From a letter to an educator:
Alan Anderson & Radar
Although I am a kindergarten through fifth grade music teacher, my deepest concern about my students lies primarily in the realm of attention and focusing. Over the course of 13 years of teaching, I have come in contact with hundreds upon hundreds of lesson plans, interventions and other tactics intended to increase learning on the part of my students, but I can't help but notice that the basic ground (that's missing) of all of these activities is ability to focus. A child who cannot focus has little or no chance of hearing or seeing what the teacher is doing, regardless of how brilliant it might be. So I consider attention and focusing to be at the tabula rasa of all attempts at education.
I have made numerous attempts at increasing my students' pure attention, but it wasn't until last year that I could honestly say that something worked.
I began to study karate last year with a martial arts master, Kyoshi Michael Coleman. In my classes I noticed that the more experienced students would often place their fists on their crossed legs while listening to the teacher. The fists were placed upright on the knees with the thumb pressed down -- the way politicians point at their audience with their thumb, rather than their first finger. I asked my wife who had been studying for a year, what the meaning of this was. She said that it was a way for students to show respect and one-pointedness in listening to the teacher.
In addition, I watched how my teacher would get the attention of children studying martial arts by standing in front of them, palms together, and then say, "Ichike" ("Attention" in Japanese). Upon saying this word, teacher and student would clap twice and the children would sit down. Between this and the fists on the knees, I thought that there was some great lurking potential here.
So this is what I put together:
When my students came into class, I asked them if they knew what "radar" meant. I then discussed the revolving radar mechanism that they might have seen at airports and what it did. Then I told them that they have their own radar, and asked them what that might be. Once we had established that their radar existed primarily in their eyes and ears, I let them know about this "special" secret that martial arts students knew, called "samurai pose" or "warrior pose". I taught them that this pose with hands on knees---with eyes, ears all pointing at the teacher---helped the samurai to stay alive in battle by listening and watching every word and movement of their teacher. If samurais didn't focus perfectly on their teacher's instructions, they could lose their lives.
This was all very interesting to my students, and they were perfectly willing to learn how to stand with palms together, and clap twice in unison upon hearing the word, "Ichike", immediately followed by sitting down silently with their hands and bodies in "samurai posture".
I would do this in the beginning of class, and then, throughout the 30 minute classes. I would notice a student or two who remained in this posture, looking sharply and penetratingly at me, and I would compliment how they had such good "radar"---which always resulted in more students sitting up straight and focusing on me in this manner. And now, when I see some mild chaos brewing in the classroom, I comment, "I'm not getting much attention. I need to see some radar!" Voila! 80% of the students go directly to the posture, with straight backs and eyes looking right at me. They look great and I gain a moment of stillness from which I can reel us all in and get back on track.
What I see happening, is that I have successfully identified wakefulness for the student, and having identified it, the students are now able to invoke is for themselves. It's not theoretical; it is kinesthetic, and it has now been placed in their repertoire of behaviors. They have gained an experiential knowledge of a very subtle state of consciousness. So now, even though it often takes a lot of reminding, we are finally able to share the meaning of the words, focus and attention, and we get alot more done.