Dr. Judith M. Newman



A Light Touch

[ Journal Entry ]

I want to share something I wrote when I was learning to hang glide. It shows some parallels with action research that I thought were interesting.

First of all I had two tandem flights, one right after the other, both lasting about 15 minutes. As I put the gear on and mounted the tow stage Barry announced that I would be doing the release and the fly-up! I wasn’t exactly prepared for that–although last week he asked if I wanted to, I still don’t feel that I handle the glider with enough control to initiate the launch. Because the most hazardous part of the flight is the tow I quite frankly don’t trust my ability to make judgments about what to do when something unexpected happens. That aside, Barry positioned me so that I was below him with my hands on the control bar. We staged the kite, the truck began to accelerate, and then he released and I had to fly the kite. A big part of what is scaring me is that I’m still overcontrolling the glider—my control movements are much to big, and I wait too long before returning to a central ‘trim’ position. I expect the glider to respond more quickly than it does and when it doesn’t respond I exaggerate my control input even further. What this does is set the kite oscillating from side to side and I’m afraid we’ll go so far off course that the tow will abort. It hasn’t happened, but I freeze. Barry is there to bring the kite back under control but I’m not sure I can do that for myself if I were to be alone.

I suspect people feel the same thing about initiating an action research enterprise. I imagine you’re feeling something like I was—not sure what to do if something unexpected occurs. Just remember, I’m there with you, just as Barry was beside me. In fact, that evening, on the second flight, Barry had me initiate a series of turns, some gentle, others quite steeply banked, and then take my hands completely off the control bar. He wanted me to see that a very small input had a significant effect and that the kite is quite stable and able to follow through without me having to hang on tightly.

Teaching is very like that—generally we give way too much input when a light touch is all that is required.