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NLP modelling in the classroom: students modelling the good practice of other students

Trevor Day

Department of Education, University of Bath, UK. T.Day@bath.ac.uk

Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association New Researchers/Student Conference, University of Glamorgan, 14 September 2005

Introduction

In the summer of 2005, the A-level pass rate in England and Wales was 96.2 per cent (Joint Council for Qualifications, 2005). The pass rate has risen every year for the past 23 years, with AS levels forming part of the 16-19 achievement framework since 2000. Behind the apparently encouraging statistics lies a climate in 16-19 education that is responding to a political agenda that demands greater social inclusion and Success for All (Learning and Skills Council, 2005). There is a national policy focus on lifelong learning and an acceptance among many educational managers and policymakers in the 16-19 sector of the need for young adults to "learn how to learn" in a rapidly changing technological world. But are most students leaving school and college with the skills to support them as autonomous learners able to make the most of the opportunities that follow? In this respect, approaches from the working world beyond schools and colleges that have proved influential in empowering individuals to manage their own learning may have a role to play. One of these disciplines is neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), a field that is contributing to "accelerated" or "brain-based" learning approaches (Smith, 1998; Jensen, 1998, 2000; Ginnis, 2002; Tosey and Mathison, 2003a, 2003b; SEAL, 2005).

Research focus

The focus of the research that is reported in this paper is an examination-preparation programme for AS-level students facilitated in a subject-specific context. The programme is strongly influenced by NLP, a field regarded as controversial in education (Craft, 2001; Tosey and Mathison, 2003a, 2003b; Abrams, 2004).

The research seeks to:

a) Use NLP-influenced approaches to prepare an examination-preparation programme for use at sixth-form level in schools and colleges. The programme has an emphasis on students modelling the good practice of other students.

b) Explore the subjective learning experience of AS-level students on this programme and determine which of its elements are regarded by students, and teaching staff who are participant-observers, as most beneficial.

c) Use value-added criteria to compare the examination results of participating students with non-participating students at the college (taking the same subject and level) as a tool to help evaluate the efficacy of the programme.

d) Consider which learning style, personality or other traits, if any, might predispose students to benefit from the programme.

This paper is an initial report on students’ experiences of the modelling elements of the course. It also discusses how students’ predispositions might influence their responses to certain NLP approaches and suggests avenues worthy of further investigation.

NLP and modelling

O’Connor and Seymour (1993 p. 1) describe NLP as "the art and science of personal excellence. Art because everyone brings their unique personality and style to what they do … Science because there is a method and process for discovering the patterns used by outstanding individuals in any field to achieve outstanding results. This process is called modelling, and the patterns, skills and techniques so discovered are being used increasingly in counselling, education and business for more effective communication, personal development and accelerated learning."

As of 2002, several thousand UK teachers had received a day or more of formal NLP training and several hundred had undergone an NLP practitioner training of 15 days or more (Coughlan, 2002). NLP has found its way into mainstream classroom guides for UK Teachers (Smith, 1998; Ginnis, 2002). NLP has many potential applications in teaching and education, including analysis of teaching technique and classroom management and offering solutions for better practice (Lyall, 2002; Brown, 2004).

The foundations of NLP were laid down between 1972 and 1976 by John Grinder, Assistant Professor of Linguistics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Richard Bandler, initially a mathematics and computer science student at the university (McLendon, 1989). Bandler and Grinder originally set out to discover what made three outstanding psychotherapists – Gestalt therapist Fritz Perls, family therapist Virginia Satir and hypnotherapist Milton Erickson – so effective in their work (Bandler and Grinder, 1975a, 1975b; Grinder and Bandler, 1976; Grinder et al, 1977). These investigations gave rise to the emergence of NLP. The methodology Bandler and Grinder developed was NLP modelling. In the mechanistic-sounding term "neuro-linguistic programming, the "neuro" element refers to behaviour as a product of neurological processes, "linguistic" highlights the use of language in communication and the revealing nature of the analysis of its structure, and "programming" – adapted from cybernetics and computing terminology – refers to ways in which internal processes and external action are organised to produce results (Robbie, 1988; O’Connor and Seymour, 1993). There is debate in the educational literature about the nature of NLP – whether it is a theory, a methodology, or both (Craft, 2001; Tosey and Mathison, 2003a, 2003b).

Part of the confusion over the nature of NLP originates from a failure by many authors to distinguish between the methodology by which discoveries are made within the field of NLP, the application of the products of NLP, and the teaching of NLP methodology and application. Bostic St. Clair and Grinder (2001) suggest that the labels NLPmodelling, NLPapplication and NLPtraining respectively be used to distinguish the three approaches.

Another difficulty is that NLP is eclectic and – through its modelling of experts and development of explanatory frameworks – freely draws upon disparate disciplines such as Gestalt psychology, Ericksonian hypnosis, linguistics, cybernetics, behavioural psychology, psychosynthesis, and neuroscience (Harris, 1998; Bostic St. Clair and Grinder, 2001; Tosey and Mathison, 2003a, 2003b). However, NLP is arguably unique among psychotherapeutic disciplines in its pivotal use of modelling and in being overtly radical constructivist – its starting point is that as individuals we construct our own models of the world from sensory experience. And "though I may find reasons to believe that my experience may not be unlike yours, I have no way of knowing that it is the same." (von Glasersfeld, 1995, p.1). Tosey and Mathison (2003a) regard NLP as "transdisciplinary (Gibbons et al, 1994), in the sense that it draws on sources from academe and from elsewhere, and has been generated through application more than being deduced from axioms." I agree. NLP is both radical constructivist and transdisciplinary.

NLP’s approach to modelling involves exploring how a person achieves an outstanding performance in some endeavour (as judged by others), such as revising for an examination, conducting a job interview, or playing a game of tennis. This exploration involves not just observing behaviour. It also embraces investigating the internal and external factors that prompt the individual to move forward with the task, the person’s beliefs that relate to the task, their emotional/physiological state, and those mental strategies (including sequences of sensory-based representations) that appear to be pivotal in enhancing performance (Dilts et al, 1980; Dilts, 1998).

The steps in a formal NLP modelling process are (adapted from Dilts, 1998):

1. Find a person to be modelled, and the contexts in which they apply the capability you wish to model.

2. Gather information about how they undergo the process you wish to model. This can include experiencing the process in first perceptual position (as if you are in their shoes), second perceptual position (as a person interacting with them), and third perceptual position (as a detached observer). Findings can be mapped onto a conceptual framework, such as Dilts’s neurological levels (see below).

3. Distil the findings into cognitive (thinking) and external behavioural patterns.

4. Organise the elements or patterns into a logical, coherent structure (the "model").

5. Test the usefulness of the model for yourself in different contexts.

6. Reduce the model to its simplest and most elegant form.

7. Identify ways to teach the model to others.

8. Determine ways to measure the effectiveness of the model, and the limits of its usefulness.

In practice, many modellers stop at step 5. In eliciting information and testing its usefulness, modelling involves both implicit phases (imagining what it is like to be the person being modelled) and explicit phases ("standing back" and through observation, questioning and reflection, seeking to make sense of the process being modelled).

The elements of an NLP model can be mapped onto Dilts’s so-called neurological levels (Table 1), which may provide a rich description of process and help identify those elements that appear pivotal to the success of a particular strategy. The elements may be mapped through time to show the dynamics of the strategy.

Table 1. Dilts’s neurological levels (adapted from Dilts, 1998)

Level

Explanation

Common questions to elicit

Transpersonal

Relating to a larger system of people.

Who else? For whom?

Identity

Who we are when we are engaged in the process.

Who?

Beliefs and values

What we believe and what matters to us (permission and motivation).

Why?

Capabilities

What we can do (the organisation behind the action).

How?

Behaviour

The specific actions that can be observed.

What?

Environment

Context.

When? Where?

Background

I have been trained in NLP, first to 15-day NLP Diploma level in 1990 and then to Master Practitioner level in 2003. My involvement with NLP began in 1986 when I was a Biology and Prevocational tutor at Southeast Essex Sixth Form College (SEEVIC) and attended a public workshop entitled "Understanding Understanding." In 1987 I invited the two workshop leaders, both NLP trainers, to lead a college short programme entitled the Personal Effectiveness Pilot Project. The programme comprised eight 75-minute sessions run with three groups of students (26 in all) and four members of staff (including myself) as participant-observers. The sessions explored various aspects of learning – including understanding, concentration, memory, and motivation – using NLP techniques. The project was a very mixed success for both staff and students (Grove-Stephensen et al, 1987). However, I was convinced that NLP had potential in providing a structure for personal exploration – for myself, other staff, and for students. I believed that the project had revealed two particularly powerful approaches: modelling, and target-setting based on the NLP approach of well-formed outcomes.

In Autumn 1988, in my role as the college’s Teaching and Learning Strategies Advisor, I worked with colleagues in a Learning Strategies initiative informed by the concepts of Nisbet and Shucksmith (1986). This included exploring and disseminating students’ good practice in key learning activities such as essay-writing, and revision and exam technique.

Fifteen 1–2 hour sessions were run involving, in all, 15 staff across eight subjects (Biology, Chemistry, Economics, English, History, Home Economics, Religious Studies and Sociology). Approximately 200 first year A-level students were participants. Sessions variously covered research-type essays, exam technique, timed essays, revision technique, coursework projects, and communication and thinking styles. The sessions on research-type essays, timed essays and exam technique adopted a modelling approach.

Student and staff responses were encouraging. In an early questionnaire survey, of 53 student respondents (all those present on the day the survey was carried out), 51 indicated they had enjoyed the sessions, with 44 referring to specific strategies they were intending to adopt. In a follow up questionnaire survey with a subset of students, of 17 respondents, 14 claimed they had incorporated into their study new approaches they had identified in their earlier questionnaires. Verbal feedback from staff and students suggested that students investigating and modelling good practice was a particularly beneficial approach (Day, 1989).

After a post-SEEVIC career in management consultancy and training, and then lecturing and science writing, I returned to the question of whether NLP approaches are effective in an educational context, particularly in relation to examination achievement.

In Spring 2002 I gained Raising Quality and Achievement (RQA) funding from the Learning and Skills Development Agency (LSDA) to collaborate with colleagues at Havering Sixth Form College, Essex (Day, 2002). This enabled me to work as consultant, researcher and course co-provider with four subject teachers and, in each case, one of their classes. For each class the teacher and I devised an examination-preparation course of 8-hours duration. The funding was tied to continuing professional development aimed at raising student and staff achievement. The staff and their classes represented subject areas (GCSE English, GCSE Psychology, AS Accounting, AS Psychology) for which specific improvements in student examination results were being sought by the college senior management team.

The Havering Raising Achievement project enabled some of the current research’s methods to be piloted, such as the action research process and the design of questionnaires. The Essex project‘s requirement to achieve demonstrable results in the few weeks prior to examinations militated against incorporating the more exploratory approaches that characterise classroom modelling. The courses were also rich in overtly non-NLP approaches, such as mind mapping (Buzan, 2000) and Edward de Bono techniques (de Bono, 1985). NLP modelling was to play only a small part in the programme. The 6-hour Learning Toolkit programme run at FCC – the focus of this paper – was more overtly NLP-based than the Havering project, with a much greater emphasis on NLP modelling.

A new course and an associated research methodology

Classroom modelling differs from formal NLP modelling because the student modellers (those who do the modelling) have little or no previous training in NLP. The classroom modelling approach is part of their introduction to NLP, and they are introduced to NLP skills and concepts through two or more cycles of modelling the successful strategies of their peers. Classroom modelling contains elements of NLPmodelling (making new discoveries using NLP methodology) and NLPtraining (training in NLP methodology and application) and to a lesser extent NLPapplication (application of the products of NLP; Bostic St. Clair and Grinder, 2001). The major NLP skills and concepts to which students are introduced include:

Anchoring (an external stimulus or a person’s mental representation being associated with a particular behavioural or physiological response)

Perceptual positions (moving between first, second and third perceptual positions to gain insight)

Dilts’s neurological levels (mapping levels of experience and interpretation – transpersonal, identity, belief, capability, behaviour, and environment)

Devising well-formed outcomes (a rigorous target-setting process)

Table 2. Comparison of classroom modelling and formal NLP modelling

 

Classroom modelling

Formal modelling

Time allocation

In class, small-group investigations of individuals in a 60-minute lesson. The findings of several groups are then combined for presentation during a second 60-minute lesson.

The investigation of one or more individuals is usually carried out by at least one modeller working two hours or more with each subject. The information-gathering, distillation, and testing phases may last several hours or even days.

NLP tools

A narrow range of NLP tools that are encouraged in 6 hours’ contact time. Emphasis on: perceptual positions; Dilts’s neurological levels; and, well-formed outcomes.

A wide range of NLP tools up to the student’s level of training.

Presupposition difference

To seek those models that represent good practice but with awareness of the potential for cognitive dissonance.

To seek the best available models in terms of their excellence in carrying out a particular task or role.

Methodology

Emphasis on the exploration itself as a framework for learning. Interview, with implicit and explicit modelling. Use of three perceptual positions. Explanation in terms of Dilts’s neurological levels.

Emphasis on distilling a working model for a particular application. A wider range of procedures, such as formal testing by subtraction, the use of evidence procedures, and finding the limits of the model’s validity.

Outcome

To offer students a selection of strategies, and key elements the strategies have in common, drawing upon subjects’ values, beliefs, capabilities, behaviour, and the context in which they are expressed.

The key elements of a successful strategy are distilled in a form that can be taught to others.

The classroom modelling I have developed since 1988-1989 differs from formal modelling in NLP in a number of ways (see Table 2). First, classroom modelling provides a learning framework for students as well as a means for exploring the elements of a successful strategy. Formal modelling, however, has the end product of yielding a model of a successful strategy that can be taught to others (Dilts, 1998). Formal modelling was not appropriate for the sixth-form environment due to the lack of time in the curriculum for students to nurture appropriate NLP knowledge, skills and attitudes. An alternative approach would be for teachers to teach NLP-derived models of good practice but I have reservations about this approach. Students would require a background in NLP deeper than they could develop in a 6-hour examination-preparation course. In addition, being taught NLP-derived models of success is akin to a transmission model of teaching, with the teacher as the authority figure and expert who transmits knowledge, skills, and procedures which students then practice, often outside the session itself (Chalmers and Fuller, 1996). Also, I had concerns about cognitive dissonance (Wickland and Brehm, 1976) – about whether students would recognise these models of best practice as something they could aspire to, because they may be so different from their own practice. Classroom modelling circumvents these objections to formal NLP modelling. The reasoning is that students observe how various peers use different strategies in completing a given task and at least some of the elements are likely to resonate with each student.

The strengths of classroom modelling include students investigating their peers, making discoveries for themselves, and building connections between what they discover and their own practice within a framework under tutor guidance. In so doing, students are also introduced to NLP skills and concepts that might serve them well. In devising the course, particular attention was paid to addressing the nine facets of learning articulated in Stoll et al’s (2003) It’s About Learning (and It’s About Time).

The content of the Learning Toolkit short course, as carried out with an AS Biology and an AS Psychology class at Frome Community College in 2004, is shown in Appendix 1. The research methodology that accompanied the course was considered in the context of my role as in-class facilitator with class teachers as participant-observers and resident subject experts.

Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) has a novel research methodology that I chose not to adopt for the current research as its sensory-based evidence currently lacks academic acceptability (Craft, 2001; Tosey and Mathison, 2003a, 2003b). NLP also uses techniques that require specific NLP training. The results of NLP investigations are not readily amenable to interpretation by people without this training. Lastly, NLP research methodology, with its focus on the individual and differences between individuals, does not lend itself to generalisations that might apply to the wider student community.

The breadth of research methods was chosen to offer authenticity and richness of interpretation, and to provide opportunities for triangulation to strengthen validity (Andersen with Arsenault, 1998; Denscombe, 1998; Cohen, Manion and Morrison, 2000). Patterns in the results are being analysed to construct theory inductively (grounded theory; Glaser and Strauss, 1967). The following research methods were adopted:

• action research (Kemmis and McTaggart eds., 1992; McNiff with Whitehead, 2002) with myself and my practice as the focus, classroom teachers who are participant-observers and subject experts as critical friends, and the vice principal with responsibility for staff development as chair of the validation group

• audiotaping of lessons (for referral, if necessary, during action research one-to-one meetings, and in subsequent qualitative analysis)

• pre-course and end-of-course questionnaire surveys of participating students (the first for course planning purposes, the second to evaluate students’ perceptions of the ease, enjoyment and usefulness of course components)

• semi-structured interviews shortly after the end of the programme with a representative sample of participating students across the range of responses from the final questionnaire survey

• semi-structured interviews with participating classroom teachers at the end of the programme

• using statistical methods to test for significant differences, if any, between value-added scores (based on A-level Information System scores) for participating students and those of the rest of the subject-year cohort

Roles in NLP classroom modelling

Three roles are commonly used in NLP investigations (Seymour, 2002) and these were adopted in the Learning Toolkit at Frome Community College. In a three-person group in class the different roles give each person the opportunity to experience an NLP investigation from a distinct "perceptual position" (a different point of view) and practice different skills.

The subject has the opportunity to be guided to explore some aspect of their experience.

The guide (or operator) has the chance to develop and maintain rapport with the subject and to guide him or her through their description of an experience. The guide is setting up and maintaining the conditions that encourage the subject to explore his or her own experience.

The observer has the opportunity to see the interaction between subject and guide to a greater or lesser extent "from the outside". In most investigations the observer is also a helper and recorder. She is there to intervene and help should the investigation wander off track or become challenging to sustain. She usually records key findings in the interaction between subject and guide. Appendix 2 gives an example of notes supplied to the guide along with the notes taken by the observer during the investigation of a Psychology student as subject. Guides were encouraged to improvise and to use the guide notes as support and reference rather than as a prescriptive list. The notes taken by the observer capture only the linguistic "tip of the iceberg" of the subject’s responses.

Some preliminary findings

The action research methodology, with myself as the researcher/facilitator meeting with the class teacher between one lesson and the next to discuss what had occurred and to plan for the next lesson, proved invaluable. For example, discussion with the Psychology teacher (and observation of students during lessons) revealed that her class was familiar with a discursive teaching style in which students commonly gave presentations and discussed the ideas and notes they had generated on particular topics. By contrast, in the Biology class students were accustomed to a more fact-based, teacher-led style. Although Biology students did occasionally make presentations of their research findings, where discussion did take place it tended to be more tightly focussed and teacher-led. Responding to such differences, I substantially altered the teaching/learning approach with the Psychology group between lessons 1 and 3 from an experiential "briefing followed by an exploratory exercise" format to a much more discursive style in which students discussed issues in relation to background theory both before and after practical investigation. As for the Biology group, concerns from students that they felt they had not received sufficient instruction about revision methods during their time at school or college culminated in me taking most of one lesson to review potential revision approaches around the structure: preparing, summarising, reviewing, gaining assistance, testing and checking (Biology session 5, see Appendix 1). In a feedback session after the course had finished, more than one student commented that this intervention was arguably the most valuable element of the course! Differences in teaching/learning approach between the two groups belies the superficial similarity in their programme design (see Appendix 1).

Are NLP approaches, and in particular classroom modelling, appropriate for AS-level examination preparation? A key finding is that individuals within a class differed markedly in their response to classroom modelling. In answers in the end-of-course questionnaire, students varied in their response as to the ease, enjoyment and usefulness of taking on the different roles – subject, guide and observer – during investigations (see Table 3). For example, student 2 in the Biology group was uniformly negative in her responses to the modelling experience: "… none of the activities benefited me, though they may benefit others. I was uncomfortable participating … did not enjoy." Student 3 was positive about ease and/or enjoyment of the different roles, but did not comment on usefulness. Student 4 found being a guide and an observer was useful ("discovered alternative revision techniques"), but not being a subject ("nothing consciously gained"). In the Psychology group, student 9 responded positively to taking on the subject and observer roles, while expressing lack of enjoyment and apparent usefulness in being a guide ("Role was a bit boring because you had to ask lots of tedious questions that sounded the same as the one before."). Conversely, student 12, a male, found being a guide agreeable and easy ("I enjoyed being a guide and found myself being quite good at it. I felt quite articulate. Maybe there is a future career in this!"). He felt very differently about being a subject ("I felt uneasy and found the questions to be too limiting and found it hard to expand.") and being an observer ("I found I could quite easily take in the information in my head and recall it. But I struggled when I had to write it down and I couldn’t keep up."). Student 2 found all three roles useful. As subject, for example, "The rules were fairly easy to take on, and it did reveal insight into learning. I learnt things about revision techniques and about how I cram information."

Table 3. Experiencing different roles in modelling. A summary of student responses to the following questions in the end-of-course questionnaire:

In the modelling investigations you may have experienced more than one role (subject, guide or observer). What can you say about your experience of taking on a particular role?

For example, was taking on the role easy or difficult? Was it enjoyable or not? Did the role reveal insights about learning? Did taking on the role help you clarify your personal strengths and weaknesses as a learner?

AS Biology students

Subject

Guide

Observer

Easy

Enjoy-able

Use-ful

Easy

Enjoy-able

Use-ful

Easy

Enjoy-able

Use-ful

1

-

-

x

A

A

A

-

-

2

-

x

x

-

x

x

-

x

x

3

-

-

-

-

4

-

-

x

-

-

-

-

5

x

x

x

x

-

x

x

-

6

x

-

x

-

A

A

A

7

-

-

-

A

A

A

8

-

x

-

x

-

-

-

9

-

x

-

-

-

-

10

-

-

x

-

-

-

-

11

-

-

x

-

A

A

A

12

x

x

-

x

-

-

-

Useful

Overall

Useful

Overall

Useful

Overall

Totals for

1-12

+ = 3

x + x = 7

+ = 10

x + x = 12

+ = 2

x + x = 1

+ = 7

x + x = 8

+ = 5

x + x = 1

+ = 8

x + x = 4

 

AS Psychology students

Subject

Guide

Observer

Easy

Enjoy-able

Use-ful

Easy

Enjoy-able

Use-ful

Easy

Enjoy-able

Use-ful

1

x

-

x

-

-

x

-

2

-

-

-

3

x

x

x

A

A

A

4

x

x

-

x

-

x

5

-

x

-

A

A

A

6

x

-

A

A

A

7

-

-

A

A

A

A

A

A

8

A

A

A

A

A

A

9

-

x

x

-

-

10

-

-

-

-

x

x

-

11

-

-

x

-

-

x

-

12

x

x

x

x

x

-

13

A

A

A

A

A

A

14

x

x

x

x

x

15

x

x

-

-

Useful

Overall

Useful

Overall

Useful

Overall

Totals for

1-15

+ = 8

x + x = 3

+ = 14

x + x = 15

+ = 6

x + x = 1

+ = 17

x + x = 5

+ = 6

x + x = 2

+ = 17

x + x = 10

Key:

Underlined numbers refer to male students

√ = mild positive response

= stronger positive response

x = mild negative response

x = stronger negative response

- = no comment

A = did not take on this role

At this early stage in the data analysis it is possible to make recommendations about the use of classroom modelling. Preliminary results suggest that for AS-level students to develop modelling skills in a short course such as the Learning Toolkit is likely to be problematic, in part, because individuals respond very differently to the three roles in modelling investigations. In addition, the NLP skills students require, such as sensory acuity (noticing and responding to subtle changes in non-verbal communication) and the ability to readily switch perceptual position, seem to be challenging for most students to develop sufficiently in a short course. The researcher’s own experience – and borne out by one of the UK’s leading NLP trainers (Seymour, personal communication, 2002-2005) – is that responses to NLP courses tend to be much more favourable when participants have "opted in" to the course. In the current investigation, two AS-level classes were chosen that, within timetabling constraints, were as typical and representative as possible of the college’s subject cohorts for that year. Students had not opted into the programme but individuals were free to opt out. It is suspected that people who have chosen to do an NLP course are likely to have predisposing characteristics, such as particular emotional intelligence attributes (see section below "Predispositions for benefiting from NLP courses").

Recommendations for classroom modelling

It is recommended that classroom modelling is best managed by having the teacher as guide, working with those student subjects who are most comfortable and articulate to talk about their practice. This conclusion is supported by classroom observation and action research reflection on practice, and end-of-course questionnaire responses and interviews, in which some students express a variety of concerns about being interviewed (Student 3 in Psychology, for example, in a questionnaire response to being a subject: "Not very enjoyable. Invasion of privacy. Also found it least useful [of the three roles] ‘cos I didn’t learn anything new. Hard to answer the questions as I don’t think about how I write essays when I do them.").

There were marked differences between the Biology and Psychology classes in reported usefulness of the different roles. Biology students reported the observer role as being most useful (5 of 9, or 56%), with fewer responding positively to the usefulness of subject and guide roles – 3 of 12 (25%) and 2 of 11 (18%) respectively (see Table 4). Such responses, taken together with the ease and enjoyment of taking on different roles, could be interpreted as a high proportion of students being outside their "comfort zone" when in subject or guide roles, which may be related to the roles they usually adopt in Biology lessons. Among Psychology students, responses as to usefulness were much more evenly split between the subject, guide and observer roles – 8 of 13 (62%), 6 of 11 (55%) and 6 of 12 (50%) respectively. Positive responses overall (for ease, enjoyment or usefulness) were also markedly higher in the Psychology class than in Biology.

Table 4. Experiencing different roles in modelling. A summary of student end-of-course questionnaire responses:

 

Subject

Guide

Observer

+

-

0

+

-

0

+

-

0

AS-level
Biology
(N=12)

Useful

3

(25%)

7

(58%)

2

(17%)

2

(18%)

1

(9%)

8

(73%)

5

(56%)

1

(11%)

3

(33%)

Overall (easy, enjoyable, or useful)

10

(28%)

12

(33%)

14

(39%)

7

(21%)

8

(24%)

18

(55%)

8

(30%)

4

(15%)

15

(55%)

AS-level Psychology
(N=15)

Useful

8

(62%)

3

(23%)

2

(15%)

6

(55%)

1

(9%)

4

(36%)

6

(50%)

2

(17%)

4

(33%)

Overall (easy, enjoyable, or useful)

14

(36%)

15

(38%)

10

(26%)

17

(52%)

5

(15%)

11

(33%)

17

(47%)

10

(28%)

9

(25%)

Key:

+ = positive response

- = negative response

0 = no comment

Informed by such findings, particularly the lack of support for subject and guide roles among Biology students, a recommended generic approach to classroom modelling is having the teacher as guide interviewing a subject and the rest of the class as observers with different groups primed to notice distinct elements of the subject’s strategy for a particular process. Such elements might include the individual’s described behaviour, aspects of her mental strategy, relevant values and attitudes, and her approaches to time management and environmental management. The groups could compile their findings separately and then come together to produce an overall model of the subject’s strategy while highlighting the most important elements. This could be checked against the subject’s own understanding of her approach. By modelling, say, three successful students from a class, class members could discover those elements that are common to all three as well as those that are distinctive for a given individual. This approach offers students a repertoire of elements from which they can pick and choose according to their personal preference and need, while recognising key elements that appear to be common across successful strategies. The whole exercise, from briefing and set up to classroom investigation and compilation and discussion of findings, is likely to take 1.5 to 2 hours of class time and 1 hour of home study when investigating a single person, or 3 hours of class time and 2 hours of home study when researching three people. It needs to be made clear that classroom modelling does not pretend to seek the sophistication of formal NLP modelling in fine-tuning "the difference that makes the difference". However, experience to date suggests that gains from classroom modelling come early and are sufficient to make such investigation of good practice worthwhile.

Predispositions for benefiting from NLP courses

The epistemological approach of NLP (St. Clair and Grinder, 2001; Tosey and Mathison, 2003a, 2003b), or how we know what we know using NLP, presupposes that individual learners respond uniquely to the facilitator’s style of interaction with learners as well as being influenced by numerous other factors, including the social interactions and environmental conditions within the learning group, the nature of the subject material, and the previous experience of the learner. Factors that might predispose individuals to benefit from NLP approaches also depend on the nature of the NLP intervention. Is it concerned with generating new patterns of successful practice (NLPmodelling), facilitating change in a client (NLPapplication) or about learning to use NLP (NLPtraining)? The 6-hour Learning Toolkit course includes largely elements of NLPmodelling and NLPtraining.

With the above very great provisos in mind, it is nevertheless worth considering which students in a group are more likely to benefit from an NLP-influenced short course and in particular, might benefit from NLP classroom modelling. After all, for an educational innovation to be deemed worthwhile for use with mainstream classes it needs to be demonstrably effective for an appreciable proportion of the class, and it is worth considering how large this proportion might be. John Grinder, one of the two originators of NLP, writing in Bostic St. Clair and Grinder (2001, pp. 121–122), suggested that the following characteristics were shared by himself and the other NLP co-originator, Richard Bandler, and by implication, might have predisposed them in shaping NLP the way they did, namely:

"arrogant, curious, unimpressed by authority or tradition, strong personal boundaries – well-defined sense of personal responsibility for their own experiences and an insistence that others do likewise, willingness to try nearly anything rather than be bored (or boring), utterly lacking in self doubt – egotistical, playful, full capability as players in the ‘Acting As If’ game, and full behavioural appreciation of difference between form and content."

This list begs many questions, not least, whether all these traits were particularly relevant to the original development of NLP, and even if they were, are they necessarily important for those NLP practitioners that have come after? This researcher’s own experience, that of a leading UK NLP trainer (Seymour, 2002–5), and the two teachers involved in the project, suggests that some of these traits are likely to be of much greater significance than others. For students engaged in an NLP course where there is an emphasis on NLPmodelling and NLPtraining, such traits might include curiosity about how other people organise their thoughts and behaviour to accomplish tasks, personal flexibility in thought and action around the tasks being investigated, and a willingness to suspend disbelief and "play" with possibilities concerning how individuals’ strategies might be investigated and described. Such traits might predispose individuals to explore their own and other people’s thoughts and behaviour in new ways within the context of NLP. The concept of emotional intelligence includes elements that seem to be relevant here (Bar-On and Parker, eds., 2000). The BarOn Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-iTM) (Bar-On, 1997) with its five composite scales – intra-personal, interpersonal, adaptability, stress management, and general mood – is regarded as an emotional intelligence inventory with high reliability and with good internal, external, content and construct validity for four of its five composite scales (Cohen, Manion and Morrison, 2000; Dawda and Hart, 2000; Impara and Plake Eds, 2001). High scores in two of the EQ-iTM composite scales – intra-personal (self-regard, emotional self awareness, assertiveness, independence, and self-actualization) and adaptability (reality testing, flexibility, problem solving) – would seem to be of greatest relevance in predisposing students to benefit from NLP interventions in the NLPmodelling and NLPtraining arenas. Such suppositions are worthy of further investigation.

The author would like to thank the staff and students of Havering Sixth Form College and Frome Community College for their time, energy and commitment in contributing to the research on which this paper is based.

Appendix 1. Course content for the Learning Toolkit courses at Frome Community College

AS Biology class

AS Psychology class

1. Ground rules. Operating principles. Limiting beliefs. Well-formed outcomes.

1. Ground rules. Operating principles. Limiting beliefs. Well-formed outcomes.

2. Three steps to success. The action cycle. Sensory preferences. Steps in revising. Perceptual positions (different points of view).

2. Three steps to success. The action cycle. Sensory preferences. Steps in revising. Perceptual positions (different points of view).

3. Modelling I. Writing up practicals.

3. Modelling I. Writing an essay.

4. Modelling II. Investigating examination technique.

4. Modelling II. Investigating examination technique.

5. The results of Modelling II and discussion of examination techniques.

5. Modelling III. Preparing for a mock examination.

6. Modelling III. Preparing for a mock examination. Putting the pieces together, including well-formed outcomes, limiting beliefs, sensory preferences, anchoring, and shifting perceptual position.

6. Putting the pieces together, including well-formed outcomes, limiting beliefs, sensory preferences, anchoring, and shifting perceptual position.

7. Follow up with class teacher: The results of Modelling III. Setting well-formed outcomes.

 

Appendix 2. Guidance notes and findings from an investigation of a Psychology student’s preparation for an AS mock examination.

Question framework for the guide

Notes taken by the observer

1. PREPARING for revision

How does the subject prepare?

What does s/he gather together? How?

Does the subject PLAN the revision? e.g. construct a revision timetable. How?

Makes sure files are in the ‘right’ order so he can revise ‘fluently’.

Starts early.

Tidies room if it’s really messy.

Revises subjects in order of importance.

2. SUMMARISING the material to revise from

• Folder of notes (highlighting, colour, annotation?)

• Lists and headings on A4 paper or similar?

• Index cards (Q cards)?

• Mind map, brainstorm, or similar. Poster?

• Using mnemonics (rhymes or sentences as memory aids e.g. DREAMS)

• Audiotape or digital recording?

• Using a computer?

• Other?

Uses mnemonics.

Uses a computer.

Rewrites notes in shorthand. Key notes etc.

3. How, when and where does the subject REVIEW the material s/he is learning?

When? How often? How long is each session? What happens in a session? How does this change nearer the time of the mock exam?

Where does the subject revise? Is it always in the same place?

Starts revising about one month before.

Two hours a day if possible.

Sessions become longer and more intense nearer the exam.

Place: In the back room, near computer. Because it is quiet.

4. If the subject doesn’t understand something what do they do? How do they get HELP? From where?

(keep probing until you feel confident you know all the subject’s main strategies – these could include: using textbooks, revision guides, speaking to the teacher, asking other students, searching the web etc.)

• Asks parents

• Looks it up on internet

• Re-reads notes

• Talks to a friend or teacher if they’re available

• Uses textbooks and revision guides

 

5. How does the subject CHECK his/her understanding and recall?

Self-testing? How?

Working with others? How?

How does s/he check his/her answers i.e. that they are correct?

Does s/he practice exam-type questions? How?

 

Headings for different parts of subjects. Writes as much as possible about each one.

Talks to parents about subjects. Doesn’t think working with other [students] works.

Looks back through notes and textbooks.

Does not practice exam-type questions unless teacher asks for answers to be handed in.

6. Try and work out what MOTIVATES the student to do the revision. Do they use carrot and/or stick strategies? Do they think about the benefits of revising and doing well in the exam (reward) and/or do they think about the consequences of not revising (punishment)?

Is motivated by punishment. As an exam gets closer, pressure increases revision and motivation.

Reward – goes out!

Knows revision equals better results.

7. If you have time, try to find out what the subject BELIEVES about his/her ability to revise.

Thinks he’s not good at revision but knows it increases confidence.

Should take it more seriously.

Identity: Academic. Writes to make himself seem more intelligent.

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This document was added to the Education-Line database on 19 September 2005