There are a number of recent books on how our unconscious minds rule our behavior. One recent one is Subliminal:How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behaviour by Leonard Mlodinow. Pantheon/Allen Lane. Of course since Freud raised our awareness of the unconscious, this idea is not new to most of us.

One of the themes of Breaking Rules was the power of the unconscious on our teaching. There is no way to plan the hundreds of communications we make in a class so most of them we do out of consciousness. This is why I have been advocating recording and transcribing short excepts–a few minutes is more than enough–of our lessons.

Observing is used in many areas.  After an increase in food related illnesses in a couple of restaurants, the health inspectors visited the places where a very large number of patrons got sick. The staff who washed the dishes and silverware and knives said they were very thorough. When one of the inspectors observed the kitchen staff, they noticed that though they washed the blades of the knives 2 or 3 times and rinsed them with very, very hot water, they failed to wash the handles. The number of bacteria that are on the blades is very small since there are few bacteria on the fresh vegetables they cut. Most of the bacteria are on the hands of those who do the food preparation. The inspectors ordered the staff to wash the knife handles as well as blades and lo and behold the number of people who got sick diminished.

Mistakes in hospitals are decreased through observation also. In many hospitals, the number of pills that patients take are too few or too many. When nurses who were counting doses were video taped, they noticed that during their counting they were often interrupted by visitors. “Excuse me, what room is John Fanselow in?” So from saying “one, two,” they nurses went to saying ‘Room 405′ ” and so of  course lost track of their pill counting. The nurses made signs which they put on the counter when they were counting dosages: PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB; I WILL ANSWER YOUR QUESTION AFTER I FINISH COUNTING THE PILLS.  The number of mistakes decreased by around 90% immediately.

During the 50 years I have urged teachers to record and transcribe, around 95% have resisted. But once they record and transcribe, 100% say it is the most beneficial activity they have done to understand their teaching. One recently said “Observing is dangerous, but not observing is more dangerous and in fact a tragedy in our field.”

I am attaching a transcript written by a teacher with 20 years of experience who had never before recorded even one minute of his class. When he read it the first time with his colleagues, they did not notice anything in particular. They all thought that it was fine. But when I suggested they re-read it a few times and compare the sections and see how one leads or does not lead to another and compare what the teacher says with what the students say, they made a number of discoveries.

I am attaching a list of questions that they asked as they discussed the transcript after the 3rd reading. So if you do not notice anything that increases you understanding of your own teaching, try looking at the transcript to respond to the questions.



The questions (pdf)

Transcript (pdf)