by Vince Brandon
“Those who dare to teach must never cease to learn.”
John Cotton Dana (1856 – 1929)
There’s another lockdown here and more time on my hands. I’ve tied almost every fly that I am capable of, built a wooden fishing rod which has been fun and partially dislocated my shoulder which wasn’t fun, so I decided to write a bit more.
I finished the first leg of my odyssey slightly dissatisfied. There were some thoughts that had yet to come to fruition, and others that didn’t fit within the scope of the narrative. I also wanted to put some ideas out there just to see the response and whether there was any mileage in continuing to share my thoughts. There are many other instructors out there, mostly with more teaching experience than me, who provided feedback that caused me to change my mind or endorsed that I was on the right track. All of the feedback was constructive and gratefully received.
I’ve still some straggly ends that I want to think about and if all goes to plan, more casting instruction to give in the new season which will be another school day for me.
Poets and Engineers
Having developed an interest in improving my casting, I looked at various forums and being an engineer by profession, I was naturally drawn to mechanics discussions. On the fringes of these discussions, there were groups who debated the role of poets and engineers in the casting world. As an example of the debate I have provided an extract from the outstanding One More Last Cast blog by Aitor Coteron. (https://onemorelastcast.net )
“The late Mel Krieger classified casters into two broad groups: engineers and poets. The first group is formed by those who need to know how things work in order to learn them; the other one relies more on feeling and doing those things than in any analytical approach.”
He also observed that “Mel didn’t make any qualitative distinction between the two groups; although he himself was a poet instructor, he never dismissed those more inclined to the engineering way of seeing things. In fact he saw both views as equally valuable and complementary.”
The poets/engineers debate always struck me as odd because none of the instructors that I have met would have identified themselves as being exclusively in either tribe. They all taught in the grey areas. Similar tribal distinctions have also been the subject of longstanding debate in the academic world between the arts and sciences. On Quora, Dave Featherstone, a Professor of Biology and Neuroscience penned the following piece that explored the common themes rather than the differences (my emphasis):
“Both science and art are human attempts to understand and describe the world around us. The subjects and methods have different traditions, and the intended audiences are different, but I think the motivations and goals are fundamentally the same. I think one of the most primitive innate needs of humans is to understand the world around us, and then share that understanding………..We share because we are social creatures. The success and failure of others is meaningful. We are bound up in this world together. All in the same boat, so to speak. Thus, when we have information, we like to share it. Even if it’s trivial………Both artists and scientists strive to see the world in new ways, and to communicate that vision. When they are successful, the rest of us suddenly ‘see’ the world differently. Our ‘truth’ is fundamentally changed.” https://www.quora.com/Has-an-art-ever-become-a-science?share=1
It seems to me that somewhere along the way Mel’s original message has become lost in a sea of noise because it has been taken too literally. These abstract constructs are designed as a vehicle to transmit information from one person to another; in our case, from the instructor to the student. Communication is a two way process and it is our responsibility to bridge the gap and create a common vision of the fly casting world between ourselves and those we are instructing or coaching. In a recent discussion Lasse Karlsson put the poets/engineers message another way, “Some dude once said that to teach someone, you have to meet them where they are, not where you are…” It doesn’t matter how capable you are in your field, you can’t change someone’s “truth” if they don’t know what you are talking about.
A learning style refers to an individual’s method of making sense of new information. Instead of the binary option of learning styles suggested by the poets/engineers debate, there is a body of fly casting literature that describes the VARK model of learning styles which suggests there are four main types of learners: visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinaesthetic. This concept is nearly a century old and has been the subject of ongoing debate between teachers and psychologists for a long time. VARK grew in popularity in the latter half of the 20th century, about the same time as fly casting instruction was being codified. Despite the widespread popularity of VARK in the teaching world, scientific evidence suggests that it has little merit. I tried to dig deeper into the learning styles topic but was soon bogged down by claims and counter factual evidence. By the time I got to Coffield (Learning Styles and Pedagogy in Post 16 Education: A Critical and Systematic Review, Coffield et al. 2004) who had investigated 13 of the 71 learning style theories, I lost the will to live.
Applying a pure VARK style methodology to an extreme would take you to a deep, dark place because you would end up teaching casting by podcast or silent movie only. It would not work and I have yet to meet anybody who would suggest that it does. Instead we use a blended approach to communicate our casting concepts in a manner that resonates with the student by demonstrating movements as visual cues, reinforced by audible keywords to assist with retention. Having demonstrated the movement, we hand the rod to the student who undertakes an exercise in self-discovery by getting sensory feedback when they can see that they have achieved the desired result. The kinaesthetic “feel” that is produced when the desired outcome can be visually confirmed assists with the reinforcement provided by the audible cues. This engagement of all of the senses begins the process of cementing the movement in long term memory. The process is completed by repetition during purposeful practice.
Not surprisingly, the real world methodology we employ when teaching casting aligns quite nicely with current learning science and particularly with the dual-coding theory which proposes that it’s better to combine images with words if you want to build a mental image of an outcome (Mayer & Anderson, 1991). Discovering what blend of oral, aural and visual cues to use is part of an instructor’s skillset. The keywords you use have to be meaningful to the student and you are likely to find that you develop a student specific language. For example, if you describe a “snap” and the student finds to his amazement that it works and they tell you that they felt the cast “pop”, use the term “pop” with them because that word is now associated with the correct movement for that individual. Instructor terminology should be reserved for discussion between instructors.
Mel’s poets/engineers and VARK methodologies introduce the idea that there are frameworks we can use to identify the blend of communication channels most likely to result in instructional success. However, they only provide an outline of the possible solution. Early identification of the correct approach is vital because we have a limited time within which to impart our lesson. We can do this not only by asking questions prior to the lesson but by listening to the answers and by observing the feedback from the student during live practice exercises. (per Ally Bremmer, casting instructor and former headmistress, private Facebook exchange, 2020.) The feedback is not only verbal, it is also behavioural and there is a significant amount of subliminal non-verbal communication going on between us throughout the lesson that we also need to be aware of.
Communication – Verbal and Non-Verbal
Clever Hans Effect
Clever Hans was a horse owned by Wilhelm von Osten, a German mathematics teacher who thought the intelligence of animals was underestimated. His horse could not only read a number written on a board and tap his hoof the correct number of times on the floor but could also answer spoken or written questions by tapping out his answer with his hooves on lettered cards. Having demonstrated Hans’s intelligence to many people, von Osten permitted Germany’s board of education to conduct an independent investigation into his abilities. The Hans Commission included zoologists, a psychologist, schoolteachers and a circus manager. The investigating team concluded after 18 months investigation that no trickery was involved. Hans could answer questions no matter who posed them.
The Commission then passed the investigation to another psychologist called Oskar Pfungst for further tests. Pfungst noted that when the examiner knew the answer to the questions and Hans could see the examiner, Hans scored highly. However, Hans obtained low scores when the examiner did not know the answers to the questions or the horse could not see the questioner.
Pfungst had discovered “unconscious cueing” also called the “Hans Effect”. Subsequently, Pfungst conducted laboratory tests in which he played the part of the horse with human participants providing questions for him to answer. Based upon his knowledge of unconscious cueing by the questioner, he scored correct answers with about 90% of participants. Now that he was fully aware of the subtle cues, Pfungst also discovered in further tests that he would involuntarily produce these cues even when trying to suppress them.
As instructors we put a lot of emphasis on the words we use and quite rightly because they are a powerful tool. However, we also inadvertently give off a lot of non-verbal cues and a student will soon detect a conflict between those channels of communication. Having an understanding of the effects of non-verbal communication might help us avoid making catastrophic errors and improve the quality of our teaching. The Psychology Compass blog has produced a series of articles entitled “Learn tactics that boost non-verbal communication and body language” and which provided me with some direction.
In opening our communication with someone we automatically look to the eyes and face. We have a portion of our brain dedicated to facial recognition which is used to detect behaviourally relevant facial features. We are all naturally aware that eye contact is fundamentally important to communication and will be aware that when it is safe we should remove sunglasses to remove a barrier between ourselves and the student. Equally, a manic stare can be interpreted as a challenge and I have met people I wanted to poke in the eye to make them blink. The Psychology Compass article recommends “intermittent eye contact”, making eye contact about 60-70% of the time in 3-5 second bursts. For the remaining time, it recommends that you unlock your eyes and look around, preferably at the subject of your discussion. These may include visual cueing references if you are instructing or features on the river if you are guiding. We are wired to detect unnatural facial expressions so we should avoid combining a rictus grin with the manic stare unless it’s Halloween. Try and relax or you will project your own anxiety on to the student.
Surprisingly, the article then discusses breathing and how it effects our social interactions. It explains that:
“Breathing improves nonverbal communication (mostly in facial expressions) because it stimulates the vagus nerve…….. When your vagus nerve is stimulated through breathing, it enables your social engagement system:
- You show less activation in the brain’s anxiety centre (amygdala in particular)
- Your visceral organs go into “rest-and-digest” mode (the body’s way of telling you that the social environment is safe
- You heighten your ability to listen, show fine-tuned emotional expressions, and to vocalize clearly (remember, the vagus nerve connects to the face, head, and ears)”
If you can achieve this relaxed state in yourself, you are less likely to transmit any anxiety to your student. Helpfully, the vagus nerve is stimulated by deep breathing and laughter, so an appropriate amount of humour in the lesson is helpful in many ways.
How we stand in relation to a student for conversation is covered by the blog and it recommends being just off centre in front of the student and about 3ft (1m) away. Given the nature of what we do, we need to be aware of the potential impacts of other relative positions if we are checking tracking or trying to effect a change in posture or movement because standing behind someone or less than 3ft away is likely to cause anxiety as you invade their personal space or are perceived as a potential threat because you are in their blind zone. Consider how many times people in horror movies get bumped off from behind and then put yourself in the student’s place if you are breathing down their neck. The resultant discomfort is an instinctive response and there is little you can do to allay their fears or overcome the negative effect on performance. We are hard wired to react this way.
Our posture during discussions should be similar to what we would adopt in a job interview. Show you are engaged by leaning slightly forward when making a point and adopt a listening posture if the student is talking to you. Listening posture cues include smiling, leaning forward, a slight tilt of the head and mirroring. Breaking eye contact by looking away because you are distracted, or checking your watch/phone is an absolute killer. It is possible to demonstrate that you are listening to your student by asking pertinent questions or responding with encouragement but avoid unnecessary interruption. It can be incredibly irritating. Reflecting or summarising the points the student makes not only provides assurance that you have been listening, it also helps you remember what has been said.
During group presentations, giving demonstrations or taking assessments, Dr Dave Alred, in his outstanding book The Pressure Principle (2017) recommends adopting a command posture to exude confidence:
“I always make it part of a player’s pre-shot routine to set their body shape in the ‘command’ posture and to make themselves as physically big as possible. I advise anyone in a stressful situation to adopt the same approach. Command posture involves having the shoulders down and packed, with the neck stretched and the chin held in line with the sternum. Despite the title ‘command’, think less of a military-style standing to attention and more of a trained dancer, upright, lithe and graceful: you are in control of your situation, not standing to the attention of someone or something else.”
Regardless of whether you would consider asking a nervous student to adopt these measures, I would recommend the book to any instructor or aspiring instructor wishing to broaden their horizons.
Continuing with the body language theme, match your gestures to the words you are using. We use a lot of pantomime and demonstration in our explanations; the combination of the spoken word and movement is an incarnation of the dual code theory described earlier. Our brains are lazy beasts and like to stay in a mental comfort zone because it requires very little cognitive energy. However, the brain expends a great deal of energy trying to learn something new and it is far more energy efficient for our minds to digest this new information when there is no dissonance in the instruction. Resolving instructional conflict and managing large amounts of new content may literally exhaust our student. To manage their workload I would suggest heeding the advice from Dave Alred, “To beat the fatigue, the most effective approach to learning any skill is to do it little and often rather than keeping on until you get it right.” My practice regimes are short, focused bursts of activity lasting about 40 minutes rather than dragging on hour after hour.
A Few Words about Words
The Pygmalion effect refers to situations in which students perform better than other students simply because they are expected to do so. This phenomenon was formally identified by Rosenthal and Jacobsen (1968) who demonstrated that teacher expectations had a direct influence on student performance. If the teacher expected a student to do well their performance was better than average and vice versa. Not surprisingly, there is a counter point called the Golem effect where low expectations can cause poor performance.
Although it was initially a classroom study based upon academic standards, the sports world was quick to pick up on this effect. As explained in The Athlete’s Perception of Coaches’ Behaviour Towards Competitors with a Different Sports Level (Siekanska et al, 2013) coaches were found to vary their expectations of students performance based on their physical appearance, personality, past achievements, body build, height, race and socioeconomic status. These aspects were found to influence the coach-athlete interactions in the manner in which they instructed and provided feedback such that their predicted performance became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Researchers (Martinek, 1981; Brophy, 1983; Harris and Rosenthal, 1985; Jussim, 1986) have suggested there are 4 steps which create the self-fulfilling prophecy described by the Pygmalion and Golem effects:
- The instructor pre-judges the level of performance that the student will reach.
- These expectations dictate the instructor’s training programme and personal relationship with the student.
- This treatment influences the student’s performance and rate of learning, thereby limiting their achievement.
- The student’s relatively poor performance conformed to the instructor’s predictions, reinforcing their belief that their ability to predict performance has a sound basis.
These 4 steps are commonly shown as a cycle as detailed below:
And a Few Bits That Don’t Fit Anywhere Else
I’ve followed and taken part in some debates over the years about what is real and isn’t real in fly casting and how it relates to instructing. It seems to me that most of the fly casting lore falls into 1 of 2 categories:
1. Half-truths that serve a teaching purpose
2. Myths that won’t go away
One of the subjects that is regularly and hotly debated is the need for a straight line path (SLP) during a standard overhead cast The SLP requirement originates from the 5 essentials which form part of the casting instructors programme for the Fly Fishers International organisation and were written by Bill and Jay Gammell. For those interested, the genesis and intent of the document was captured in an interview of Bill by Sekhar Badahur in the Loop Summer 2016 edition:
The debated essential states that, “In order to form the most efficient, least air resistant loops and to direct the energy of the cast to a specific target, the caster must move the rod tip in a Straight Line”. My inner systems engineer identifies that there are two distinct statements about loop size and accuracy embedded in that essential and for me to respond, I need to treat them as two separate “truths”. In my experience, the size of the loop and hence air resistance is dictated by a number of properties and a good SLP alone will not give me a tight loop. Loop size is dependent upon how far my rod tip deviates from the intended direction of the cast.
Looking at the accuracy requirement, the moving mass of the fly leg is the engine of the cast, therefore the second statement is broadly true, notwithstanding caveats related to line tension, ballistic trajectories etc. that belong to casting geek beer talk rather than instructional technique. Getting the mass of the fly leg moving uniformly in the intended direction of the cast after loop formation gives the result that I am looking for, assuming I have accelerated it smoothly of course. All we have to do is pass on that information in a manner that will engage a student and be easily retained.
Many of the debates are centred on the observation that if your tip path really was perfectly straight then the line would pile into the rod tip. Supporting evidence is given based on 2D diagrams that are far removed from what happens in the real world and may have been extracted from instruction manuals. If I had a novice who could track straight enough to be able to make the line hit their rod, I would be delighted because I would know that I’m in for an easy day. Other evidence produced to support the non-existence of the SLP is based on tip paths tracked in 170 style distance casts that offer a domed tip path as the real world. Teaching my average student the 170 style would be like using a Formula 1 racing car for driving instruction. It requires a high ability caster as a baseline and these folks are way past needing to be taught the 5 essentials.
To teach a skill we need to identify consistent cues to the student that produce an acceptable instructional outcome. If I look at a trace of any rod tip for a good textbook overhead cast, I tend to see three phases. The first, I would term “getting control of the line” which can involve removing slack or prepositioning the rod for the forward cast. In the second, I see smooth acceleration that is sufficiently close to the SLP for a comparatively short distance. Finally, the loop is shaped by moving the tip off the SLP. Certainly, phases 1 and 3 can start and finish anywhere above, below or in line with the SLP and a trace can never be entirely straight, domed or any other constantly true solution. As instructors, we have to find a way to teach absolute novices how to produce this infinite array of possible movements, often in a single lesson.
Prior to passing my driving test about 40 years ago, I was taught the maxim “Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre” as a sequence to be conducted whenever I changed the car’s position on the road. I can still easily recall this trite piece of instruction and still follow that sequence when driving. A few seconds of introspection will tell you that this trope does not contain all of the possible combinations of actions that may take place during a manoeuvre, that involve the accelerator, brake, clutch and steering. In common with a standard overhead cast, a complete instruction for a change in road position trying to cover all of the variables would generate a manual many inches thick. Given that your casting or driving student is likely to retain three or four pieces of new information, providing a lesson based upon the content of our comprehensive and precisely correct casting or driving manual would be pointless. “Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre” and SLP give consistent cues which provide the student with a basic toolkit. So equipped they can explore the various skills which can be learned through purposeful practice and self-discovery, both of which form part of recognised Sports Science instructional techniques.
It may seem odd teaching information that you know isn’t entirely true or complete but teaching SLP has worked for me so far and I never really questioned why we do it. Not so long ago, I had a bit of a light bulb moment about teaching half-truths when reading a fiction book called The Science of Discworld (Pratchett et al, 1999). This book stated:
“A lie-to-children is a statement that is false, but which nevertheless leads the child’s mind towards a more accurate explanation, one that the child will only be able to appreciate if it has been primed with the lie. The early stages of education have to include a lot of lies-to-children, because early explanations have to be simple. However, we live in a complex world, and lies-to-children must eventually be replaced by more complex stories if they are not to become delayed-action genuine lies.”
The concept of Lies to Children appears across many academic disciplines and was first presented by scientist Jack Cohen and mathematician Ian Stewart in The Collapse of Chaos: Discovering Simplicity in a Complex World.
In using the SLP concept, we are teaching essential skills rather than handing over an all-encompassing solution for every cast. The “lie” protects the student from being completely overwhelmed by the endless possibilities we can achieve with our wobbly stick and plastic line and establishes a common vocabulary. Everyone knows what a straight line is and can move their body to draw a long straight line if required. Given our bandwidth limitations, how many essentials would be needed to explain how we move every part of our body to achieve this “simple” task?
Having purposefully practiced, the student will eventually discover that what you have told him is not absolute truth but by then it doesn’t matter, the SLP trope would have served its purpose. They will have learnt how to control the fly line to a reasonable standard and be ready to move on to more advanced techniques that require greater degrees of controlled movement. In using the Lies to Children technique, Pratchett cautioned: “Most of us need just ‘enough’ knowledge of the sciences, and it’s delivered to us in metaphors and analogies that bite us in the bum if we think they’re the same as the truth.” Based on my experience to date, the ability to distinguish between useful teaching techniques and hard core science is part of the art of instructing and a few of us may have some bite marks.
Myths that won’t go away
Although I’ve only been a certified instructor for a short while, I served a long apprenticeship. Like many before me, I waded through the recommended reading material and was surprised at how many versions of the “truth” were available for a willing acolyte to work through. I think it’s fairly reasonable to say that many of the authors were not trained scientists or engineers and described how a cast worked based on their understanding of the world and some of the work now looks a little dated. However, incremental improvement in most topics have almost always been accomplished by “standing on the shoulders of giants” and I think it serves little purpose to point fingers at our predecessors and dwell on any shortcomings, otherwise we would still be wondering why Stonehenge hasn’t got a roof.
Despite the general advances in our understanding there are some myths that have proven to be enduring, such as the big spring theory. This theory requires that the caster needs to “load” the rod to store energy to propel the line and put the fly on the fish. The big spring theory is still pervasive in the fly fishing industry and comes up at regular intervals like whack a mole targets that the myth busters hit with a hammer, only for it to pop up again elsewhere. Although there are overwhelming mechanical and instructional reasons for discarding this concept, the efforts of the myth busters to take us all to a common understanding of the truth have been largely unrewarded.
Rather than trudge through the reasons why the concept is wrong, I think it is interesting to understand why myths are so prevalent and what it tells us about human nature. Why would rational anglers accept a statement as being true without checking it was correct? As an engineer, I’m sorry to say that I was one of those that accepted the big spring at face value, possibly because it was repeated in countless adverts and stated by “experts” on the internet. Retrospectively, I can see why. In an engineering sense, the rod does load because forces have been applied to the rod that results in deformations and accelerations causing stresses to occur in the structure. At the time, it was a sufficient truth for me because I just wanted to catch fish and not worry about that sort of detail.
I mentioned earlier that our brains are lazy beasts. They like to stay in our mental comfort zone and the brain expends a great deal of energy trying to learn something new. The same sort of calorific calculation also comes into decision making. We make an average of 35,000 decisions in a waking day (Krockow, E. “How many decisions do we make each day?” Psychology Today, 27 September 2018). Taking naps and gazing into space, this makes about 3000 decisions every hour for me and this workload limits my ability to process everything as deeply as I think I should. I saw no value in looking closer at rod load because there was no gain offered for the energy that would be expended.
To conserve our limited mental energy we rely on problem solving shortcuts, known as heuristics, to reduce our energy consumption. Whilst serving an essential regulating function, these shortcuts often lead us to make errors in our judgment that lead to a condition called the illusory truth effect. The illusory truth effect is a cognitive phenomenon where people consider repeated statements to have more validity than non-repeated ones. The more time you are exposed to a piece of information, the more likely you are to consider it true, regardless of whether the statement is a legitimate fact. Familiarity makes processing easy, allowing the grey matter to put its feet up for a while. Consequently, the illusory truth phenomenon is an absolute gift to marketing. The antidote to marketing is critical thinking but this involves effort and if you want to improve your casting, the lazy brain’s answer is to buy a better spring, isn’t it?
It’s not my fault the rod doesn’t work
Having been conditioned by marketing and peer pressure to get a better spring, why don’t anglers consider that their casting issue could be a skills issue rather than the equipment? How often do you hear “my rod doesn’t like the line” or “the rod doesn’t load properly”?
Self-serving bias is a cognitive bias that psychologists use to describe our tendency to blame external factors when bad things happen and give ourselves credit when we get a positive outcome. It is employed as a defence mechanism to protect our ego and is particularly prevalent in men of a certain age that you’ll note wandering around game fairs and river banks. The flip side of the condition is that people may stay with the sport rather than give up if they can blame their poor casting on their equipment or other environmental factors. I suspect that there is also an element that many of us are time poor and that buying a solution instead of investing in skills practice may provide a placebo. Being honest, I suspect that many of us have suffered to some degree with the kit fetish until their nirvana moment. Personally, mine was after I fished in a tricky little stream alongside someone who could cast and my shortcomings were brutally exposed. I guess that in common with any similar personal problem, the first step is to admit you have a problem and I would suggest that for an angler to request a lesson they have at some level acknowledged that there is a fundamental issue.
To understand your student’s motivations it may be useful to follow the science. Sport psychologists have been studying performance attribution for some time and there are many views but in my opinion Weiner’s Model of Attribution provides a useful structure for casting instructors. An article by Praveen Shrestha provides an overview. Sports science recommends changing your students’ perceptions such that any good outcome is due to prior effort and deliberate practice rather than external factors such as owning the best spring. Correcting this mind-set can help casters acknowledge that any performance improvements are down to their own efforts and this provides motivation to practice away from the river.
Having understood the “what”, we need to address the “how”. It is not very productive to immediately instruct the student what they did wrong during the exercise. It is better to engage them in the process by asking ask what they think happened. At this point, you need to listen carefully for clues about how the student is reacting to the problem and decidewhether those attributions match your diagnosis. If you consider that self-serving bias is at play, your skills as a communicator will be needed to steer the student towards becoming a little more introspective. This is neither a quick nor easy solution. In short one-off lessons there will be a temptation to provide a sticking plaster solution just to send them on their way with a shared but temporary win and to hope they return to you in the future. Mentors will have more chance to practice these sort of skills over a period of time and may see the change in their students.
Occasionally, you might encounter a student who will attribute their failures to internal factors, such as a lack of natural talent or physical injury limitations. To correct these attributions and give the student hope that problems can be solved and improvements made it is worthwhile having some “good outcome” examples to hand that demonstrate how even severely injured people have learned to cast effectively and that there is an answer for them. The alternative is that the student ends up in a state of “Learned helplessness”, a state that occurs when individuals experience failure so frequently that they do not believe that success will ever come.
I once had a student who both blamed his kit and decided he was never going to catch a fish because he had been trying for months without success. The day was a failure because in his mind it was pre-ordained and I never really opened a good line of communication with him. Despite my research, I haven’t found a magic bullet for dealing with this student but at least I now understand his motivation and will be better prepared next time. I’m just thankful it wasn’t a part of my instructors assessment.
Instructors are People Too
I’ve jumped around a few subjects in this missive. Some of the connections I have made between the topics of verbal and non-verbal communications, learning styles and human behaviour hadn’t occurred to me before I started writing. Others were due to me putting my fingers on the keyboard and joining the dots between topics. Possibly the greatest insights came as a result of discussions with my learned colleagues in the instructosphere that I observed through the prism of my studies.
At this moment in time I’ve hit a hard deadline in my other day job, which is going to take up a lot of the spare time I have had in the last year. However, my gallant proof readers unanimously observed that this piece was unfinished because it lacked a summary or conclusion. Under this pressure, I decided to turn the behavioural spotlight on instructors a lot earlier than I had intended and it is a work in progress.
As a general observation, there seems to be broad based acceptance of silver bullet teaching solutions. We like quick fixes and gadgetry. Even where certain methods provide excellent outcomes, there seems to be little curiosity about why they work and how they can be adapted for outliers. In my opinion, the instructosphere exhibits a strong inertia to change and truisms can be defended with an almost religious zeal. Consider the debates about teaching students to cast with a locked or unlocked wrist or the causes of tails; there are instructors in the trenches out there.
Absolute thinking is a psychological term that describes our tendency to define the world in black and white, we tend towards absolute thinking when we are dealing with complexity and students are complex machines that operate in the various shades of grey. Simplification of our task underpins the belief structure of the absolute thinker and allows the lazy grey beast to save calories. On the plus side, simplification is a powerful instructional tool that aids communication and long term skills retention by the mainstream student. However, very occasionally, we may just need something novel for the outlying student that our silver bullets bounce off and this is where an instructor earns their spurs.
Stepping outside the casting world, the science of human behavioural studies is extremely dynamic, driven by advances in technology and research into Artificial Intelligence and Digital Marketing. Even when the “what happens” has a long history and good provenance, the “why it happens?” is continually undergoing revision and you find that absolute positions don’t often exist for very long. The results from cognitive studies describe how most of the people behave most of the time. This is because our brains generate a very detailed, almost probabilistic representation of what is important in our environment and we do not all observe and react to stimulus in precisely the same way. The study of human behaviour has found that the fool proof silver bullet to effect behavioural change does not exist. Applying combinations of influences has been shown to produce a more consistently successfully outcome. Because behaviour has multiple drivers, we need a six shooter.
As instructors, we need a broad knowledge base and should be open to new and relevant ideas because the world is moving on at pace. Knowing which buttons are available to press and the likely result is no bad thing. If or when I find anything new I may put return to this topic when I have a better understanding of the drivers but only after the fishing season. As ever I retain the right to change my mind about anything I have written. Tight lines.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.