“Pre-Teach Your Lessons,” Ensign, Apr. 1978, 60
Have you ever wished, as you finished a lesson, that you could teach that same lesson to the same students again? The next time you would really do it well! It is usually not possible to give the same lesson to the same students, but we can do something that is almost as good: we can practice presenting the lesson—in our minds.
Studies have shown that the human nervous system cannot tell the difference between an actual experience and an experience imagined vividly and in detail. For example, in a study of the effects of mental practice on improving basketball skills, the players who visualized themselves tossing the ball through the basket improved their skill almost as much as players who had actual practice. (Maxwell Maltz, Psycho-cybernetics, Prentice Hall, 1960, p. 32.) I have found that mental practice, or synthetic experience, is equally effective in improving one’s teaching skills.
Synthetic experience is a form of role-playing in your mind. First you must visualize your class situation in detail. Picture in your mind the physical classroom, the appearance of each student, and his usual behavior. Then visualize yourself presenting the lesson in this classroom to these students. Role-play—in your mind—the entire lesson presentation, including the responses of each student. Then vary your presentation to include other possible responses of the students. Role-play problems that might arise during the lesson, and your proposed solution to the problem.
Don’t be concerned during your first “practices” if you do not handle a problem successfully; most learning is a process of making and correcting mistakes. After the “practice,” analyze the situation, perhaps talk with someone else, and then decide on a better approach to the problem. In succeeding “practices,” role-play the best approach that you have devised. Repeat this role-playing until you have “taught” the lesson in a way that you believe will be effective.
You may wonder where you can find the time to “practice” the lesson. This is no real problem for most people. You can role-play your lesson while you are washing the dishes, ironing, riding to work, gardening, resting, or doing any other activity that requires little concentration.
After you have repeatedly role-played a lesson, you will have built patterns in your brain of successful, effective teaching experiences. These patterns will serve you as if they were formed from actual experience. Then when you actually present the lesson to your students, you will find that you are prepared, by experience, to present an effective lesson. As a bonus, you will know that you are prepared, and thus you will be free to concentrate on the special needs of each of your students. Naola VanOrden, Rural Sutter Creek, California