What you practice is what you learn

Trainees put what they’ve learned to the test—and, in doing so, become more competent teachers—during the hands-on practicums that training programs conduct in the last segments of a program.

During a practicum, members of the general public receive a lesson in a teaching clinic. Each volunteer’s lesson is supervised by a faculty member who, after trainees have given their lessons, offers personal coaching on technique, strategy, communication, and approach. This faculty member underlines what the trainee has already learned and is doing well. And he or she also suggests what needs improving and how, specifically, the trainee can go about improving it.

During the first three-quarters of the training, trainees have learned how to give Functional Integration® lessons. That means that we can devote the last quarter of the program to learning to give better lessons. Among the means and exercises built into our comprehensive curriculum, practicums create real world situations where trainees can develop their observational acumen, teaching skills, and reasoning abilities.

A practicum provides practice in becoming a reflective educator. That is to say, a professional who considers what works and what doesn’t, understand how individual student’s learning strategies, adapt their teaching style accordingly, and shares the models and means for communicating about our method. Finally, the practicum is another setting where trainees get to refine further the ways they themselves move when giving a lesson.

Well, at least that was what I told myself, until four years ago February, when I was biking home after the training in evening rush hour and a sentence popped into my head, unbidden and unrelenting.

What you practice is what you learn.

It was like a jingle from a song. I couldn’t get it out of my head. With every turn of the wheel, the phrase returned.

Okay, okay.

I start to wonder, I can’t help it. What else do the trainees practice? What are the practicums training the trainees to be good at doing?

Then I got it. DOH!

They keep giving first lessons.

That’s what they were getting good at. Starting. Certainly knowing how to get a learning relationship off to a good start is necessary, but nowhere near sufficient for being a good educator.

I was reminded of a friend who loved the beginning of relationships and honeymoons, in particular, whether accompanied by marriage or not. Without fail, every relationship ended immediately upon returning from that wonderful romantic trip. Just the first chapter over and over.

What about the second? The third session? And subsequent lessons?

What kind of practicum would prepare trainees for that?

What we did then, and are doing again in the end of the current teacher training, is this: We ask for someone to volunteer to come three weeks in a row and receive a lesson each week. That person works with a trio of trainees, one of whom gives the first lesson, another the second, and the third, the final session the third week. The trainee giving the lesson gets support from the rest of the trio during the lesson; after the lesson, the trio debriefs the lesson with the faculty member who observed the lesson.

What happens next is pretty darn cool.

That’s because the conversation naturally shifts.

Instead of talking only about what happened in the one lesson the trainee gave, we start to talk about how a student learns across a series of lessons. How do you prepare the way for the next lesson? What defines a complete lesson? How do you know when to stop? What tells you how much is enough? How can your lessons build on what students have already learned so they have a chance to discover, for themselves, what they may have missed? Or have yet to learn?

Moshe’s method is more than a collection of Feldenkrais® formulas or magical moves. Inherent in every challenging, intriguing, transformative sequence of movement lessons he composed was an understanding of how we learn over time. That understanding is baked into his teaching.

Dr. Feldenkrais was an old-school judo master, one of the first, someone who demonstrated his understanding to give you the direct experience of it. But he neither talked in class about his reasoning nor taught the biomechanics that informed his perspective nor made readily available any of the systemic models and empirical tools he used to facilitate each student’s learning.

That’s what’s great about those moments when the lesson is over and the student has left, when we reflect on the student’s learning. That’s when this implicit unfolding is revealed, when the method is made manifest and can trace the arc of the student’s learning. Realizing the distance traveled and recognizing intersections, roadblocks, plateaus, detours, and dead ends, we begin to understand the student’s learning journey and chart the voyage ahead. At these moments, Feldenkraisian reasoning becomes explicit, its application pragmatic, and the results become evident, easy to track, and build on.