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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Tap, Tap, Tap

Among the books that I've read and found interesting enough to return to again and again is Made to Stick, by Chip and Dan Heath. It's a compelling work that offers a number of great ideas that could be converted and applied to leverage success in school leadership.

One of the more interesting sections of the book explains the concept referred to as "The Curse of Knowledge." It involves a study of people tapping out songs from a list of over 100 universally recognized songs, like Happy Birthday, the Star Spangled Banner,with the goal of having the listener correctly identify the simple and well known song. 

Before the tapper was given the title of the song they were asked to predict the success rate of listeners who were expected to guess the song based on the tapping. The average prediction of the success rate was 50%. They presumed that the listener would be right at least half of the time. However, the actual success rate was far lower, at only 2.5%, or 1 in 40 attempts.

Try this out yourself. We did at a faculty meeting that was designed to reinforce the need for teachers to introduce learning objectives within a clear context, with meaning, value and relevance to the learners. When we tried this the staff was surprised at the low success rate of the listeners. It appeared to frustrate the tapper, who couldn't believe that the listener was unable to identify such an easy, well known song. When called upon to try again, the tapper usually was more deliberate and tapped louder.

The problem is related to the fact that the tapper not only knows the song, but is also humming it in their head while they tap. Unfortunately, the listener does not know the song beforehand and certainly is unaware of the context of the humming inside the head of the tapper. Thus, the listener is puzzled by a series of unrelated taps in a twisted type of Morse code. The discord produces frustration for the tapper (or, in the case of a failed lesson, the teacher who can't understand why the learners "don't get it"). Typically, the tapper,(teacher) struggles to repeat the same delivery, but slower and louder, and with less patience in hope that that alone will lead to success for the listener (learner). Imagine the status of the listener (learner) who grows weary and embarrassed at not being able to recognize the song (objective).

Have you ever experienced this doomed dynamic?

It's a quick and easy strategy to remind people of the importance of conveying information. Perhaps the way that people talk through or over each other, particularly during the current political campaigns, when parties are at opposite ends of a polarized argument debate. Given the present state of vitriol contentious discourse in the educational arena it would be easy to find yourself locked in an exchange as frustrating as that illustrated in the tapper-listener exercise. Make sure you are not grinding away at expressing yourself with the benefit of humming a song in your head that the listener cannot hear. Provide a meaningful, valuable, and relevant context for the listener if you expect to have any success in communicating a persuasive position or policy. Seek alternate methods of presenting the idea or information. Show, don't tell.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this! The whac-a-mole image helped give me the reality check I needed.