical philosophical approach of which mêtis is both component and cause. This practical philosophical approach focuses on the self-motivatingly inspirational component of the mêtis cycle. As a philosophical approach — a ‘mindset’, if we must! — we term this Growth Mêtis.
Does that make this Growth Mêtis a common sensical and everyday sort of growth mindset? It certainly should do; however, even used most informally, the term growth mindset has great difficulty shaking its uppercase Growth Mindset baggage — baggage with problematic premises of psychology and ideology. I allude and refer to this only barely in this piece, but I write about it a little, elsewhere.
As a methodological and philosophical approach for a student, I like to think of it as an alternative to mainstream Growth Mindset I call Growth Mêtis. Growth Mêtis places less focus on the self, and more focus on the adventure. As an approach, or philosophy, that views puzzles as adventures, but, more especially, as practical and realistic opportunities to ‘switch things up’ — opportunities hidden until viewed from some new vantage point, or revealing themselves only upon their parts having been assembled in a meaningful way, or, put another way, organizing and examining your material experimentally, allowing you to prospect for step-change opportunities for profit and speed, thereby achieving mastery of understanding, and of accelerated progress and of a virtuous circle of philosophy and practical habit, cycling through ambition, prospection, realization, inspiration and back to ambition.
This is one reason why it is powerful — sometimes necessary — to help the student discover (rather than ‘accept’) that they, in actuality, really can do that thing they thought was beyond them, and that some foregrounded part of that process did come from them. (part and parcel of Growth Mêtis).
Of course, the main and serious practical benefit of the approach I am describing is that it has a real chance of actually persuading them — by means of demonstration (an ‘impossible’ achievement here, and unimagined epiphany there) — of their real and solid growth potential. Upon this hard ground can the student’s new and solid pride now form foundations that can be trusted by the student.
To engineer this demonstration you, the one-to-one teacher, find something they truly thought they could not do. Of course, you avoid merely giving them the steps to do it. First, you must, yourself, spot that problem-causing bottleneck, that systems congestion, that informational choke-point, that brilliant opportunity for using mêtis to transform fortunes by means of the exercise of intuitive, innovative thinking. If the challenge is well pitched for the student, and the rapport unflawed in any serious way, then the puzzle presented by the opportunity-problem that the teacher has identified for the student should itself stimulate the application of energetic creativity. At this moment, the teacher’s objective is not to give the student the opportunity to fail; the objective at this point, is to enable the student to solve the problem and discover the value of their break-through. This is not the same as another idea, sometimes described by ‘gateway success’, of finding the just right success for the client, nor less the (excellent) idea of a lead domino, whereby picking the right task as your initial task, can really help, for example, inattentive students not just get started but to do so with flow. The identity of the success does not matter in Growth Mêtis, and really one needs to help the student achieve at least a few ‘impossible’ (from their initial perspective) problems to make a realistic difference to their outlook. It is also necessary that the student feels involved in their ‘discovery’ of the problem, and that they feel dominant in finding their solution to the problem, and that they spot for themselves at least some of what makes this problem an especially profitable one to solve. You’ve heard of putting a crack in someone confidence? Growth Mêtis puts cracks in their unconfidence, causing the student to doubt their inability!
If you have judged the state of their developing mental and emotional strengths correctly, they will make the desired break through or break-throughs themselves. Then they will know — no need for beliefs — they will actually know that they can do it. It is the growing body of evidence, together with their experience of deriving that evidence both experimentally and intuitively, that results in the desired paradigm shift. They really will have a victorious mindset. An engineering mindset. A mindset that the best way forward to is to plan, and analyze, and methodically understand, and to enjoy the process: the application of creativity and emotional intelligence will follow, and you’ll have yet another step-change in progress.
Keeping it real in the course of supporting the student also allows them to discover that originality and thinking for oneself doesn’t have to mean — and usually must not mean — thinking all by yourself, entirely a priori. It does not mean reinventing the wheel. Here’s a general example from one of my main specialisms, tutoring young people learning with ADHD, and with reference to a teaching opportunity I always really look forward to: teaching essay writing.
People with ADHD, unfortunately, love to reinvent the wheel, to incinerate their precious time in heroically intended defiance of any and all big picture realities (contributing, incidentally, to some of the many misunderstandings about procrastination and ADHD). Every day, dozens of highly motivated, hard working students with ADHD throw their heart and soul into an essay, filling it with wonderful things, and handing it in, full of self-belief and reasonable pride; yet — Having. Nowhere. Answered. The question. One thing that Growth Mêtis teaches the student is to assess every situation, not out of fear, but hungrily, for advantages and opportunities for creative alchemy, but also methodically to uncover all that is just plain necessary, before they wish upon that star. Then, with the confidence of having looked first, they really will leap. Growth Mêtis says, you know ‘you can do it’ because you have a cunning plan, and the reason you have a cunning plan is that proper planning, itself, IS the real, and substantive, ‘doing it’.
GROWTH MÊTIS — HYPOTHETICAL EXAMPLES IN APPLICATION
Upper Secondary Example
In practice, for an older student, Growth Mêtis may involve the tutor helping the student correctly to understand the idea of coherence in essay writing, then challenging that student to reverse engineer the complete essay plan that could have been used to create the ‘sample outstanding essay’ which they have been supplied with for the purpose. The hardest and most important part of specific relevance to this task would to be sure to organize that essay plan, at various scales, in a way that would result in the sample essay’s demonstration of outstanding coherence. That is a bigger ‘ask’ than may seem evident, so cleverly tactical scaffolding is almost certainly going to be required to ensure that the exercise is a rewarding experience. Assuming the tutor to have a correct and relevantly complex assessment of that tutee’s level, this exercise dramatically advances the student’s view of essay writing, not to mention of themselves.
Upper Primary Example
A practical example of Growth Mêtis for an upper primary level student may involve catechism-like Socratic dialogue guiding their attention as they work through creating (or correcting) their understanding (not just rehearsal) of adding and subtracting positive and negative numbers, including of the language used by maths teachers to express the arithmetic concepts, assuming this to be an area which the child feared they would never faultlessly understand.
Lower Primary Example
For an Early Years writing (scribing) pupil, upset that they cannot form their single-letter or numeral graphemes or the way that the teacher can, Growth Mêtis could mean this. The child is given a sheet of A4 which has been almost filled by the teacher with a rectangle in a colour. The child is asked to scribe, in different colours, two graphemes that they have been conflating and which do indeed have similarities. The child is asked to draft them as big as they can so that both letters are on top of each other (in their two different colours) and so that they will touch the rectangle in as many places as possible. Just the right amount of scaffolding and perhaps fresh attempts are required to ensure that the letters are written sufficiently close to successfully for the next part to be possible. The child is then asked to use words (to explain themselves, with support) and their fingers to explore and identify the differences between how the two letters sit contrastingly and similarly to each other. You also ask the child (they find this much harder) to notice some differences between the way the two graphemes interact with the rectangle which they are supposed to fill. This provides the pupil with numerous landmarks, some of which they will be able to build into their schema of visio-spatial knowledge, thereby enabling a step-change forward in their ability to draw the difficult grapheme, with inspirational result.
MIDAS has more application for guiding the one-to-one teacher than for being taught directly to a student, unless you have first customized its parts exactly for that one student’s needs, level and perceptions, in which case it can be really powerful, helping that student adjust their focus. Its parts are sequenced in an order that is often necessary for problem solving and learning, but the relationships and sequence of its parts, in particular, focus the tutor’s mind, not only with attention to the tutee’s learning, preparations, skill and knowledge, but very much with attention to the tutee’s mind, their experience of the learning and how they feel when they learn.
MIDAS stands for, MAP IT, INVERT IT, DIVINE IT, ASSESS IT, SENSE IT.
‘MAP IT.’ refers to successful methods for helping students not just understand but make use of the ideas of structure, coherence, time, of taking in what’s been said to them, of working out how to work out what they need to know, but not as bits and pieces. ‘Map it’ covers just about everything that the student needs to do and know, how do it and know under control. Being organized, knowing how to plan and what to track, is all about overview. ‘Map it’ means make sure you can see the wood for the trees, because you’re going to need to map that wood, in every imaginable way possible, or else you wont be able to do anything clever with the trees. It’s no good using someone else’s excellent maps. You must create, develop and maintain your own maps, as they aren’t for looking things up; they are for structuring and guiding your analysis and mastery of how everything that matters to fits together. Typical manifestations of such ‘maps’ include timetable development, detailed essay or story planning, visualization of instructions or arguments as mental flow charts of logic gates and chunks, or maps that contrast curricula and mark schemes against own knowledge and skills.
‘INVERT IT.’ Human intelligence makes huge use of analogy and metaphor, conversion of ideas into sensations or feelings, and generally attacking everything knotty and elusive with every mental and sensorial approach excepting only the unprofitably obvious, frontal assault. Whether confused about dividing by fractions, evaluating effectiveness, telling classical liberal politics from progressive liberal politics or distinguishing types of force from types of energy, there is usually a way of using vantage point or perspective, subjective consciousness or empathetic consciousness, contrasting opposite or absence, mental experiments running things backwards, et cetera, that will to enable the required epiphany. In particular, this let’s you get to the point of imagining experimentation. Obviously, classroom teaching and textbooks tend to explain things ‘the right way round’. If a student has not understood, as opposed to not having taken it in or forgotten it, then for the tutor also to give them the same knowledge, the same ‘right way round’, again, and again, while expecting a different result — well...!
‘DIVINE IT.’ Another star in the firmament of human intelligence comprises our ceaseless and massively complex cycle of prediction and error correction. The reality you are perceiving right now is a complex prediction, albeit one freshly updated with corrections from your senses the moment before it filled your consciousness. Anyway, young people who feel helpless often are overwhelmed with the thought of how ridiculous it seems that anyone would think that they could know what they are supposed to do at the moment of prompting. Helping them understand that as long as they have a good reason for predicting a solution, and as long as they keep that reason in mind as they discover the effect of employing their proposed solution, then the error, never was an error. It was experimental result. This really isn't the same thing as ‘embracing error’ and just going for it. ‘Embracing error’ is more like using moral relativism as an emotional anaesthetic. ‘Divine it’ is honest about preferring intended beneficial outcomes to unintended wasteful outcomes. Teaching otherwise is ignores how students feel and how logic works. It’s just that process isn’t outcome. Process is method, and experimentation is as creative, powerful and inspiring a method as the best of them. Self-belief actually without method, without prediction and without self-monitoring, isn’t ambition. It is arrogance.
‘ASSESS IT.’ Logically, this must follow prediction. A little examined study-skill problem, especially in lighter tasks and ones that are simply made up of many small parts. Is the tendency for students who need help to spring quickly on from each step, often to avoid pain (more on that, below). On the other hand, if we’re talking about large items of work designed to be coherent wholes, like essays, a more common problem is that young people don’t feel supported with regard to feedback, and, in truth, it often is better to invest in new and better planning than in really complex, easily misunderstood post mortem assessments, especially if the student has access to a tutor; so, in fact, young people are usually really good at investing sheer time and excessive angst in assessing their work. So, once again, this category is more to encourage depth of contemplation than to suggest that no one’s thought of ti before. Basically, classroom teaching, from the student’s point of view, is rightly most focused receiving and practicing learning. Young people’s thoughts and actions need to be fairly kinetic simply directed and contained in class. You encourage them to reflect, sure, but for many students there isn’t a realistic way of really unpacking meta-reflexivity and evaluation in a systematic and customized manner. Raising the student to their A-game in assessment is something the one-to-one tutor should look to.
‘SENSE IT.’ This does not refer to empathetic comprehension and evaluation such as you would use to study literature, language use or history (that would be addressed under, “Invert it.” above). “Sense it.” refers to the final step in the sequence for the student now ready to encode what they have learnt into the ever changing physical fabric of their brain in a manner that will be well networked with other learning so that they have a fighting chance of recalling and applying it at just the right moment of need. Unless you had some sliver of noted feeling (the rawest spark and ingredient to all value judgement) associated with information whenever it was that you held that information in working memory, your brain simply won’t waste resources recording that fragment of consciousness into longer-term memory, not even badly. In other words, it’s not a question of the student being happy or not being happy, or being calm or being bored or being excited. It is a question of whether they have ‘thought about’, at least a tiny bit, each facet of what they need to be able to recall, doing so with some sense of judgement or curiosity or something, or even some negative response, as long as that attitudinal feeling was both specific to the aspects of the thing to be memorized and consequent to the original perception — so, a feeling that allows you to notice the existence of the item in in the first place, doesn't count.. Hence, it is hard to remember something that was boring; hard, but, obviously, not impossible: I’m not suggesting that everything needs to be fun all the time. I’m suggesting that, for most people, it often IS enough ‘just thinking’ about the thing you need later to recall, as long as there is some emotional purpose to the thinking (not just acknowledgement of perception). That means there are two points here.
First: some people have great difficulty preventing their mind from jumping around, quite involuntarily. They might, with intense effort, nevertheless, be able to hold all the parts, one by one, in mind, maybe even write them all down to aid memorization, all requiring, in their case, exhausting self-control. They will be most disillusioned when the process fails to put the information into memory. If you can find a way to get them to feel through, or judge through, each item, that should help. Sometimes just imagining important features being naturally adorned or clothed in moral cadence, or colour or texture or shape, almost decoratively, can help concretize a thing in mind long enough to examine and respond to it.
The second point relates to people who, perhaps do not experience their mind as jumping around, but experience the particular information as innately pointless, in and of itself. I don’t mean boring. I mean that it seems like absolutely raw data to them. Like you’ve given them a pages of 4 digit numbers to memorize. In such a case, try to refer back to “Map it.” AND try to give the information emotional or sensate or judgment-related definition.
Should We Be Reframing Error or Method?
It is not true that students are easily persuaded to perceive, let alone treat, obstacles as opportunities. It would be natural to presume that over a certain age, the imperative and the logic of doing so would bring that behaviour forth, but levels of curricular difficulty always run ahead, out beyond the student’s progress.
So, if one has the opportunity, for example, as a student’s tutor, really to work with that student, repeatedly indicating enthusiasm and the positive valence of each opportunity for post mortem examination — not denying the negative valence of error, but celebrating the positive valence and cleverness (and plain necessity) of taking the puzzle itself as opportunity — then it is of high importance that one does so; however, that would be no more than the beginning of what will be necessary to sell a desire to stop and work out, not just the things that go wrong, but why, whenever they possibly can.
Declaring triumph along the lines that the student will now grow in the sunshine of his or her beautiful mistakes, is likely only to negate a student’s willingness to take advice. Even if the student is old enough to develop interest in the conveniently contradictory ethical paradoxes of anarcho-relativism, telling a student — a student that actually would quite like the help — to embrace their errors is going to smack of fobbing them off and disrespecting their intelligence. It really is more complicated than that. I would argue that paradigm shifting from well-intentioned unproductive attitudes to well-intentioned pro-productive attitudes, not to mention those subject-focused epiphanies that really move the dial, in practice, more often derive from ethics that are method-embracing than liberation-embracing.
It is the nature of any repeated or mysterious sort of mis-step, or missing step, that the doer cannot have been consciously aware of some level of reasoning below the final point of decision (or, in the case of attentional errors, some level of awareness) of the action or inaction that was wrong or incomplete. One must, therefore, take the student backwards in time and show them that every time they risk exercise of their learning in a manner that could go unexpectedly, then, before they take that next step, before they do that, that is the moment when they must clearly state, most explicitly, for their own mind, their reason for doing what comes next. They must hold on to that information! They will understand, in that moment, that their next act — that of providing, or acting on, their proposed solution — will be a true experiment, aware, as they will now be, of precisely what they are testing, namely, the validity of their pre-articulated reason! As long as they do that, when it does go unexpectedly, there will, for one thing, be at least some chance that, actually in the real world, they will go back and try to understand what happened. For another thing, their mind will not, under this circumstance, have forgotten its paper trail, without which there will be no point trying. Best of all, however, the student is simply so much less likely, this way, to err, in the first place.
This kind of everyday, any-moment mental experimentation contributes to durable learning, a practical can-do mindset that keeps rewarding itself in a cycle of student achievement: achievements that grow, and become more personal to the student, as they progress toward understanding that success must be more than just deserved, willed, and efforted toward. Successes must be researched, planned, adjusted and methodically assembled.
But despite all this empowerment and benefit, until the student has really got used to applying this, the sheer distress associated with unexpected errors, seemingly lying in wait for the student who keeps making them, terrorizing the student, wearing them down, their apparently inexplicable nature even contributing a disturbingly surreal quality to their daily experience, will be mis-training their young minds, quite unknowingly, quite maladaptively, and simply reflexively, to avoid the pain and disappointment, the shame and the fear — so wounding is any concerted incursion into the thicket of confusions and conflations of rote learning, of simplified phrases of guidance. Feeling snubbed from the few times they’ve requested personal help from a class teacher (who will know these things take time to unravel and so will have been unable to help in this way) will not have made things better. So, where am I going with this?
One of the most important things to get right, as a mentor trying to train the student to want to find out what went wrong, and to do so by habit, is that no matter how buoyant or distracted a student seems, truly not caring is in fact quite rare, (though it is true that some attentionally challenged students can get switched, suddenly and protectively, by emotional or exhausted stress, into a dreamlike state of the ‘default mode network). They may be prone to clownish behaviour when asked to do something hard: that could mean that they do not care, but it is more likely they are just very highly distractible, impulsive and labile of emotion and judgement. In particular, though, if the student is attending to, for example, a series of questions that they find hard, appearing to labour over the question, before an incongruously accelerated execution and exit from the moment of answering, while seeming to impose a fractional burst of excitement upon themselves, akin to that displayed when getting ‘tagged’ by a friend playing British Bulldogs, you should consider whether the student has maladapted to behaviours that minimize experiential awareness of the results of their labours in order to protect themselves.
As a one-to-one teacher, when in doubt as to whether this is what is happening, assume every door you open is going to be painful for the student in ways you perhaps never experienced at school, or never experienced in association with that sort of thing. Such students literally hate and deeply fear the wraith-like errors that will not leave them alone. Telling them to befriend these errors, or literally somehow to excise pertaining emotions from themself, will just feel like expanding the surreal madness of their nightmare. Be fathomlessly compassionate of your tutee — not their mistakes! Whose side are you on? The side of the hated, hateful mistakes, that fix to the student like malevolent mosquitoes, or the side of the student their unwitting, unwilling author? In cases of suspected neurodevelopmental disorder or just when you think you have spotted this maladapted response, I recommend you actually commiserate, really specifically, with such a student when he mistakes. They need to deep process mistakes. More mistakes, more data. Why not make clear that you feel sorry for her (don't sound insincere!) that this just happened, 'again' — immediately before enthusing to them about how their wisely identified experiment (see above discussion of the need to state one’s reason for every uncertain next step so that every uncertain next step is always a deliberate experiment) has yielded an equally brilliant success of a usefully 'negative result', so, the last laugh is indeed on the mistake and not on the student. Not that what follows looks after itself, though. You still have to help them capitalize on this.
Those students who have become unknowingly trained by circumstance to avoid being lunged at by every malign facet and nuance which they have the misfortune to contemplate, have, quite unknowingly, trained themselves, quite thoroughly, specifically to not learn from such errors at all! Clearly, this fact alone is compelling enough of a reason for the value I have placed on re-training the student to reframe and resolve "I'm not allowed to believe in problems" mindset into a Problem Solving Mindset, with positivity for themselves and their method and open defiance for those pestilential errors. On a more sophistic note, the mistaken approach of teaching error-prone students to view the error as being a part of their own self (and therefore above criticism) has wider implications, potentially in relation to adding fuel to internalizing tendencies, but more in that it seems to condemn discernment of moral error too, which, though very convenient for those who do wish other people’s children to be malleable to their own ideological image, is clearly most contrary to the intentions of the vast majority of parents and teachers.
Learning, Discrimination of Emotion and Pedagogy
They do this to protect themselves from pain and harm, which is understandable; however, with no emotions, positive or negative in valence, to mark significant moments, and significant thoughts about those moments, the human brain will neither act to weaken the memory of the invalid or ineffective learning, nor to deepen the memory of more validated learning. Most of us need very little experience of emotional judgement to trigger that; nevertheless, a young person finding it hard to dwell long and emotionally enough upon errors will be quite unable usefully to learn from them. They are not trying avoid learning from them, they just literally lack process, and therefore ability, with regard to learning from them — not that there is any psychological need in the process for self-reproach, nor, theoretically, the experience of any negative judgement and emotion: it will work perfectly well just mustering pleasure and satisfaction that you spotted and swatted a ‘false result’, or, even better, being so clever as to work out the nature of the ‘false result’, just so long as the student does focus sufficiently upon that error fully to understand its cause, and to feel some valence element of critique or judgement about it.
The cycle of:
emotion-> assess-> emotion-> re-attempt-> emotion-> embed-the-learning
is of course intended, as it were, by nature to be automatic, but even students without the anxious maladaptive behaviour above described can benefit from being taught this technique, for example, preventatively, or in cases of students pursuing a level of curriculum that is advanced for their age and maturity. More generally, the technique is all about students noticing how thinking empirically — like a scientist — truly works for them, not in theory, but in experience of their reality. It teaches them that ‘being organized’ doesn’t mean ‘trying harder’. It means finding ways of verifying everything for oneself, just like learning to notice the pause for identification of one’s rationale, also the pause for identification of one’s emotional reaction, and the pause for verification of what went wrong or disappointingly or unintentionally, plus the pause for mapping it all together, verifying everything’s place, mentally and literally, in time and, figuratively and literally, space. Without that, there is no essay success, no revision success, no group-skill success and no-exam strategy success; some very highly talented students, of course, do these things intuitively while focusing on, as they see it, the content, but even they, absolutely do, do this.
Well-Masked Fear And Pain
and Maladapted Suppression of Emotional Discrimination
I realize this would all be ludicrous in a classroom setting. And yes, I also know, much too well, that all this kindness and compassion is going to trigger a least a few mickey-taking liberties from, par exemple, boys of a certain age: if such diabolical things eventuate, its not like there’s anything wrong with teacher expression of disappointment, but honestly, that kind of thing’s just never an issue in a one-to-one setting. On the contrary, in a one-to-one setting, with successful Strategic Rapport in place, such incidents provide Incidental Teaching with the most superbly effective emotional and ethical learning opportunities.
The harder argument to shake is simply that the power of Occam’s Razor clearly favours the Growth Mindset solution of simply editing out —deleting, as it were— the judgementalism from the words ‘error’ and ‘mistake’. Like Plato’s rhetorical polemic, The Republic, which calls for the deletion of weak morals from the elite, by deletion of its image in the liberal arts, Big GM, calls for deletion of weak oompf by deleting its representation in language, and, behold, the graduates of tomorrow shall be Jenseits von Gut und Böse. Leaving aside the Stalin and Mao vibe to cleansing and redefining vocabulary, and leaving aside, also, my earlier observations that gaslighting reality just isn’t going to cut it with the young person asking for practical help, and we are left with the much less flippant and more important truth that no maladaptive bevaviour or phobia was ever de-sensitized away by evading the problem.
We are talking about exaggerated yet masked, maladapted pain, or painful fear, that many error-prone children (or error-prone anyone, actually) have developed. And, yes, I am also maintaining that this is more common than many will assume. Excessive, maladapting fear and pain cannot be ignored into non-existence. Naturally if you can help frequency of mistake heavily to reduce, that should be your priority. But if we are talking about an excessive fear of mistake making — something like a true phobia — you can and ought to help the affected child to loose their hypersensitization to this. Without addressing this sensitization to the shame and hostility of error, the student will not be able adequately to experience, compare and learn from the moments before, during and after experiment and revelation.
Clearly, the tutor needs to discern and verify not only sign of excessively painful response to mistake-making but also the sign of any causally distinct dysphoria that could be masking the student’s maladaptive mistake-response from the awareness of the student themself. Having verified and worked this out, the tutor now helps the tutee, in sympathetic manner, to discriminate their experience of the threatening spectre of mistake-making from competing sensations, while giving them something palpably real and positively valenced (the power of the pre-declared experiment, I have proffered) to outshine the dark-light of the mistake, and, voilà, every time you role through this declension, they will de-sensitize that little bit more to whatever maladaptively excessive pain responses are interfering with their learning and their choices. And what of the absurd display of the grown-up making such an embarrassing big deal of the painfulness of little mistakes? For one thing, as I say, you should first find a way to verify your suspicion of some masked, significant emotional obstruction to learning, after which, given that we are talking about one-to-one and not classroom teaching, a teacher’s sacrifice of a little personal dignity in fact can go a long way toward reassuring an anxious student.
Let us say that tutoring and academic coaching may deliver on four composite areas:
Their parts would originate in an awkwardly fragmented way out of such evidently unlike disciplines as:
This diversity of origin and modality surely contributes to their rarity of occurrence as truly integrated input in teaching, mentoring or curricula of study-skill and content, just as it contributes to their rarity of collective integration into students’ own personal schemas of strategy and behaviour.
It is hard enough for any teacher / mentor automating fluency both of input and output of such variety — it will be far harder for the student, even though faced only with a ready-tailored selection. Conversion of words into concepts is not enough; for fluent benefit, they must further convert into percept, and be practiced that way, before final conversion, or integration, into unified, coherent, automatic practice.
Hence, final impediment to the power of these teaching approaches lies not in the complexity involved in processing mere words through fluent stages and into practical lesson moments. It lies instead in the conceptual abstraction that will be required of the student to convert and synthesize a complex reversal of something like the same declension, starting with perceptual reception and finishing with a personal approach automatic and coherent enough for the whole thing to escape being just another set of burdens for them.
So the final impediment lies in their epistemological heterogeneity, and not the processual complexity per se. They’re so different it’s going to sound just silly to the student that they even could somehow be assembled together, even. In order for a student to acquire comprehension of skills of different kinds, drawn from different disciplines, that comprehension will require analysis and analysis requires breaking them up into pieces, whereas, student assimilation and utilization of the same requires putting them back together again real life usefulness in real life composite tasks. You could, according to the fashion of the day, vaguely allude to the mysteries of the required skills, then stand back and watch as the top half-percenters (and only them) work it out from such hints, but, for students learning one-to-one, you actually could show them, or, better, craft for them their own personal discovery-opportunity! The main point here is the unlikelihood of achieving this through teacher words. It will depend instead on practical opportunities being created for the student wherein he will synthesize his ‘skill discoveries’ out of the parts he finds therein and into a unified experience (perceptual) of the desired balance of skills.
So, definitely not a useful practical model for any classroom teaching: but truly what one should be reaching for in one-to-one teaching.
This is particularly true of any tutoring context which arises from the student themself having truly sought out the tutoring or having embraced said tutoring’s potential. For example, a student with ADHD, bedevilled as they generally are by glitch prone access to their poorly networked store of learning, are not going greatly to benefit from the above-stated techniques until they’ve actually practiced using them in conjunction with engagement with two or more typical or useful tasks, concerns or distractions, and that will only happen with carefully mentalized, multi-stage, massed instruction and mixed practice that takes that student, not all the way to mastery, but certainly as far as acquiring a secure experience of how the parts fit together.
Typically, this is the opposite of the kind of modification or adaption that would be fitted to such a student in a typical classroom setting. And yet, my argument is precisely that it is the whole point that precisely high level skill it so hard for them. Virtually all conventional teaching wisdom says you should progressively reduce either conceptual difficulty or complexity of component parts (latter, for example, to reduce time consumption in cases of slow processing, for example). Remember, I’m talking of a student who really wants tuition, who is upset by their current attainment (and not merely inconvenienced by it) and must therefore be intelligent enough to be capable of conceptualizing skills that are more abstract or complex than the ones they have mastered (or else they would sense no frustration). Such people, their agile minds shackled by the chains of their poor executive function, suffer a partly but literally isolated experience of reality around them. It is as though a special air gap around them deafens them to a random selection of those hard specifics of reality, while distorting the accuracy of their second-to-second synchronization with the timings specific to that reality. Their consciousness reaches out to seize the facts, so that they can manipulate them in the laboratory of their mind, only to find that the more time-critical, or coldly specific, a detail is found to be, the more effortlessly it escapes from their grasp, like a slippery sliver from a disintegrating bar of soap. The experience is one of isolation from the world — and isolation, made more poignant by the weird sensation that, not only the substance of reality, but even that of you own deliberate cogitations seem to want to get away from you, in response to your wish to be with them. It isn’t just inconvenient. It can be exhausting, insulting, disturbing and scary.
My point here is that, with this particular kind of student, the fact they will get easily lost in the face of complexity makes them seem to be the last student whom you should be ‘troubling’ with such elaborate and ambitious method, and yet, it is precisely this sort of student who — finding the processing of rich chunks of data easier than manipulation of numerous but meaningless raw data — may derive the most benefit from the heightening of their meta-skills and their skills of analysis.
Piecing together my recommendations, I have called for ‘practical opportunities being created for the student wherein he will synthesize his “skill discoveries” ’, this to be done ‘in conjunction with engagement with two or more typical or useful tasks, concerns or distractions,’ and all ‘with carefully mentalised, multi-stage, massed instruction and mixed practice’. Fortunately, there is a very well established teaching and learning approach out there that is seasoned and ready to go for any tutor wanting a unifying mechanism or armature for assembly of such complexity into coherence. Not that the mechanism in question, namely, Enquiry-Based Learning, was ever specifically created as an engine of coherence, but it really does very nicely, albeit with some complications in mind.
The Problem with Bruner’s Spiral Curriculum
For myself, I certainly believe in Enquiry-Based Learning, even as I do reject that no legitimate alternative exists. I do also reject the way it is sometimes used, as fig leaf, to conceal that it is widely known that most children are going to flounder in frustration in UK comprehensive environments — an environment that defines mastery and independence in ridiculously mature terms relative to biological norms of maturation for a given age: after all, as a process largely confined to the black box of any one child’s conjectured Enquiry-Based Learning approach, will overwhelm many students, even as the progress of others defy testing or contesting.
Put another way, Enquiry-Based Learning isn’t intended for use with spiral curriculum.
Enquiry-Based Learning is often compounded with Jerome Bruner's politicization of the kind of common sense spiral curriculum that has been making multi-stage liberalia studia possible since the ancient world. Bruner tried to argue, with no evidence but the millennia of evidence to the contrary, that a genuine understanding of any concept, in the basics of what makes that concept distinct and significant (‘intellectually honest form’), can be taught to any child at any age. Clearly, that child should then able, with help, to express enough of what they grasped, with support, so that the adult can securely infer proof of understanding. Any child. Any age. We are told we just need to translate the concept into ideas that the child CAN work with, or so Bruner's version of spiral curriculum claims. I guess the inability of teachers, everywhere, to verify a child's acquisition of intellectually honest general relativity or intellectually honest Schopenhauer’s pessimism and art theory must show they are simply not up to the task of decoding that child's own special thinking language?
Unless Bruner forgot to tell just such a special thinking language (there is certainly no alternative form of thinking that children use but replace with adult forms of thought) then Bruner must be rejecting that human biology successively develops brain systems or processes in something like a succession over time, instead implicitly maintaining that brains, at all stages after infancy, simpler get bigger the whole time. In other words Bruner’s great idea of 1960 comprises rejection of at least 200 years of biology research, requiring, as it does, an 'homunculus fallacy' or something like it. I suppose, he is basically pinching a form of renaissance era alchemist-mysticism, albeit modernized at least to Nicolaas Hartsoeker's Preformationism of 1695.
Given how stylistically Stalinist it was of Bruner (making up sweeping pseudo-scientific premises and claims, promising easy, limitless potential for all, dependent of mass re-educate the teachers), and given, also, his self-description as left wing (to the extent that Bruner felt that had his father lived long enough that they might have fallen out), it is eye-opening indeed to learn that since several years before his 1960 book ‘The Process of Education’, Bruner had in fact been part of Cold-War Psy-Ops initiative of the CIA for the purpose of devising effective propaganda against Soviet backed communist thinking. In light of that, one becomes curious about Bruner's position. Might he have been setting up essentially an intellectual honey-pot capable of attracting and refocusing both potential Marxian fellow travellers and American Dream enthusiasts? I suspect Bruner was, spiritually, sincerely at home with what he argued, but he must have known he was promulgating not pedogogy but mystagogy.
One actual consequence of following Bruner's interpretation of everyday spiral curriculum is that even the fraction of the fraction of those who go on (for example) to write outstanding sixth form essays — even they — rarely have any accurate understanding of what it is about their essay writing that is so outstanding. The UK custom of being made to teach yourself true essay writing out of a sort of mystery cult ordeal wherein the initiate must learn humility or submission or something, anything, except essay writing — in emulation of the unfortunate Sisyphus one must suppose! Discovering by trial (not even trial and error) which students naturally can write essays and which can't, is a denigrating ritual that is responsible for some of the most persistent, most demoralizing, and most profound academic self-doubt and disillusionment many students ever experience . It is also plays no small part in the monumental collapse and implosion of intellectual integrity of purpose and literary standards in the UK and other English speaking countries.
INDEPENDENCE OR INDIVIDUALISM? A SAFEGUARDING CAVEAT?
Enquiry-Based Learning emphasizes more than independence. It emphasizes autonomy. Autonomy is powerful card to have in your hand. It’s got fans, too: those with an existentialist, or social libertarian or nihilistic or anarchic or relativistic philosophy (ie most of the dominant ideologies of the current Anglosphere) regard an approach to thinking and striving that requires and prioritizes autonomy is, anyway, required. Teaching autonomy, not as technique or capacity, but as belief — that’s parental domain, so it should be an issue, but it’s not our issue here. I just wanted to disambiguate.
What is relevant here? It’s worthwhile for coach or one-to-one teacher to bear in mind that many people with social or attentional challenges have already steered their life out to the margins society, where they feel not just lonely but failed, aberrant and desperate. There’s no surprise in the common statistic that, for example, untreated ADHD increases risk of suicide attempt around four or five-fold (though, happily, with treatment, the risk drops to less than for neurodevelopmentally healthy background population). Just to keep going, from one daily disaster-risk to the next, ADHD sufferers depend on all kinds of idiosyncratic work-arounds, some of them deeply engrained, others snatched from the ether in the panic of the moment. This sounds all very clever, and can lead to some genuinely brilliant ideas, but it is more common for these idiosyncratic measures to comprise further retreats into self-isolation. What’s more, this tendency can spiral, doing so far more easily than you may imagine, sometimes fuelled by the belief that their isolation is tactical and brief, sometimes encouraged and pressured by misrepresentation of a vested interest as ‘your new family’ or ‘the community’, but mostly just without awareness of their slippery slope into severed relationships, lost opportunity and isolation from love and support.
So, coaches and teachers, please drink from the cup of individualism in moderation, especially so when advising people who can in any way be classed as statistically or ostensibly at increased risk of internalized illness, suicidality or reclusion, especially when that person already seems dependent upon idiosyncrasy for practical purposes.
This draws our attention back to where we began: with strategic rapport. Strategic rapport prioritizes building independence, sure, but it does so from a place that never stops the modelling of sincere collegial cooperative progress. Interestingly, its genuinely cooperative aspect itself enhances and is enhanced by the directionality of the relationship. The mentor/teacher serves the student. The mentor/teacher also leads the student. Truly flat, peer-to-peer type cooperatives place their participants perpetually alone in their crowd, lacking the structural dynamic, the gradient, and the push pull factors of more committed, less sink or swim, teaching philosophies.