Friday, May 29, 2009

HOW we learn

One of the fascinating things I find about teaching is discovering HOW people learn and developing specific ways of teaching in order to meet that learning development as comfortably as I can make it!

It is so important for us, as artists, to develop an understanding of HOW we learn in order to be able to translate information fully into our craft.  It is a fascinating process, certainly as a teacher, to explore these possibilities.  Obviously each student is unique and often, most artists are a combination of learning abilities, but we all tend to gravitate toward a quadrant, when best served, can really help us find our craft more fully!

Cognitive science divides our learning strengths into 4 quadrants.  I want to present them to you in ways that make sense to us as artists.

The first is the SF learner - Sensor-Feeler.  This person is a talker - and when given direction of technical behavior, or blocking, or direction of character, needs to re-present it to be able to digest it fully.  They are not great with taking direction and "doing" without speaking through the process themselves and THEN doing.  Often, once they are asked to describe a sensation or re-articulate a direction, they are able to take that into their bodies more fully almost immediately, and then never forget it! They build concepts into their bodies and into their craft by finding the verbal language to describe what will happen - and then are able to make it happen.  They use the teacher as the rebound - to restructure the language from the teacher or the director, and then engage it within themselves. They build in sequence - known to unknown - and must have a careful plan of attack so their progress and development shows clear structure and a path.

The 2nd is the ST learner - Sensor-Thinker.  This is a student who LOVES details. You cannot tell them "just do it" cause they want to know WHY!!!!  They often work better with the details and then gradually pull into the larger picture of the concept.  They work with explicit instruction and are often "hands on" learners. They need to physically feel something in order to replicate the sensation. They are tactile.  These learners tend to be a bit black and white about their development - and get frustrated easily when it doesn't "work" right away.

The 3rd is the NF learner - Intuitive-Feeler.  This is a truly organic learner - creative and abstract.  This in some ways in the most tricky student and the ones that are highly dominant in our business!  Metaphor is huge for these students.  Finding and creating metaphors for them will bring a strong and visceral reaction to their development and finding connections between things of different origins will allow them to make the connections more personal as they translate fully. These learners march to their own drummer - and if their way of learning is not recognized and fully developed, they often quit easily and get bored. It is a challenging student but also, if you reach them, a very rewarding one!

The 4rd is the NT learner - Intuitive-Thinker.  This is a student who thinks - looks at concepts first and deals with details later. These are the "overview" students - they want to see the whole picture first and then and only then, will they delve into the details! Giving them abstract concepts allows them an opportunity to inhabit a balance in their learning!

Now, obviously we are seldom only ONE of these corners, but more often, a combination of two or sometimes 3.  We generally have a dominant quadrant and a submissive one.  I really believe that singer AND teacher must find how that singer learns primarily and that the teaching is geared toward meeting that student where they are in order to find the BEST of that student and also how to approach the material - be it technical behavior or musical behavior or theatrical behavior - with ease and authenticity.

So, now it's your turn - can you see yourself more definitely in one of these 4? or are you a combination of 2? Can you see then how you have worked with some teachers better than others and the possibilities of why you function more comfortably in certain environments, from a learning behavior perspective?

I must say, I am always disappointed when I hear a teacher say "my way or the highway" in describing HOW they teach.  I believe it is part of being a teacher to be RESPONSIBLE not just for the material being taught, but for HOW IT IS TRANSLATED for each singer walking into the studio.  If we call ourselves teachers we must find ways of meeting that student precisely where they are.  And in doing so, we must be able to translate not just the material, but also challenge the student to discover HOW they learn in order to develop those naturally dominant tendencies more fully and more consciously as well as develop those parts of us that do not feel as natural, in order to function more fully in our craft.


  1. Your descriptions actually read a lot like the Myers-Briggs personality type. Lots of variants on this test can be found on the internet like here

    My personality type is ENSF so I would generally be the third type of learner.

  2. Myers-Briggs did great exploration in this and certainly influences my teaching greatly to find out how my students learn!