School Life News

WHAT IS SUGGESTOPEDIA?

21 Mar 2019
Fundamentally it is about the relationship between the teacher and the students and the quality of the exchanges between the students.

Lonny Gold - the Master Trainer of Suggestopedia was at BSS. Here is what he said about the origin, principles, importance and practice of this innovative teaching method.

In brief

Lonny Gold is originally from Canada. His first contact with the method goes back to a trip to Ottawa, in Canada, in 1978. It started with the Canadian government who was using it, especially to teach French to English speaking civil servants. Lonny Gold began to become more familiar with it in Paris, thanks to a woman called V. Saferis, who brought it from Bulgaria to the West. 

The idea itself was originally dreamt up by Dr. Aleko Novakov and then popularised, developed, expanded and promoted by Dr. George Lozanov, who is actually very well known. He called the method Suggestopedia, because he defined that suggestion is all of the micro-messages that come to a person when you are paying attention. It is the micro-messages that make us feel safe and open or else closed and defensive.

 What is Suggestopedia?

Suggestopedia is a teaching method, which makes it possible for people to learn three times as fast as they can under normal circumstances. It involves the creation of a very safe environment in which students are allowed to explore, but they have to feel safe. People can learn fast when they allow themselves to be a little out of their comfort zone. A Suggestopedia teacher creates an environment where anything that is negative is banned from the space and the students get enough lot of positive reinforcement through the use of suggestion. Suggestion is any information that comes to you beneath the level of your conscious perception. 

In terms of how it works I see four basic principles. The first is that students must never been afraid of making mistakes. The second is that every piece of information has to be linked to a positive emotion. The third one is that Suggestopedia teachers work with peripheral perception - in other words, we orchestrate what students are going to see without actually realising that they are seeing it. This speeds up learning, because everything is organised so that their memory hooks ideas along the way. Finally, the forth principle is that we always simulate the information before we analyse it.

What it looks like?

In terms of what it looks like, we usually use texts in the form of plays and these are read with classical music; then there are a lot of games with the texts. 

We spend most of the time playing pedagogical games that the students shouldn’t forget, because they are fun, they are stimulating and they are interesting. We finish most of the lessons with the use of Baroque music ,which is used to change the brain configurations and slow it down, because when a person is productive he is not necessarily receptive. We have to bring the brain rhythms down to between 8 and 12 Hz in order for people to actually take in information much quicker. 

Basically, it is about planning the different phases of learning and using different activities, different forms of music and so on in order to speed up the whole process. 

Fundamentally it is about the relationship between the teacher and the students and the quality of the exchanges between the students, because once an environment is completely safe, people become less guarded and they are no longer busy looking for faults with each other. There is an atmosphere of mutual support, which means that people let themselves take all the information in. 

What we need to remember?

The important thing to remember is that when people experience fear there are chemicals that are released in the brain - mostly Adrenaline and Cortisol that stop the blood from getting up to the upper levels of the Neocortex and this is the problem not just in learning, but in life. 

When people are afraid, the brain shuts down and they are not open to take in new information, develop new skills or do anything they have not got solid experience doing. In Suggestopedia, we have to make people feel safe, because that is the way they will remain open. We also have to plan the distortions that are going to take place between one lesson and another.  Every time the pupils sleep, there is a distortion that takes place, because whether we know or not we dream and the dream is a distortion. Dreams distort time, distort space, and the teacher has to plan for how these distortions are going to impact on what they are teaching. I think the best metaphor is that of a potter who makes beautiful pots, but before they are going to the oven they just look as if they are boring brown. It is only after they come out of the oven, 24 hours later, that we actually have all the beautiful colours that are going to delight us, because that is the final product, the plate, the cup or whatever it is. That is why the teacher has to know enough of how the students minds are going to work and feed in the information so that after the distortions, we end up with distortions that are just part of the way we live, the way we are built.

Suggestopedia is most commonly used in foreign language learning and  at primary level, but it could be used for a lot of other subjects however, we would need specialists in those fields to take the philosophy behind Suggestopedia and work with the subject matter that they know well.

What is needed to be a Suggestopedia teacher?

The qualities that are needed in a Suggestopedia teacher are very different from the qualities needed in a traditional teacher. Traditional teachers can be focused on what they know and they try to transfer what they know to students. A Suggestopedia teacher isn’t really so much an expert in their field as an expert in communication. They have to know how to motivate the students. They have to know how to give positive reinforcement and basically to show at every second of every class, to every student how amazing they are. They have to get the students to just surprise themselves. They have to get the students to do things that they have not done before with the rest of the class as witnesses. It is quite common that people do extraordinary things and next day they say: “No no it was not so extraordinary”. What we need is 10 or 12 other people shouting at themselves: “Yes what we did yesterday was extraordinary”. 

We are basically getting people to redefine who they are and of what they are capable. The main thing is to keep people totally surprised by how much more they were able to do than what they thought they could do. For that we need very exceptional teachers; teachers who are not afraid of taking risks. Teachers who are not control freaks, but who can adapt with the movement in a class, while maintaining control. When students come to class the ideal thing is for them to wonder what exciting things are going to happen today. So what we need are teachers who are not afraid of not knowing. In other words, if a teacher just does not have the answer to something, that is not a problem, the teacher can tell the students: “I do not know the answer to that, but I will tell you tomorrow”. That creates a kind of complicity, a kind of group feeling with the teacher inside. The teacher is not apart from the group; he is in the group.

When did it come to Bulgaria?

Everything started in January 2013. We decided to do a course in Suggestopedia in Bulgaria. Amongst the Bulgarian students I had Teodora Nenova (the principal of British School of Sofia). She came with 4 or 5 of the BSS teachers and after that she decided to introduce the method to a lot of other teachers and she invited me to come back to Bulgaria. It happened around July 2013 and after that we begun running regular teacher training sessions in order for the school to develop greater flexibility, psychological sensitivity and greater creativity in all the classes that are going on.

What we want at British School of Sofia is a great openness on the part of the students to each other, to the teachers and to the subject matter they are learning.

Suggestopedia and the role that it plays in the BSS is extraordinarily important, because in a society where we are giving up more and more control of our lives. Through sites like Facebook and other social networks almost everybody knows everything about us, where we are kind of pinned down to fulfilling other people expectations of who we are and how we are supposed to behave, and how we must conform to the different groups that we are in, the last frontier of freedom is inside our own unconscious minds where our creativity is based. I thing it is only possible by developing our perception of who we are and what we are capable of that would be able to realise who we really can be and sort out for ourselves the kinds of lives that we really want to lead. I see this and Dr. Lozanov was very much in agreement with this. His philosophy with new systems was about giving yourself what you needed in order to have the freedom you need in order to live very very happy life. 

 

by Lonny Gold

March 2019

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