Chapter 1. Soft Teaching
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Several years ago, my four year old daughter, having learned all the letters of the alphabet, got stuck when trying to develop the skill of combining these letters into syllables and words. She already knew the letters "m" and "a" very well and would happily pronounce them individully. However there was no way she could put them together, to make the word "mama!"
I battled with her. It felt like I was up against a brick wall. Battle, I would like you to notice is the key word here, it defines uncaring, harsh, unnatural teaching. My daughter was continually 'disappointing' me. Deep inside I could not come to terms with this. I was frustrated. Why couldn't she understand such simple things? So I started thinking about her genes. I agonised, trying to understand, who in our family was that slow. I had already quarrelled with the grandparents and my bitterness about the twists of fate went so deep, that I felt that I was a terribly unhappy person next to this, 'dummy,' I had brought into this world.
In front of me sat a little girl, my very own daughter, who could not understand how to combine two letters to make on syllable. I also saw a monster, who was doing it on purpose so as to sap all my energy and to get to me.
If the truth be told, the monster in this situation was me. When battling with someone you are imposing your opinion about them, on them.
To determine whether you are battling with someone or not, is quite simple. It is a particular physical state and the muscles responsible for it are those around the neck and shoulders where your shirt collar goes. That is where you feel the tension. If you realise this at the right time, you can learn to snap out of it.
This is the position of bird of prey. You don't sit, but you 'hover' over the student or child. You don't take your eyes off him, you are waiting for his reaction. You behave as if the child owes you something and you attempt to regulate his every move. You think you are in control of the situation, but you are in actual fact, invading his personal space. The shadow of your 'wings' deprives him of the sun and the opportunity to grow by himself and get stronger.
You ask questions, but you don't get any answers to them. You endeavour to implant the answers, by the power of thought(make no mistake, tensing your muscles has nothing to do with the transferring of ideas from a distance!) You can stare at the person, raise or lower your voice, use short phrases or extended sentences. All this will bring no results. And the harder you battle, the more effort you put forth, the quicker you lose your strength and become exhausted. And all along you are thinking that you are putting your energy into the other person and he is absorbing your strength. That's just an illusion!
You pour out your heart, like a soldier pours our his blood in a battle. You are fighting against windmills. This is a futile struggle.
This is one of the examples of non-soft teaching. It is harsh. It is in vain. It cripples children.
Soft teaching excludes any encroachment into the student's space. Only when the student himself, invites you into his own personal space, is he ready to ask questions and listen to the answers and then it is time to share your knowledge with him.
You sit near the child, lean back on the chair nonchalantly and observe, how he is teaching himself. You watch this calmly. So you don't push the child, he is pushing you. It is he, who is, every now and then disturbing your daydream, and from time to time asking you questions. That is the time to answer them. What is more you could start your answer with the phrase: Oops, why didn't I think of that. Good idea!
On this video a 5 year old student figures out, how to use all of her fingers instead of her pointer by self-practicing.
BUT HOW CAN THIS BE ACHIEVED?– you may well ask.......
The first thing you have to learn–is to observe and listen. The second, is to be able to ascertain and build on what the child already knows, is able to do and is already doing. That's the way to go. Not only what they know, but also what they are able to do and enjoy doing well.
So, after observing my daughter for a while, it was easy for me to understand, what her strong points were and what she loves about reading more than anything else. She knew all the letters and could tell me what they were, without making any mistakes. She loved doing that. Did she simply adore it when I read her a story? Yes, she loved listening to stories. So, the only thing she didn't like and couldn't do was listening and watching at the same time. What I'm saying is, she couldn't understand the mechanical process, when letters become syllables, words, sentences and stories.
Can you explain the mechanics of reading words?
It's a waste of time.
I suggested to my daughter, that we read a book–together. We sat next to each other, I started to read slowly and with intonation, her favourite story, putting my finger under each letter as I read, and I asked her to follow along. She began to see how the process of creating syllables, words and sentences worked. The only thing I asked her to do was to watch how I combined the letters into syllables and words. It wasn't difficult for me: I read her books often. She enjoyed it, as she was listening to her favorite story.
It was after only a couple of nights of reading this way, when my daughter said to me: Lets read it together? Remember what you should say at this point? Oops, why didn't I think of that. Good idea! And that was what exactly I said to her.
It was then that my daughter started controlling the process herself: 'I know that word and will read it myself!' Oops, why didn't I think of that. Good idea!
Things started to happen. It was an irreversible development. My daughter came to love reading and that is what we need to happen.
During our lives, we are often required to become teachers, formally and informally. When explaining something new to someone, it is good to remember about soft teaching.
In gymnastics this approach is straightforward. If it is difficult for you to impart your knowledge to someone else and you are feeling tension in the area of your eagle's 'wings:'
Take a deep breath!
Relax the muscles in your neck and change your mindset from one of a predator to that of a detached bystander.
Be sure to have something to lean back on.
After chilling out, remember to look at the situation as an observer.
You must do every step in that order. If you don't do the first three, you can't do the last one!
After that you need to keep quiet and wait, until the person you are teaching, starts asking you questions. If, when replying, you start off by saying: Oops, why didn't I think of that, that means, that you are gently guiding the person to where he needs to go, instead of what you need. If this is the case, your teaching will be truly soft and enjoyable.