Cues Revisited

Cues n Questions Pic

Just recently, I was observing a youth training session at a local football (soccer) school. The coaches there are without doubt all well trained and very successful at their job. Over 10 minutes, I heard multiple ‘negative’ cues/comments/instructions such as “…without a defender and you can’t score…” , “…why are you running there (in response to an undesired movement)…” , “…don’t move till the attacker moves..”, etc. If given a chance to interview the coaches and a proper evaluation, I am sure that the examples of spoken comments above does work in the bigger scheme of things for this sport group of higher level competence. Being the overtly analytical who is attempting to reduce and construct, I can’t help but to second guess a potentially better interaction interface and think even more about the role of us teachers and how better to engage learners that will optimise long lasting learning. This is especially so if we are looking at potentially more effective non-linear ways to incite potentially more meaningful learning.

I have shared a bit on cues and the thoughts there represents my own limited experience of the reliance on cues to encourage behaviour that goes towards learning. In the earlier article, I stated

“…At this point, I will refer to two kinds of cues; (type 1) cues that represents pre (set-up), during and post final desired movement objective actions, eg “…elbow back, elbow side and elbow front…”, (or technical cues) and (type 2) cues that that directs attention to an external locus, eg “…I want you to throw as far as you can above you head…”. In fact, something to consider is the roles of cues as a diagnostic tool for the teacher to use to improve activity design. This cues can be used directly as a teaching tool also, provided learners are competent enough to understand. I see a lot of confusion, or rather not enough thought put into this two important roles that cues can be used for (diagnosing and teaching), which results in them being used interchangeably. Cues that teachers rely on for diagnosing technical success/failures can go through a pedagogical process before being offered to students for learning….”

The last sentence above is trying to suggest that if technical cues, i.e. cues that focuses on the learner themselves in executing a task, are used in raw form for beginners, then it is possibly in the realm of reproduction. Learners might lock in the desired action as a part-skill replication outcome and not part of a bigger skill objective that is desired, a subsystem to the bigger complex system. Cues that direct attention to an external focus, either task outcome (like throwing further or higher) or environment focus (look up towards the sky as you release the discuss), brings attention  more directly to successful holistic skill outcome, e.g. ball lifting off ground above the defender in front rather than  focusing on specific movement steps in the kicking mechanics. This is going into the building up of schemas that are connected to allow skill variation and future own learning when needed, hopefully! When this happens, I refer to it as successful technical concept learning that will lead to better tactical concept awareness. (In my definition, a technical ability acquisition becomes a technical concept realisation when a learner realises the connection between outcome and own actions, allowing for own refinement for future use).

 In teaching for understanding, cues will inevitably be closely intertwined with question and information statements. Perhaps this most visibly defines the production teaching styles when it comes to teacher interaction for understanding and inquiry. As the interest in these styles gets a revival, the roles of cues and questionings will need to gain this consideration in tandem.

This is in no way saying that the latter is more important or effective but rather wanting to lookat learning in a non-linear way via implicit learning, among other things. In fact, Type 1 cues gain a lot of importance at higher level of learning as competence increases and can even be used in peer learning as the direct descriptions provides for easy to observe (at times) milestones that is needed for some learning scenarios.

Recently I was watching a clip on how to help prevent injuries in some weight lifting exercises for youths. One of the segments recommended telling students to not hyperextend their spine when doing standing shoulder presses and bench presses. In this case, I will assume the teaching cue assumed for this is to directly tell the students to “..not hyperextend the spine…” This can be take on the role of a teaching cue, a very direct one which probably falls into my first category of cue definition above. My immediate preference is to get the student to sit, reduce the support chain effort at hips and below, and use lighter weights. My teaching intervention here is to modify the environment and my verbal instructions will probably be “…look at horizon..” and to follow up with reason for it,”… keep your body ‘straight’, we don’t want your spine to ‘curl’ back…” The idea here is to provide cues that encouraged a secondary action which supports the primary action of concern and causing, to some extent, an implicit activation, along the lines of the second category of cues mentioned above. For the bench press, perhaps the environmental change of lifting the floor and the verbal cue of “…push your back against the bench…” will encourage a hip position and flexed spine that counters the weights lifting trying to hyperextend the spine. In all my preferred responses, I will very much like to also explain what each action does that prevents inefficiencies through bad form, teaching through understanding, and these explanations will come at the appropriate teaching moments, i.e. cues, questions and information statements.  For beginners, the use of cues to facilitate implicit learning or allowing action behaviours through constraints while focusing on secondary action cues (a secondary action that support the desired primary action) can be considered for a bigger role in teaching.

All these brought me back to explore and think more carefully what the roles of cues are. In fact, a concurrent exploration to also look at what makes a good cue to support the roles is also needed to fully appreciate what cues can do in learning. Cues are probably very underrated and assumed to be a very natural, automatic consequence of more important teaching processes that gets all the attention. Cues are probably more accepted as ‘quick teach’ instructions that guides directly the implementation of a desired action that is part of teaching. There are no quick fix statements and prompts that satisfies immediate movement expectation but rather an incredible ally to teaching at a deeper level. It is not unusual to find cue ‘remedies’ for movement skills being shared with easy to remember acronyms or rhyming words. I am sure these cues represents a more elaborate process than just direct instructional usage.

If we consider all instructions in teaching to be playing a part of a holistic approach that is guided by beliefs and philosophies, then it can be said that any attempt to get students to learn must be part of the cue definition also. It is the final interface between students and teachers and require that due consideration in implementation. The setup to the cues will be the explanations, discussions and the environmental-task structure provision that in its entirety represents pedagogical approaches and teaching beliefs.

Perhaps we can also look into the impact on action of the cognitive process when using different kinds of affective attention focus other than physical (including own physiological cues), i.e. internal and external as mentioned above. An example will be the use of the negatives, e.g. “…do not pass forward…”, over the use of exact desired learning, i.e “…only pass the ball in the direction of your own end zone…”. The first paragraph also presents a few ‘negative’ examples. Does the negative connotation take more processing for the beginner as opposed to a direct cue? So the variation and different factors for better engagement can be infinite if we want a stronger connection between cues, questions, information statements and how we want to teach. To be continued…

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