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?
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”).