Mirroring and The Power of Eye Contact

Yesterday, I kicked off our class play--partnering with my colleague's class of sixth- and seventh-graders.  Yep, that's 54 6th-8th-graders.  Holy excitement!

So...what does one DO with 54 pre-adolescents and teens in half an hour?  Their emotions ranged from overjoyed to terrified to reticent to uneasy.  Their focus on social standing trumped their concerns about the quality of their acting and characterization.  Our task: to build an ensemble environment, one in which we can begin to break down social barriers and just allow kids to be kids.

Rather than beginning in a circle, I opted to have everyone spread out in our multipurpose room, finding their own space.  I wanted them to feel centered...and I hoped to encourage all members to amp up their level of commitment and risk-taking in a safe environment.  We began with a quick physical warm-up--stretching and jumping (and a bit o' yelling).

We moved onto a standard focusing game: "Who's the leader?"  In this game, everyone is in a circle and one player moves, claps, etc. while everyone else follows her/him.  One of the players was excused when they began moving and then has three chances to guess the leader.  This works best if you side coach throughout: Leader--make bold, big choices!  Change it up!  All--don't give away who the leader is.  Stay with the group!  Guesser--guess quickly!  You have ten seconds.
It's just fun.

I then counted everyone off so that each person had a random partner.  The partners spread out around the room, and I urged them to make bold, different choices but to always Make Their Partner Look Good.  The task was to Mirror each other.  They chose who was A and who was B.  I told them that A would start as the leader...and that the leader would always move slowly enough so that B could follow them EXACTLY.  Eye contact is paramount here.
Side coaching suggestions: Look straight at each other.  Slow down so that she can follow everything you're doing.  Only choose movements that are reversible.  Play with facial expressions.  Try out some different levels.
Switch who is the leader after about three minutes.
Urge them to find an ending position.
If you have time, do it again with different partners.  Near the end, keep ringing a bell to switch who is leading.  At some point, they might not know who is leading.  That's the good stuff, that is.

I ended with a small performance: Who is following?  I called on eight volunteers to do the mirroring activity as four pairs in front of the audience.  The audience-players had a focus: guess who is leading and who is following in each pair.  I encouraged the performers to make it really hard for us to tell who was leading.  (They chose in secret.)  After a couple minutes, I asked the audience who thought each person was leading.  The results were quite mixed.

What did I notice? Those who were most successful with mirroring had the best eye contact.  These weren't the kids who were traditionally the "best" performers; they were those who were willing to engage with their partners.  Allowing yourself to make real and sustained eye contact requires opening yourself up to another person; this can be an intimidating challenge.  However, I think this is one challenge that's worth taking.  Isn't that what progressive education, what innovation in business, what revolutionary practices hope to achieve--genuine connections between individuals, the co-creation of something new?  We'll be returning to eye contact and mirroring next week.  There's a lot more to be revealed in those mirrors.

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