How do you connect to someone without having the lived experience needed to understand and apprehend fully what are the real concerns and needs of the other person? A key teaching problem. It applies to an adult teaching a topic to a child or a non handicapped trainer helping a disabled person to acquire a skill. Can you really capture and appreciate the learning needs of the other you are teaching?. Apparently not a serious issue considering the lack of an extensive debate on the question (1). We could call refer to it as the “reversed Meno” problem. Plato in his Dialogs (2) mentions a dilemma that occurs while he was teaching the slave Meno a particular topic. Without any prior knowledge on part of Meno it would be virtually impossible to introduce to him the essential concepts needed to grasp the topic. Therefore, Plato conjectured (sic) that for any learning to take place we have to assume that some prior knowledge is already present. Not an unlikely assumption. But does it work the other way around? Is prior, relevant knowledge present on part of the trainer, teacher, or mentor to truly connect to another person?; that is, to relate to the learning needs and learning abilities present. Of course, the necessary topical and subject matter knowledge most likely are in place but when referring to what might be labeled as “knowledge of the learner” this may be quite a different matter.
A study on training disabled persons might give some clues on what is happening on part of the trainer-mentor. The study made use of “intensive interaction” which is a kind of dialogical approach using the mimics, facial expressions and gestures of the trainee in order to establish a relationship in understanding. Three trainers were supported during their practice period with frequent feedback on what and how they reacted to their learners. The experience turned out to be a revelation for the trainers; stepping out of a professional teaching mode and really trying to mimic the learning language of their learners they reinterpreted their teaching altogether. (A pity though is that the study does not say much about the learning results on part of the learners).
So what can be taken from this? At least that being comfortably embedded in your own teaching mode can block a full appreciation and commitment to the learner’s needs. What seems to be implied by the results of the study is that the other’s perspective is desired, or more precisely, an immersion into the learner’s space (conceptually and emotionally) is wanted to really connect and build understanding. Sounds familiar to the truly teacher, but it will require deep engagement and empathy beyond ‘mere’ effort which probably has to do with an extended professionalism – teaching is incarnating your learner’s standpoint. Which brings us back to the Reversed Meno problem – can we accomplish that?
Teaching intensive interactionto paid carers: using the‘communities of practice’model to inform training Kelly Rayner, Samantha Bradley, Tees, Esk, Gemma Johnson, Jennifer H. Mrozik, Afua Appiah, and Maninder K. Nagra,
British Journal of Learning Disabilities, 44, 63–70 doi:10.1111/bld.12111