Communicating with Mirrors

As I think ahead to the summer, I’m hoping that I can help new audiences understand teaching with CI.

Words in Alan Alda’s book If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look On My Face? are jumping out at me – literally, as I’m listening to it rather than reading to it.

For storytelling teachers, there is one idea that is obvious: that people will learn better if they have a story to attach it to. But Alda has a new lens for me to use as I discuss how slow is slow enough for language acquisition.

Alda discusses teaching scientists how to share information better through improvisation exercises. One of those is the Mirror exercise. The follower in a pair must mirror the movements of the leader at the same time. Alda coaches the participants, telling them to slow down so that they can be precise together. If the leader is moving too fast, Alda says it’s his responsibility to help the mirror (follower) keep up with him.

“The person communicating something is responsible for how well the other person follows him. If I’m explaining something and you don’t follow me, it’s not simply your job to catch up. It’s my job to slow down. This is at the heart of communicating.”

“If I tell you something without making sure you got it, did I really communicate anything? Was I talking to you, or was I just making noises?”

Mirroring moves in ever more difficult exercises in movement into speech. The pairs have to use signals from body movement and ideas and face to work together.

Any of you who are around me this summer: I’m going to be drafting you into experiments with mirroring and improv games. With luck, it will make at least me a better communicator and teacher.




PS Alda cites this article on tapping by Valdesolo and Desteno as leading to social cohesion. I suspect it is part of what might start to explain the miracles Gerry Wass and I have noted happening in classrooms where we use music.


3 responses to “Communicating with Mirrors

  1. Hi Michele,

    I am a Chinese teacher and new to TPRS but even though I am not very good at it, I have seen significant improvement in my students this spring. I just read your blog post “Multilevel Classes” I will have Levels 1,2,3 in one combined class next year so your posts are so helpful to me. I am not sure how to plan story telling/asking sessions for mixed levels. Do I have a few basic items for the L1’s in a story even though the L2’s have seen it, and then also an item or two for L2’s ?

    I am still trying to understand how I will make sure L2+ students get lots of reps with new language items while also giving Level 1’s the intro items they need to get started. Do you do some kind of embedded story telling? In other words are there parts of the story telling that are aimed at mainly the L2’s and the L1’s are sort of along for the ride but not so much accountable for those parts?

    Thanks again for your posts.

    Ray Barton


  2. Dear Ray,

    I wish I could tell you differently, but it’s much easier to combine levels 2 and up than to have level 1 in there with them all. At level 2, they know your system and you can differentiate in several different ways for the upper levels.

    If I were going to have to have rank beginners in with more advanced students, one way that I would handle it would be to start by giving the most advanced students the assignment of working on very basic beginning stories with the beginners. That’s of course assuming that they know your CI system. You could actually train them and coach them in the class. You’d have to tell them that this is not the best situation for them, but that together you will make it work. (I would also point out that teachers improve their language immensely by teaching with CI…)

    Meanwhile, I would train the mid-level students to create embedded readings. They could create embedded readings that you would vet, basing their structures on what the more advanced students are doing with the beginners.

    Then the room shifts so that the mid-level are working with the beginners, and you are with the advanced group, teaching them about embedded reading. Finally, you work with the beginners while the upper levels are writing. The next couple of days, you could do a MovieTalk with everyone, concentrating on repeating the structures that the beginners have had, but asking higher-level questions of the more advanced students. Then you start the rotation over, with the more advanced kids writing simple embedded readings about the MovieTalk, or a parallel story. Meanwhile, every day, you’re doing La Persona Especial so that the class is getting to know every student, and you’re singing together every day, as that brings a class together.

    I have found that working on ERs helps not only my language, but that of my students. It also makes them better writers in any language, as they have to figure out how to simplify a longer piece to its basics, and they also have to figure out how to embellish a basic story. The more advanced students can wrangle more complex pieces for the mid-level group, competing to make the readings more interesting.

    By semester time, or maybe even by the end of the first quarter, you might be able to work with all the students at once on stories.

    This may sound completely unworkable, but let me know if it helps you think. And then, I’d love to know how it goes.


  3. Great ideas. Thank you so much for taking the time to give a thoughtful response. I will try it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.