Antidote #1: Keep it Simple...
Updated: May 6, 2019
Since identifying the curse affecting my teaching style, I have been on a journey to find the antidote. One technique I tried, included using a nice easy review game called Jeopardy. I really wanted good participation so the prize to the winning team was 5 bonus points. (If you are an experienced teacher….or maybe just not as naïve as me….you are already thinking you know how this story plays out.). I randomly assigned teams and opened my premade Jeopardy game. I thought, this is going to be fun. A lighter class period just reviewing previously discussed material. The students are going to LOVE this.
Once I informed the class of the bonus points the fangs of death came out. I failed to have buzzers available and instead asked one student from each team to raise their hand. Well, that was mistake number 2. Hands would go up and the crowd would boo with disgust when I chose who I thought went up first. They heckled me for the questions as they felt that some of the higher point questions were actually easier than the lower point questions, they didn’t think it was fair for teams to lose points if they got the question wrong, and they argued with me when I had to make a ruling if an answer was close enough to the correct answer.
This was the longest 60 minutes of my life! (Well, probably not the longest, but I think you can see why I am being dramatic here).
When it was all said and done, everyone got 5 bonus points on the following exam and I vowed to never play Jeopardy again.
What did I learn from this experience?
1. Buy a pack of peanut M&M’s for everyone on the winning team as the prize.
2. Complex tasks/ideas seem like a good idea at first, but they never are.
Complex teaching fuels the curse of knowledge, simplicity snuffs it out. Find your message and explain it as simply as you can.
One of the major reasons the curse of knowledge creates a barrier to learning is because much of what we teach is abstract and complex to the learner. As the instructor, the information is not new, it’s not difficult to us (most of the time) and we’ve probably experience it in real life. We have had the opportunity to make the concept concrete with experience. In contrast, our students are hearing this content for the very first time. They do not have a schema in their brain to relate to this new information, so it becomes this unreachable, un-understandable content that just has to be memorized instead of learned. We can combat this by explaining content simply.
But wait, in physical therapy (and most every other profession) there is a LOT of complex content. That’s okay because a tactic that excellent instructors use to make content simpler is analogies. Analogies are a way you can anchor a complex/foreign idea to a well-known concept that the majority of students will understand. They substitute something easy to think about for something difficult. For example, when I teach mobilizations to our first year DPT students I use the analogy of “bending the knees of a fly.” The terms mobilization and grading of pressure mean absolutely nothing to a first year DPT student, but they all have seen a fly before. Some may say bending the knees of a fly is abstract too…how many people have caught a fly and measured how much pressure it takes to bend their knees? My argument is that it is actually a perfect analogy because students know how small a fly’s legs are. They have a schema in their head about how fragile the legs of a fly are. It also helps that I include a really clear detailed picture of a fly on the presentation slide while I’m explaining the analogy. They can imagine how it probably takes little to no effort to bend the fly’s knees based on a previous learned schema. Once I ask them to practice that pressure on a real person, they can translate that concrete analogy to this new, complex task.
Action Step: Start each day/class with one main theme in mind and explain it as simply as you can.
Next post I will be focusing on Antidote #2: Storytelling. See you next time!