I received several skeptical responses to my recent blog about teaching THE ARTIFICIAL FLOOR at Feldenkrais® Institute of Vienna this coming week. In that post, I told you about Austria implementing (another) countrywide lockdown and how that meant we needed to pivot the curriculum for this postgraduate program, which is about a now-classic hands-on Functional Integration® lesson, to an entirely online format.
While what I wrote expressed my belief that it’s possible to become a better Functional Integrator via distance learning, I did not state my reasons for saying so. I can see how that could make my claim seem brash or outrageous. If you’ll give me a few moments of your time, I’d like to tell you how I learned that it’s possible to learn Functional Integration even when we’re not in the same room.
During my training with Dr. Feldenkrais, there was something about how we learned to give Functional Integration lessons that puzzled and, between us, annoyed me.
Moshe said that the teacher doesn’t demonstrate during Awareness Through Movement® lessons because imitation is the poorest form of learning. Yet, in my training with him, and in all of the programs I had visited, the hands-on skills of Functional Integration were taught in the same manner. The trainer, standing or sitting in front of the class, shows the techniques with a live subject or, sometimes, with a skeleton as a stand-in.
My conundrum was brought into focus at the start of the first Strasbourg training that Elizabeth Beringer and I co-directed in the early 1990s. One of the trainees was blind. Accepting her application meant that we had to rethink the curriculum. Among other aspects, we knew we would have to change how we taught FI®, especially in terms of developing the lesson’s technical skills.
Demonstrating hands-on work and saying like “Look here. Do you see?” and “Don’t do it this way, do it like this instead” simply doesn’t work for the visually impaired. Since it’s questionable how much those kinds of visually oriented and verbally vague instructions help those who can see, our nascent abilities proved useful for the entire student body.
To give this trainee a sense of what was going on during the more intricate or in-depth demos, she would lie on the table while one of the faculty members guided her through what was being shown to the class — at the same time as it was being demonstrated. As the training progressed and the trainees’ proficiency developed, they stepped in to give her an internal sense, tactilely and kinesthetically, of what was being shown.
Much like what happens during an ATM® class, in adapting our teaching styles to an individual student’s needs and constraints something happened that benefited the rest of the class. Perhaps the best example of that was when Elizabeth guided the trainees, who were working with each other in duos, through the process of learning a hands-on sequence in a step-by-step, ATM-like manner. What a creative cross-pollination! A modality meant for learning about yourself became the basis for learning about someone else and about how they can learn.
Following my two-week stint as the guest trainer in the Melbourne teacher training, ten or so years ago I was set to present a module of MASTERING THE METHOD. This a postgraduate program that focuses on Functional Integration. When the organizers and I had planned the schedule, this seemed like a good idea. We couldn’t have known then that I’d have a radial compression fracture in my left arm and that I’d cracked right ulna — in other words, two broken arms — by the time the advanced course was to start.
Experimenting with and refining different non-demonstration dependent ways of teaching FI over the intervening years turns out to have been excellent preparation for teaching without being able to rely on showing the participants what to do. I had developed a bevy of instructional tactics and exercise structures to use for clarifying the composition of the lesson, giving teachers “a feel” for the lesson’s inner workings, and revealing the critical aspects of self-use.
Inspired by Feldenkrais’ notion of ATM lessons as environments for “learning about and from yourself,” I created collaborative group learning exercises — collaboratories, if you will — where trainees and teachers “learn from and with each other.” These structured learning experiences and games are a wonderful way of doing more than just practicing manual techniques and going deeper than learning a fixed protocol. Their engaging challenges, novel perspectives, and intriguing situations give the participants a means for discovering and developing the crucial components of giving good FI: pedagogical reasoning, hands-on sensitivity, perceptual acuity, and self-use.
One of my favorite formats is The Invisible Teacher, wherein I lie on the table and receive the lesson, or some section of it, from a Feldenkrais teacher who isn’t there. This changes the observers’ focus: instead of concentrating on where you’re supposed to put your hands and trying to figure out what they do when they’re there, you see the consequences of the techniques, that is to say, the spotlight is on the way the student responds to the teacher’s actions. This changes what the participants do in the subsequent lab from puzzling over how to replicate the teacher’s handholds and movements to figuring how to elicit the precise movements that I just described and demonstrated.
I first learned THE ARTIFICIAL FLOOR from my mentor and in my training, have given it to dozens and dozens of students, studied it with my colleagues, and taught others how to do it many times. Through this long apprenticeship, I’ve come to know the intricacies of this lesson plan and, especially, to appreciate the profound effect of the neurophysical mechanisms it elicits.
Working with colleagues, there seemed to be something missing in the way they gave this lesson, which traced back to two aspects of the lesson. First, there’s the challenge of understanding how the lesson works — especially in terms of what the teacher is noticing and responding to — and, second, there’s the way it’s been taught. Too much emphasis has been placed on how the teacher is moving the student instead of on how the teacher moves. For instance, consider how the videos of Feldenkrais using this stratagem invite us to focus on his hands and on how the student responds to his touch. All too often, we miss how Moshe is moving and where he’s looking, so we’ve no idea how he’s coordinating his action in response to what he sees.
These realizations already made me rethink teaching this lesson. As the guest trainer in the Baltimore training last fall, I had a chance to present THE ARTIFICIAL FLOOR in a new way, one based on these insights. Using ATM lessons, collabloratories, and different FI practices, I introduced the lesson without demonstrating for the first few days. In addition to the standard curriculum — by which I mean defining the techniques, the handholds used and movements sought after, and presenting the learning logic of the lesson — we explored the underlying dance, the one generated by the way a teacher’s questions and hints elicit the student’s responses and elaborate on them. In particular, we examined what is required of the teacher somatically-speaking: the underlying physical finesse and manual dexterity, on the one hand, and the tactile sensitivity and kinesthetic sensibility, on the other.
In preparing to teach this lesson entirely online this time around, I have had to reconsider how to teach it yet again. Unfortunately, some of the most effective online learning strategies won’t work. That’s because, unlike almost every other FI, this isn’t one that you exactly can give yourself. Thankfully, by now I’ve had plenty of practice turning lemons into lemonade.
If you’re curious to find out how I solved the problem — and if circumstances allow — you might consider joining us online starting this coming Thursday, 26 November 2020. For the schedule and details, please go to the Institute’s website or call them at +43 699 1133 1043.
So you know, there are other ways to learn THE ARTIFICIAL FLOOR with me.
- I will be teaching the course live at the end of April 2022 in Munich as part of MASTERING THE METHOD there.
- If you don’t want to wait that long, we will be making the recordings of the Baltimore ARTIFICIAL FLOOR available any day now.
Please stay tuned for more news.
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