Cognitive Awareness Learning (C.A.L.)
by Oscar Nieto

Cognitive Awareness Learning is a method of teaching dance and teaching people how to learn. Through 35 years of teaching I have discovered that people learn differently and that most of us are not shown ‘how to learn.’

Using the right-brain/left-brain idea of processing information, and kinesthetic awareness, I apply these ideas or theories into a very simple way for students to gain access to different ways of seeing, feeling, hearing and processing information during the learning process.

Related to flamenco dance and the acquisition of different dance routines, I have asked students if they know how they process information, i.e. do they prefer to have the information counted for them? Do they prefer to ‘see’ the information they are learning? Would they like to see it demonstrated starting on the right foot or left foot? Only hear the rhythmic patterns? Or would they just like to ‘feel’ the rhythm?

All of these approaches are valid, if different, and help students to see, feel and hear things in ways they may not have thought of before.

I have discovered that using this approach to teaching dance actually helps to accelerate the learning process and gives students a better way to analyze what they are learning in a way that maximizes ‘their’ way of learning. If they hit a block, they can then ask the right question. If they say “my brain is full or I am feeling frustrated,” they know they have choices. They can either take a break, or try a different approach to the problem.

I was first made aware of this potential by reading Betty Edwards’ book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. An art teacher at Long Beach State University, she discovered that some students of art made a giant leap forward with their drawing abilities for no apparent reason. She asked some of these students why or what happened and often their response was “they saw differently.” Upon closer examination she discovered that they had made an unconscious shift from left-brain to right-brain and in that process had unknowingly gained insight into a different way of “seeing.” This then is the premise of what I too have discovered; if students are aware of how they see or process information than they gain better insight into how they learn, and then the learning experience becomes more pleasurable and less frustrating.

Once they learn how to learn, they can apply this to any situation. It may sound simplistic but it works. Many times after I’ve taught a workshop of a few days to a couple of weeks with students at different levels of abilities, the students comment on how much they were all able to learn the material: Justin Mills, student—“very effective teaching style.”