Verbal Cues — Pilates & Writing Series: Part 5 of 5

When I started working with Lauren, my Pilates instructor here in Pennsylvania almost two and a half years ago, she gave me a lot of verbal cues.  The ones I heard the most were “keep your shoulders down” and “relax your neck and shoulders.”  It didn’t matter if I was working on an upper or lower body exercise, she had to constantly remind me to keep the tension out of my neck and shoulders.  Over and over and over again, Lauren had to remind me of this.  Thankfully, she never made me feel badly about the constant reminders.  With patience and understanding, she continued to tell me to  “keep your shoulders down” or “relax your neck and shoulders” so that I wouldn’t hurt my neck while doing an exercise.

Finally, I got sick of hearing her tell me this.  Not angry, but just embarrassed.  Was it really that hard for me to remember to do this?  Well, no.  I knew to keep my neck relaxed and to keep my shoulders low, but for some reason my brain was unable to communicate that message to my body on its own.  Therefore, I tried to make a commitment to fix these things on my own.  Over time, I would begin to recognize when my shoulders were raised on some of the exercises I did.  I was more conscious of where my body was and what it looked like so I began to make the fix, of dropping my shoulders, on my own.  When I did this Lauren would say, “good fix.”  That kind of positive reinforcement was all I needed to help myself remember to keep my shoulders down on the next exercise.  Over time, I’ve been able to remember to relax my neck and shoulders when I set myself up to do a Pilates exercise.  It feels good to remember to do this on my own since no one in their mid-30’s needs to be reminded to do something that many times.

Lauren always asks me how I’m feeling before we start a 1:1 training session.  There are times when I go to Pilates with my soreness in my neck and shoulders.  I’ve noticed on days when I’m having more pain that I’ll still need the verbal cues to remind me to keep my neck and shoulders down when I’m doing something as basic as footwork on the Reformer.  Sometimes mind over matter doesn’t work and it’s necessary for me to get reminders.

Teachers of writers have to be just as attuned to their students as Pilates instructors are to their clients.  Conferring helps us get to know our students well.  When we confer with our students during writing workshop we get to know them not just as writers, but as people.  The words we may echo in a few conferences might become quick reminders we give to a child as they leave the meeting area (after a minilesson) to go off and do their writing on a given day.  The things we explain in conferences in depth can often be shortened in length so that just a few words can carry a lot of meaning.  Reminders can be as simple as “Remember to use punctuation as you write” to “write in twin sentences when you want to add details.”  They don’t require additional explanation since the child already understands what to do and why it’s important. Just like Lauren doesn’t need to tell me explain why I need to relax my neck and shoulders every time they’re tense.  I know why it’s important because she’s explained it to me before.

Verbal cues go a long way into changing behaviors and patterns so writers gain independence with all aspects of the writing process.

What kinds of short verbal cues to you say to individual writers you teach to help them make quick fixes during writing workshop?