The role of NLP in teachers' classroom discourse

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  • The role of NLP in teachersclassroom discourse

    Radislav Millrood

    Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) is an approach to language teachingwhich is claimed to help achieve excellence in learner performance. Yet there islittle evidence of the impact that NLP techniques in teachers discourse canhave on learners. The article draws on workshops with teachers whereclassroom simulations were used to raise teachers awareness of the role thatNLP can play in teachers verbal interaction with their students. Theworkshops enhanced teachers awareness of the fact that by creating or ruiningteacherlearner congruence their classroom discourse can lead learners tosuccess or failure.

    Recent interest in Neuro-linguistic programming or NLP (Hardingham 1998) has been NLP seen recently as one of the resources to enhance e=ectiveness of

    language instruction. It has been well established in the framework ofhumanistic psychology since 1971. NLP claims to help achieve excellenceof performance in language teaching and learning, improve classroomcommunication, optimize learner attitudes and motivation, raise self-esteem, facilitate personal growth in students, and even change theirattitude to life (Thornbury 2001: 394).

    The task of introducing NLP to teachers is a complex one, because neuro-linguistic programming is often associated in published literature withexploring individual di=erences and styles in learners, acceleration oflearning, training of sensory systems, emotional memory, multipleintelligence, brain-based activities, hypnotic induction, counselling, etc.(see e.g. Fletcher 2000). NLP is presented as a very broad areacomprising various means to make learning more e=ective, involving,and learner-friendly (see tasks in Revell and Norman 1999). However,NLP in connection with classroom discourse still remains understudied.

    Workshops aims, Three workshops to enhance teachers awareness of NLP in their organization, and classroom discourse were organized in the city of Tambov (Russia). The participants workshops were held as brainstorming, simulation, and analysis


    The participants in the workshop were 16 experienced teachers ofEnglish, none of whom had less than 5 years of teaching in secondaryschools. All were satis>ed with their profession, enjoyed their work, and

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  • were regarded by authorities and colleagues as e=ective teachers ofEnglish.

    Workshop 1 NLP in teachers discourse was de>ned for the participants in the De>nition of NLP workshop as intervening with teacher-learner congruence by addressing

    learners cognitive-emotional domain (neuro component) throughverbal interaction with the learner (linguistic component).

    Teacher-learner congruence was presented as a perfect harmony betweenteachers and learners intentions, actions, attitudes, and motives in theirclassroom interaction. The teachers recalled situations from their ownexperience when there was no need to use modal operators such as youhave to, you should, you must, you ought to, you should have, andother means of verbal intrusion. Instead, classroom proceduresdeveloped naturally and smoothly with teacher and learners being on thesame wavelength (Andreas 2000: 17). In such situations learners wereperceived by teachers as proper students, while learners put trust in thetrue teacher, and regarded every moment of lesson procedures as theright teaching.

    The participants in the workshop admitted that teacherlearnercongruence produced a therapeutic e=ect of improved learner self-esteem, better involvement in classroom procedures, greater motivation,the lowering of learners individual defences, and an increasingsensitivity to knowledge (Thornbury 2001; OConnor and Seymour1993).

    The participants in the workshop were o=ered a zone of congruence (C-zone) metaphor, showing how skilful teachers can create stretches ofe=ective teacherlearner interactions during a lesson. The teachersagreed that C-zones in teacher-learner exchanges created optimalconditions for a productive classroom interaction.

    The teachers re?ected on their own classroom situations when they wereable to transform learner resistance zone (R-zone), i.e. inability orunwillingness to co-operate in a zone of congruence (C-zone). Figure 1below is one of the classroom video episodes prepared for the workshopwith teachers comments.

    The teachers came to their initial assumption that teacherlearnerinteraction could have an impact on learners performance (Thornbury2001: 393), and that this impact could become most positive in the C-zone. This assumption was illustrated by a popular NLP tenet that thereis no failure in learners, only in the teachers intervention.

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  • figure 1

    Workshop 2 The next step in raising teachers awareness of NLP in classroom NLP techniques discourse was to introduce the techniques of neuro-linguistic

    programming. Most researchers agree on the inventory of NLPtechniques (Garratt 1997; Hardingham 1998; OConnor and Seymour1993, etc.). These techniques were adapted for the workshop in thefollowing way: Establishing a rapport between the teacher and learner/s (building an

    interpersonal contact with the learner through support, interaction,and empathy).

    Modelling the learner (o=ering strategies for the learners to achievebetter results).

    Creating a learner >lter (monitoring correct/incorrect knowledge orbehaviour).

    Pacing with the learner (achieving harmony of teaching and learningin rate, style, and production).

    Leading the learner (introducing a cognitive challenge for the learner). Elicitation with learner (guiding the learner to an output). Calibration of the learner (recognizing individual di=erences in

    learners). Re-framing the approach (stopping unproductive teaching strategies,

    and providing better alternatives so as to improve learningopportunities).

    Collapsing an anchor (reinforcing learner achievement byemphasizing success).

    Analysing NLP techniques, the teachers suggested that theirimplementation or misuse could lead to success or failure in learners.

    Classroom episode Congruence Comments

    T: So, you have listened tothe text and who can nowtell me why this story isfunny.

    L: (silence)T: Is this story funny?L: . . . erT: Did the tourists know

    Spanish?L: No . . . EnglishT: How did they

    communicate?L: . . .with pictures.T: Yes, they drew a picture

    and wanted to say thatthey were . . .

    L: they were hungryT: Thats right. They were

    hungry and wanted to getsome food . . . etc.



    The teacher tried to organisea follow-up to a listeningactivity but the learner wassilent.

    The opinion question didnot produce any response

    The fact questions workedbetter.

    Further questions created abetter way to enter theC-zone with the learner, e.g.the learner took up theteachers idea by continuingthe sentence and the teacherdeveloped the learnerscontribution.

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  • For example, establishing a rapport could presumably be conducive tocreating a comfortable and supportive atmosphere during a lesson.Conversely, in certain situations, neglecting or denying a rapport couldbe an adverse factor that might impede learner achievement. Similarly,pacing with the learner could be part of the sca=olding system, created bythe teacher to bring students closer to success. Failing to keep pace with alearner could have a ruinous e=ect, especially on students with a lowcapacity for adapting.

    Verbalizing NLP In an attempt to integrate NLP and teacher discourse the participants in techniques the workshop were asked to think about what phrases they might use in

    order to implement NLP techniques in their discourse. The exerciseproduced the following results (Table 1):

    NLP techniques Teachers phrases suggested during the workshop

    Rapport Oh, great! Thats a very good idea! Now, there will be asurprise for you!

    Modelling Will you take notes? Follow the text closely. Why dont youwrite your sentences? First read and only then say.

    Filter Here are the words for you. These phrases will benecessary. The rule is You need more logic.

    Pacing Am I speaking too fast? Take your time. Do you follow me?Are you clear on what I am saying?

    Leading Could you say it clearer for all? I would like to elaborate onthis point. Why dont you make the story longer?

    Elicitation What if the question is put di=erently? Compare the twopictures. What do you know about . . . ?

    Calibration Reading is your forte. Why dont you sit nearer for betterhearing? You can do the rest after the other classes.

    Re-framing OK . . . Let me put it di=erently. I will read it slower thistime. Id better write the words on the board for you

    Anchoring This idea is particularly useful. I very much like your choiceof expressive words. These examples are really great.

    table 1

    Classroom In addressing teacher classroom discourse, the focus was put on the discourse and initiate and follow-up turns in the initiate-respond-follow-up teacher-learner framework (I-R-F), in which a teacher initiates an exchange, a learner congruence responds, and a teacher follows up with more verbal intervention

    (Sinclair and Coulthard 1975). The teachers admitted that congruencewith learners depended heavily on the form of initiation by askingquestions, introducing a task, explaining the material, describing asituation, etc. The teachers response to learners answers in the form ofcontrolling, helping, challenging, and evaluating, was also a veryimportant factor in achieving teacherlearner congruence.

    According to the teachers experience, building teacherlearnercongruence in the form of a smooth, uninterrupted, and productiveinteraction was possible in a collaborative classroom activity (van Lier

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  • 1984), where teacherlearner relationship was viewed by teachers as amore complex role pattern than teacherquestioner/assessor andlearnerresponder (Lynch 1991). Teachers discourse was understood asbeing deeply integrated in learners verbal behaviour, increasing the roleit could play in leading learners to either success or failure.

    Some teachers knew ways of making discourse more e=ective, includingthe use of questions referring to learners real life, thereby exercisingempathy with the learner, activating heuristics, giving a feedback onmessage rather than on accuracy, negotiating meaning with learners,talking naturally, maintaining classroom rapport and interactive groupwork (Kumaravadivelu 1993; Cullen 1998; Reilly 2001). The next stepwas to raise teachers awareness of NLP techniques in achievingteacherlearner congruence, and programming success or failure inlearners.

    Classroom The participants in the workshop were asked to simulate a classroom discourse situation with a learner who demonstrated certain problems in ful>lling simulation a task. The participants then tried to recognize NLP techniques in the

    stretch of teacher discourse (Table 2):

    Teacher discourse NLP techniques

    a So, what do you do in the morning? a Elicitation from the learnerb OK, Ill put it di=erently. b Re-framing teaching strategyc Lets take a look at this picture. c Leading the learnerd This is a family and each family d Creating a learner >lter

    member is doing something . . .eating breakfast, shaving, still lyingin bed, etc.

    e Could you say what each person isdoing at the moment? . . . e Eliciting from the learnertable 2

    In this exercise the teachers increased their awareness that the teachersverbal turns were at the same time NLP techniques with some de>nite,though not always recognized, functions.

    Workshop 3 By way of simulation the participants acted out teacherlearner Programming interactions, in which some problems occurred. Later, the teacher and success and failure the learner commented on their work (Table 3):in learners

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  • Teacherlearner interactions Teacherlearner comments

    T: The guy does it every morning. T: I start teaching and already feel He does it. So, hows Present Simple tired of explaining every single formed? bit.

    L: With the verb . . . L: I can say what I remember . . .T: . . .Yes, what else? . . . What verb? . . . T: I hate dragging ideas out of them.L: The verb . . . and no to . . . L: I know something but am not

    sure.T: Yes, now give me the example . . . T: Asking for examples is a relief.L: (silent) L: I am not sure what Present

    Simple is.T: What do you usually do at weekends? T: I know its useless to ask this

    question.L: to sleep L: I simply say what I can.T: . . .You usually do what? . . . T: At last he has got an idea.L: I to sleep late . . L: I say what and how I can express

    it.T: Yes, mind the verb . . . T: I still have to put him right.table 3

    The exchange illustrated that there was little teacherlearner congruencein the episode. The teacher, feeling tired and frustrated, wanted toincorporate the learner in the dialogue, and to enhance communicationby picking up ideas, commenting, and responding, but felt obliged toevaluate learner output, and to improve it grammatically by accepting orrejecting the contribution against certain criteria (Cullen 2002).

    Simulating success The participants in the workshop were asked to simulate and contrast a and failure typical exchange between a teacher and a successful/unsuccessful

    learner in performing a communicative task, e.g. eliciting from apicture. Among others, the following phrases were recorded in theexchange with successful learners: Why do you think so?, Give yourreasons, What would you do, if you were . . . , What is your choice?,Thats interesting, Thats a great idea, I am wondering whether youare right on this . . . , I have never heard of it before, OK, keep talking!,Its a very good guess!, etc.

    Exchanges with unsuccessful learners mostly contained phrases such asAnswer my question . . . , What have you understood from this text?,What new words do you remember on this topic?, Could you repeatafter me?, Say it in a complete sentence, Do you understand myquestion?, Mind your grammar, Use Present Simple, Say it again, Isthis correct?, What do you see after the verb?, Speak slower, Readevery word, etc.

    NLP techniques in The analysis showed that in simulating their discourse with successful teachers learners the teachers were mostly using NLP techniques such as pacing simulations with the learner (e.g. What you are saying is interesting indeed, I

    myself have never heard of it before, etc.). Another frequent techniquewas leading the learner with challenging questions (e.g. Why do youthink so? What would you do if . . . ? etc.). The number of leadinginterventions was slightly over the number of pacing turns. Yet anothertechnique used by the teachers with successful learners was anchoring

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  • success by saying, Your an...


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