Friday, May 25, 2007

Effective teaching

When I was at a point in my life where I needed to write essays, I learned an important sequence of approaches that helped improve my writing skills. The main idea was " First, tell them what you are going to say, then say it, then tell them what you said". My fellow essay writers might recognize this sequence.

This formula also can be used in a teaching setting to help students become more aware of what the goals are for that class, to work towards the goals, and then to review their performance. I found myself using the same sequence each time that I taught my children in homeschool, and now that I teach Martial arts, I am using the same method to help my students to focus as they learn.

After we bow in, and are still in line up, I will announce what the goals of this class will be. During class, I will adjust, refocus, remind, and work the goals into the various exercises, patterns, and sparring. Then at the end of class I review what it was that we just did, and encourage the students to bring the information home to practice. In my eyes, bringing home the information, making it their own, practicing it during the week.. THIS is where the most advancement, and improvement will happen for each of my students. Karate is similar to any other art, such as learning a musical instrument, or even learning to paint a portrait, wherein it is the day to day practice that builds the skills, and not the 1 hour lessons.

However there are some things that we, as instructors, can do to help build skills in our students.

"Pike (1994) cites a study that concludes that "if people were exposed to an idea one time, at the end of 30 days they retained less than 10 percent. But if they were exposed to an idea six times, with interval reinforcement, at the end of 30 days they retained more than 90 percent. Interval reinforcement means that an idea was presented once and then reviewed perhaps ten minutes later, an hour later, a day later, three days later, a week later, two weeks later, three week later.""

There are SO many details, and intricacies that happen when one attempts to do something as simple as step forwards in front stance, and send a middle level punch. To have to focus on it all at once, and perfect it all at once is nigh impossible. We need to break things down to attainable goals. Review, remind, refocus, and recenter towards the accumulation of these goals each and every class.

Therefore, for example: A class could be structured to focus only on a few concepts such as keeping the front knee bent, and the punching hand in the proper target position. As the student focuses on improving this aspect of their movement, a teacher might notice that the rest of their performance lessens such as speed, or posture. Since the whole class is being dedicated towards achieving a bent front knee.. the goal is success in this direction. Only if the student is showing proficiency in keeping to the main goal, should they individually be encouraged towards adjusting something else. For them, the class might become focused on keeping the front knee bent, and keeping their hips level as they move, or increasing the speed of transition.

Our main goal as instructors is to help our student gain in understanding, confidence, and ability. Yes.. proper technique is also important but it takes a certain amount of physical experience, and muscle strength/ skill to be able to achieve the desired results. There should be a marked difference in how a white belt sends a punch, and how a black belt sends a punch due to the amount of experience, and knowledge. Expecting a beginner to achieve perfection is not realistic. It is like expecting someone to be able to drive a car perfectly as soon as they sit behind the wheel for the first time. Yes.. there are those talented individuals that are capable of doing such feats, but then.. they still lack experience, and that can only be earned through time.

Each succeeding class needs various exercises to help remind the student to keep to their original goals. In time, they will not need to focus on this movement to happen. The body will remember the proper position on it's own. One of the greatest obstacles towards proper stance/ technique/ posture is that weak muscles feel discomfort, even pain when attempting to meet the goal. The students are frequently tempted to lower the demand on their resources in order to keep training, without feeling the discomfort. For example, most modern day people have developed bad posture. We curl our shoulders in, and hump our backs when we sit on a chair, or in the car, or in front of the computer. Most of our day is spent crunched in on ourselves. Then.. when we attempt to do a physical action such as golfing, dance, or karate we realize that we need a straight back. It will actually hurt to have to hold a good healthy posture. Just like weight lifting, there has to be a slow accumulation of demand. Weight lifters start with low weights, high repetitions, and build up their ability to handle more stress. The same has to be expected of those who are starting in the art of Karate. They need to build up the various muscles in the trunk, legs, and arms to be able to train at the level that they desire.

Training with weakened muscles is asking for an injury. The body starts to attempt to adjust the strain on the weak muscles by putting the stress onto other parts that are stronger. There goes proper technique, and now you see a higher chance of injury. Each student needs to train to the point where their muscles feel the need to strengthen, but not to the point where each muscle is over trained. Over training goes against progress.

There is a wonderful resource on the internet concerning creating a lesson plan, and implementing it. I will provide only a sample from this webpage, and encourage you to read it in more detail as it gives WONDERFUL directions towards effective teaching. I did edit some details out of this sample keeping to what would be prevelant to a dojo setting.. just to make it less bulky. All of the information on this website is great. Warning: It is directed towards setting up, and providing a lesson on "weather and meteorology" but the clear, well explained concepts of effective teaching can be pulled out, and quite useful to anyone.

5. "The Introduction"

The "Introduction" may be the most important part of a lesson. It sets the stage for the rest of the lesson and prepares the students for learning. Never underestimate the importance of a good introduction.

Let's examine some the things that might be included in a lesson introduction.

Attention Getter: * When a class starts the students are usually milling around, chatting with someone, or even nodding off. You need to get their attention and divert them from the frivolity of the moment. This may be as simple as a clap of the hand, a loud "Let's get started!", "ringing a cow bell", or turning on the overhead with an appropriate cartoon. The objective is to get them to focus their attention on you, so that you can start the lesson....

Topic: * Always start a new training session with a brief explanation of what the session will cover. This opening will help the student focus attention on the topic at hand.

Motivational Statement: * Students are frequently tuned to WII-FM when a class starts, the very personal What's In It For Me station. A motivational statement at the beginning of a lesson helps them tune into the lesson topic instead. It tells the student why the lesson is important to them, what benefit they will get from the lesson, and why they should pay attention during the lesson. Through motivational statements, a trainer sells the lesson to the students. Motivational statements can often be critical to the overall success of a lesson, particularly if students question their need to be there.

Link to Other Lessons: In the same way the lesson is related to a student's job, the lesson should be linked to other lessons.

Objectives and Overview: * Always state the lesson objectives at the start of a lesson. The lesson goal and objectives define what the lesson will focus on. When properly phrased, objectives clearly define the outcome of the training and let the student know what will be expected of him/her. Objectives are a natural bridge to the content of the lesson. An overview of the lesson topics can be used as the first tell 'em step, i.e., tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em. Here is an excellent opportunity to highlight the main points of the lesson.

Jargon, Acronyms, Technical Language: Every discipline has its set of jargon, acronyms, and technical terms. Some of these terms may need to be defined up front or an acronym list handed out at the start of a class. In any case, ensure that students know that they may interrupt you and ask for an explanation of unfamiliar terms as terms arise during class.

Finished Product: Depending upon the content of the lesson, it is sometimes useful to show students what they are working toward, be it finished product or an example of the lesson goal.

Lesson on teaching webpage

Every Martial artist is asked to help teach others at some point during their rank promotions. It is considered as part of our path to share our knowledge with the lower Kyu belts. Having the wisdom of being able to assess the need of the students placed in your care, providing an achievable goal for them to improve upon, and having the ability to explain/translate your knowledge into something that they can identify, and understand is the mental challenge that forces a higher belt to grow even more ability in their own skills, and art. It demands much patience, contemplation, and creativity on the part of the instructor. However, I feel that it is rare that we are taught how to teach as we progress up the belt rank ladder. In my personal experience, it's usually a moment when we are called out, and asked to go over there and help that person learn their kata. This is equivalent to a "sink or swim" situation, (in my eyes).

But how does one teach someone how to teach martial arts? I'm guessing that the idea is to watch one's Sensei during class to see what he/she does, and then to emulate them as best as you can when you are on your own.

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