The activities shared this week are designed to help students become more aware of the blocks and limiting beliefs that get in the way of that potential, and how these are often reflected and reinforced by the language we usepdf-7698365

Flipping the coin exercises.pdfpdf-7698365 Coin templates.pdf

Learning and Teaching Update continues to look at practical activities that can be used to help young people explore the idea of ’emotional resourcefulness’, that is, the capacity for self-knowledge and understanding – and the ability to make the best use of that understanding

Challenging unresourceful perceptions and feelings isn’t simply a matter of disagreeing with a student: ‘Miss, I can’t do this’ – ‘Of course you can!’ Rather, it’s a question of allowing a student to become aware of the language (s)he is using, and to go beyond it to more positive ways of seeing. This ‘positive reframing’ can filter down to deeper levels and have a cumulative effect in shifting limiting beliefs and resultant unpleasant and unhelpful feelings. Really, it’s a question of engineering a change of perspective from the glass being half empty to it being half full.

There are many techniques, easy to apply in day-to-day classroom situations, that you can use to guide young people towards changing a negative outlook by changing the language they use about themselves. Some introductory ideas are shared below.

Flipping the Coin (or Positive Reframing)

Can we consciously rename or re-label the way we look at ourselves, other people or situations in order to alter our perceptions and responses? This is the question that lies at the heart of the following ‘Flipping the Coin’ enquiry.

  • Explain to your students that the words we use have enormous influence – when we label ourselves, other people or situations by assigning a word to them, we fix them. And to a certain extent we fix our response to them too. If, for example, I call a new situation a ‘problem’, then my attitude to it is determined, from however many other ‘problems’ I have come across. My attitude may well be very negative, if I have only ever had bad experiences of dealing with problems.

If, however, I was to call it a ‘challenge’, and I have had some challenging experiences that were both positive and enjoyable, then I am set to deal with the new situation in a very different way.

Explain to your students that ‘Flipping the Coin’ in this way – that is, changing the words we use to help ourselves look on the positive, or ‘brighter’ side, rather than on the negative, or ‘darker’ side – is one way of helping ourselves to respond in a more positive way when faced with difficult feelings, people or situations. The following activities will help them to explore the value of the technique for themselves.

  • Run an Opinion Line activity as a fun way of getting students to think about the key question at the heart of the enquiry. Your statement could be:

‘You can change the way you think, by changing the words you use.’

Stick a poster saying ‘Strongly agree’ at one end of your classroom, and another saying ‘Strongly disagree’ at the other. Students organise themselves into a line along this continuum according to how strongly they agree or disagree with the statement.

To do this, they have to talk to the people on either side of them, gauge the strength of their opinion, and adjust their position in the line accordingly.

  • Working together in friendship pairs, encourage students to support each other in attempting to ‘Flip the Coin’ with a current real life challenge. Double-sided coin templates are available for download here. Explain what they should do as follows:

Step 1 Think of a situation that you are facing right now that is making you feel very negative. Write down everything that you are thinking and feeling on one side of the coin – the ‘negative side’, including how it makes you want to behave – or how you are behaving! Share your thoughts with your partner if you wish.

Step 2 Now look again at the way your have described the situation and work with a friend (or alone if you wish) to see if you can find any words that seem rather negative or exaggerated. Can you change your perspective from ‘the glass being half empty to it being half full’? Can you try to describe the situation again in a more positive light? If you can, write down this new description on the ‘positive side’ of the coin. Looking at the situation in a positive way may help you to think of a more positive, creative way of responding.

  • You could also set your students to take part in an independent Coin-Flipping Experiment to give them the opportunity to try some reframing for themselves outside of your session. If they are faced with an unpromising, negative situation in or out of school over the coming week, their challenge is to try to ‘Flip the Coin’ themselves. Again, your students will firstly record their negative reaction on one side of the coin, and then their positive reframing of the situation on the other.
  • Invite your students to share their experiences – both successful and unsuccessful. Encourage them to reflect on the reasons for their success and, where they find it more difficult to ‘Flip the Coin’, get them working together in pairs or groups to help each other out – can they help a friend think of a way of reframing a tricky situation?
  • To conclude, if you launched this enquiry with the Opinion Line activity, you could repeat the activity to see whether there has been any change of mind as a result of the enquiry and discussion, and to explore the reasons behind any change.

Other simple reframing devices

In the following typical scenarios, questioning strategies are shared that can be used by staff (or by trained student mentors working with younger students) to help young people become aware of, and challenge, unresourceful perceptions and feelings:

The Can’t Blocker
‘I can’t do this.’

  • You can’t do this because? (List reasons, then work on them.)
  • What stops you?
  • What might happen if you did?
  • How, exactly, can’t you do this? (Break the behaviour down into smaller pieces. Work with the student to draw out its various aspects. Use other ‘Big Question’ words as appropriate: Why, exactly, can’t you do this? Where? When? With whom?

The Always/Everything Distortion
Challenging generalisations allows young people to ‘buy out’ of their extreme thinking. Look out for ‘all-or-nothing’ words like ‘all, always, never, everyone, no one, every time/place/thing’:

‘People are always yelling at me.’

  • Which people?
  • People are always yelling at you? (Challenge ‘always’).
  • People are always yelling at you? (Challenge ‘yelling’).
  • People are always yelling at you? (Challenge ‘you’).

‘Oh, everything’s going wrong!’

  • Everything?
  • How are things going wrong?
  • What would need to happen for them to go right?

Similarly, other extremes – ‘couldn’t, mustn’t, shouldn’t, unable to’, etc – can be challenged and changed:

‘I couldn’t do that.’

  • What stops you?
  • What would/might happen if you did?

The Mind-Reading Distortion
‘She’s not talking to me now, so I know she hates me.’

  • How does her not talking to you mean she hates you?
  • How (else) do you know that she hates you?
  • What do you think ‘hate’ means?

Outcome Thinking
When a young person presents you with a behaviour that’s limited, unhelpful and unresourceful, help to reframe by focusing on outcomes:

  • What would you rather have?
  • How would you prefer to feel?
  • What will you be doing to make sure this happens?
  • Let’s think of four things we can do right now to help …

When you have changed how you feel, what will be different inside and outside of yourself – how will you see/hear/notice/think/feel differently?

Positive reframing through language can be done in many ways, and has generated an armoury of powerful techniques, many within the field of NLP. For further information see Lewis and Pucelik: Magic of NLP Demystified.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in December 2009

About the author: Anne de A’Echevarria is the author of the award winning ‘Thinking Through School’. Previously a teacher, PGCE tutor and head of ‘Thinking for Learning’, a research and development team partnered with Newcastle University, she now works as a freelance education consultant and writer.

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