|Vol 5|No 3|February|2009|
Please feel free to e-mail this article to a friend, a principal, a parent, a colleague, a teacher librarian, a college professor, a poet, a magician, a vendor, an artist, a juggler, a student, a news reporter or anyone you think might enjoy it. Other transmissions and duplications not permitted. (See copyright statement below).
Developing Intuition as a Skill
There a number of steps required to help students make use of their intuitions along with their other mental operations and capacities.
Clarifying, Demystifying and Defining
Because intuition is often confused with the mystical, the psychic and the magical, it is important to lead students through a demystifying process, separating out the New Age connotations so that they can focus on those aspects of intuition most likely to improve their decision-making. As this article opened with such a consideration, students should be led through a search that shows them the range of possibilities from instinct, guessing and visitation to more reliable ways of thinking about intuition. This is not to say that all spiritual awakenings should be dismissed out of hand, but schools should focus their attention on mental processes that are less rooted in magic.
This article is separating intuition from the paranormal (phenomena, observations, occurrences, etc: beyond the normal scope of scientific explanation, and therefore not possible to explain in terms of current understanding of scientific laws.) While this separation may seem arbitrary to some, it helps match intuition up with more analytical potential partners. It might otherwise suffer from association with Electronic Voice Phenomena, Disembodied Voices, Electro Magnetic Fields, Hauntings, Poltergeists and Apparitions.
One good way for students to develop their own definitions of intuition is to explore quotations from famous and (sometimes) smart people, dividing across a spectrum ranging from New Age to more grounded understandings.
The Web offers many good quotation sites to support this learning strategy.
Another good way for students to develop their own definitions of intuition is to browse through the many seminars and books currently available on the Web or at book sites such as Amazon. They can be led through a sorting process again that groups the magical at one end of the spectrum in contrast to those more analytically promising.
It is unlikely that New Zealand intended to raise a generation of wizards or shamans, but it should be noted that a term like guru is sometimes employed by corporate types. We should always bear in mind that management thinker Eric Hoffer was quoted as saying that "Guru is a word for those cannot spell charlatan."
Enhancing Awareness and the Ability to Read Intuitions
Some people are more naturally tuned into the signals and signs available from this intuitive dimension of experience than others. Once the students have spent several hours exploring definitions, quotations and readings about the term, it makes sense to have them collect field data, testing out their own powers of intuition in various ways.
1. Meeting New People
Students at the middle school and high school level can be asked to share stories of meeting new people in the past (a neighbor, a teacher, a new student) who proved to be the kind of person their intuition first indicated. While we must beware of reinforcing stereotypes and preconceptions that are rooted in racial or group prejudice of various kinds, there are other indicators of character that should be on the minds of all young people. Many faces can be read like a book. There are signals of warmth or kindness in the eyes of some. There may be body language that is uncomfortable. We can heighten student awareness of these signs without unduly setting them against strangers in general. There is a huge difference between discernment and discrimination.
2. Predicting the Next Move
Students at the middle school and high school level can be asked to share stories of sports activities and times when they have correctly predicted the next move of an opponent. In tennis, basketball, soccer and a number of sports, the ability to make such predictions contributes in a major way to success. Some call it "court sense" - an awareness of what is happening, what is about to happen and how the player might fit into the flow or counter the flow. Tennis Pro Ron Waite writes of "the importance of anticipation and the need to disguise/vary ones game."
Waite goes into considerable detail explaining how he will scout an opponent in advance of play in order to figure out his "give-way cues." He is also looking for patterns of play. His article might be a good introduction for students to think about their own sports or the teacher might ask them to identify similar articles for their sports.
Studies across a number of sports indicate the importance of anticipation. "Action anticipation and motor resonance in elite basketball players" concluded:
In his "Enhancing Anticipation in Soccer Players," Joseph Breault outlines a program to strengthen "anticipation and "Game Intelligence."
Performance Assessment for Field Sports devotes several pages to anticipation and decision-making skills, reporting the results of studies that seek to train field hockey goalies and others.
3. Sizing Up a Situation
Sometimes we feel uncomfortable about a decision or an event that is on the horizon. This discomfort may actually take a physical form - as a pain in the gut or some other symptom of apprehension. Often this apprehension results from our brain processing information in a manner that is close to instinctual. There is something awry (related words = askew, crooked, lopsided, tilted, skewed, skew, to one side, off-center, uneven; informal cockeyed, wonky). We have seen something and recognized that it is not quite right, but our conscious, analytical mind is not so involved as the part of our brain that notices patterns visually. It is less about concepts than mood, balance and tone.
The ability to size up a situation, as mentioned earlier, is often related to experience in a field, with the novice usually having less success than the veteran, but your students, young as they are, will probably have had some experience with these premonitions and should be asked to share stories. Perhaps the premonition came before a test in school or a family holiday dinner? In addition to remembering such events, challenge them to consider whether or not they were able to take advantage of the premonition. Was it a completely ungrounded hunch or was there some basis in fact - signals and cues that could be read?
The goal of such activities is to sharpen students' awareness of intuitive insights while helping them to differentiate between gut feelings and more substantial and reliable ways of knowing and understanding.
4. Recognizing Types of Intuitive Thinking
The most reliable and grounded source I consulted in preparing to write this article is Intuition: Its Powers and Perils by David G. Myers ( Yale University Press, 2000). There are sections of this book that would make great reading for older students. In his chapter on Intuitive Expertise and Creativity, Myers, who is an experimental psychologist, outlines several categories of intuitive thinking and does an excellent job of illustrating how they operate for thinkers and performers like chess players and basketball stars. Having completed the exercise above about "reading a court," students will enjoy passages like the following:
Myers looks at the following aspects of intuition in this chapter:
This article argues that making students aware of these elements also can empower them to develop their own intuitive powers.
Testing and Balancing Intuitions against Other Thinking
Those who make decisions without considering intuition are handicapped, but the same could be said of those who rely too fully on intuitions without bringing other types of thinking into the mix.
"Never ignore a gut feeling, but never believe that it's enough." Robert Heller
It might help if our students could visualize decision-making as a process that involves something like a mental console. They are familiar with the controls that come with sound systems allowing one to turn up the bass or reduce the treble, to fade, to mix, and to synchronize. Just as a DJ mixes songs and tracks, the decision maker must take advantage of insight along with the more logical decision-making models that abound.
In striving for the balance suggested here, it helps if students are aware of what Myers calls the "perils" of intuitive thinking. In contrast to some fans of intuition, he laces each chapter with examples of when intuition can lead us astray. Students armed with a list of these perils have a better chance of achieving a balanced approach than those who step through life blissfully ignorant of these perils.
In his chapter, "Intuitions about our Competence and Virtue," for example, Myers explores three issues:
He quotes Artemus Ward as saying . . . "It ain't so much the things we don't know that get us in trouble. It's the things we know that just ain't so."
Myers' book would make an excellent text for secondary students wishing to find the balance mentioned in this article.
Teachers may introduce students to one of many creative problem-solving models available online or in book form and help them to see when and how intuition might enrich the process. In the model below, for example, teams often rush the first three stages and end up dealing with symptoms rather than causes. They also fail to generate a rich list of options and possibilities. Intuition can help find out what is really going on below the surface and can help fuel an inventive process.
The innovative strategies suggested in the books of Roger von Oech such as A Whack on the Side of the Head (New York, Warner Books, 1998) involve freeing the mind to play with the insights that can emerge when intuition is unleashed.
von Oech provides activities to unlock the mental locks that block innovative thinking. He offers strategies to inspire and support dynamic thinking.
Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell (Back Bay Books, 2005) (purchase from Amazon)
Defying the Crowd: Cultivating Creativity in a Culture of Conformity by Robert Sternberg and Todd Lubart (Free Press, 1999) (purchase from Amazon)
Intuition: Its Powers and Perils by David G. Myers (Yale University Press, 2004) (purchase from Amazon)
Copyright Policy: Materials published in The Question Mark may be duplicated in hard copy format if unchanged in format and content for educational, nonprofit school district and university use only and may also be sent from person to person by email. This copyright statement must be included. All other uses, transmissions and duplications are prohibited unless permission is granted expressly. Showing these pages remotely through frames is not permitted.
FNO Press is applying for formal copyright registration for articles.