From the Australian edition of The Conversation
A research centre in the UK recently found that lavishing praise on students, particularly low-attaining students, may be counter-productive. By providing a no-fail, no-consequences environment in which the top priority is to make everybody feel good about themselves, we are doing little more than setting young people up to fail. (emphasis added)
Chasing down the links for the article leads here and provides some teaching “dos” and “don’ts”, including
Six teaching dos:
– Have deep subject knowledge.
– Ensure quality of instruction, such as good use of questioning.
– Use praise lavishly.
“A frank approach to interpersonal communication brings with it some challenges, but having to dig oneself out of a hole, created by strategically avoiding the truth, is not one of them…
We tend to endorse the complexity of the brain and its fundamental role in what we experience. Unless, of course, we are talking about pain…
This is problematic, not least because those in chronic pain first had acute pain, and to change our story once they are chronic might give the distinct impression that we are clutching at straws. Indeed, by the time people progress from acute to chronic pain, our previous avoidance of the truth – our unfortunate trivialization – has dug a very big hole from which it is difficult to climb out.”
Teaching people about pain can be confronting – for both the ‘teacher’ and the ‘student’. Euthanising biomedical /biomechanical sacred cows, such as “my back is out of alignment because one leg is longer than the other and that’s what’s been causing my pain for the last 10 years”, or “It’s a slipped disc” can lead to conflict and discomfort for all parties. But it needs to be done – respectfully, carefully, and never denying the lived experience of the patient, but it needs to be done.
Early on in my attempts to Explain Pain, I was guilty of beating around the bush- not wanting to make people feel bad or create conflict and confrontation, I’d let, what I thought, were little things slip – but I was just digging a hole for myself, and looking back, there were many pits I failed to climb out of, with the consequence being the intervention failed – horribly at times.
Helping people to achieve conceptual change often necessarily requires the creation of “cognitive conflict” (Kang et al 2004), which involves identifying pre-exisitng ideas and presenting evidence that is in direct conflict with them. For example, contrasting the pre-exisitng notion that pain is ‘created’ in the tissues, detected by ‘pain sensors’, sent along ‘pain nerves’ and then registered in the brain, with the idea that, pain is an emergent construction of a human being in response to perceived threat affected by multiple interacting factors across biological, psychological and social domains, is one of the key cognitive conflicts that Explaining Pain aims to create. When a new, scientifically accurate (as best you are able at the time) but conflicting concept is presented respectfully and in an interesting way (Moseley 2003), the new concept is more likely to be adopted and used in the future (Kang et al 2004).
Creating cognitive conflict is not telling someone that they are wrong or arguing with them, it’s about presenting understandable information that will contrast with the existing beliefs – it’s about not beating around the bush.
A simple cognitive conflict approach may sound something like “Most people think “x”, we understand why people think “x”, and its even quite intuitive to think “x”, but, to the best of our current scientific knowledge, we know that it is more accurate to think “y” (where “x” and “y” are contrasting concepts). This can be done verbally, or in written form where it is called a refutation text– Explain Pain has many examples of this when you read it with this theory in mind.
But it requires some artfulness, a deep knowledge base and skillful communication – a patient may well begin to take on a new conceptualisation of pain, but this can lead to further conflict- such as the one that arises when they consider the thousands of dollars spent (wasted?) on therapies to “realign their spine” and “put the disc back in”…
Of course, there are other issues when presenting new, more accurate and conflicting concepts – the person ‘teaching’ and the person ‘learning’ both need to have the appropriate “schemas” or mental frameworks to take the new concept on – they may particularly need an emergent way of thinking to really understand pain – but that’s another topic altogether.
Feel free to share your tales of hole digging woe, but also odes to breaking free of beating around bushes, in the comments below. But not before enjoying a musical interlude from some very frank communicators – Acca Dacca with “Beating Around the Bush”
Kang, S, Scharmann, LC & Noh, T 2004, ‘Reexamining the role of cognitive conflict in science concept learning’, Research in Science Education, vol. 34, no. 1, pp. 71-96.
Moseley, GL 2003, ‘A pain neuromatrix approach to patients with chronic pain’, Manual Therapy, vol. 8, no. 3, pp. 130-140.