If you're new here, you may want to subscribe to my RSS feed. Thanks for visiting!
The term head-fake learning is one of my favorites when it comes to discussions about teaching methodologies. The credit for this term goes unfortunately not to me but to one of my biggest inspirations when it comes to teaching and advice in all terms of mastering ones life, Randy Pausch.
Randy considered head-fake learning as one of the most useful weapons in a teacher’s arsenal. Up to now I totally agree with this point of view and would like to discuss how you can implement headfake learning methods into everyday teaching.
What is head-fake learning?
Before talking about the implementation we have to define head-fake learning though. While I am not a big fan of fixed and casted in concrete definitions we at least need to know what we we are talking about. So ‘head-fake learning’ stands for the form of learning that is not obvious at first sight. Students think they are learning something about matter a but are, in fact, learning something about matter b. On a bigger scale this could even be a different subject or – on a meta level – about how to live life. Head-fake learning can be used in all different varieties and with many different outcomes. That is the beauty of it. Examples will follow but to sum it up again: You don’t recognize that you are learning something while doing so. That’s head-fake learning.
Head-fake learning examples
The best example, of course, comes from Randy Pausch and was given during his last lecture. The last lecture was titled ‘How to achieve childhood dreams’ and in the end he asked the audience
‘Did you recognize something? The head-fake? This lecture was not about achieving childhood dreams, it was about how to live your life. and do you recognize the second head-fake? This lecture was not for you, it was for my children…’
While the last part is, obviously, quite emotional (very understandable of course!) the first part shows the essence of head-fake learning. You (or your students) expect to hear something about topic A (and they actually do) and while hearing about topic A they also understand topic B (which might even be more important). This example is of course one of the bigger ones, one almost scratching the meta surface. So let’s back up and see other examples of head-fake learning implementation.
Teaching anything – in a second language is also a good way of implementing head-fake learning. While being in Thailand I do not only work as English or communication teacher, I even teach computer subjects, coach a sport team or simply hang out with students while talking English. This is a completely other way of head-fake learning but also effective and helpful. While students focus on their hobbies, sports or subject they still have to use English and improve their skills dramatically.
A further example can be seen when working in teams or groups. While students focus on their task to solve the given problem their are also mastering teamwork and gain practice in this valuable skill. Organizing a team, keeping up with ones responsibilities and being there and helping one another are crucial in today’s workspace and therefore very essential to know and to learn – best as a head-fake.
How to implement head-fake learning
Obviously it does not make sense to say “hey guys…today we will use head-fake learning…” when trying to use this technique. You will have to implement it silently and carefully. While it might sound easy when reading through the examples it actually takes a lot of preparation and focus.
You should define your goals before each class / lesson and try to focus on them while talking and teaching. While I am a big fan of spontaneous classes the main goal should always be in your mind. What are you aiming for and how long should it take to achieve it? It is very easy to lose focus and to simply go with the flow. That is – in some kind – very useful but as already mentioned the overall goal should always be present. At least in your mind.
While head-fake learning is great fun when it works you should try not to ‘over fake’ it. Do not let your students do something ‘stupid’ while trying to teach something different. That means that topic a should be from importance as well and not simply some easy or boring routine things.
Bottom line: Do it!
Try it! The work that comes with preparing lessons that use this methodology is definitely worth it and will not only help you but – more important – also your students help to learn faster and to maintain this knowledge as well as enable them to use it properly. Give it a try and tell me about your experiences!