Teaching Tips

At the end of August, Master Ken Blumreich and I put on a Certified Instructor Training course for AKF Athens, Athens Yoshukai, Clarke County Yoshukai- really any martial artist who wanted to improve their teaching.  I’ve been a part of this course about 6 times now over the years, and I continue to get something positive out of each and every time I participate.  This year, I was reminded of a few good teaching techniques- PIP, DDD, planning, timing, and warm-up pacing.

The first actual teaching technique I ever learned from participating in the CIT was PIP.  It stands for Praise, Improve, Praise.  The principle is you are providing feedback, which is essential to student learning.  The first piece of feedback is something the student is doing well.  The second piece of feedback is something for the student to improve.  The key to each of these pieces of feedback is they need to be specific.  A positive feedback of “Good!” is not useful to the student.  “Good foot position” is more helpful.  “Now keep your guard up,” is a good piece of feedback for improvement.  The final piece of positive feedback is given once the student incorporates the feedback and makes the improvement.  “Good job keeping that guard up!”  It an extremely simple but highly effective way to give feedback, and is one of my core teaching strategies.

Demonstrate, Detail, Drill (triple D, or DDD) is a recent addition to my repertoire.  The principle is you show the student the technique, provide some details about the technique, and then give them opportunities to practice it.  For psychomotor skills, the more time students have to drill, the better they get at it.  It’s a good tip to give new teachers, as they often want to talk techniques to death before showing them or letting the students try themselves.  This tip helps to keep newer instructors on task.

Throughout any level of teacher education and preparation, professors tell you to plan.  Overplan.  You can never do too much planning.  It’s easy to get complacent, as an experienced instructor, and just make up lesson plans on the fly.  That works fine, and I’ve been doing it for years.  On those days that I do plan ahead, I find classes run much more smoothly and efficiently.  Whenever I can, I try to plan what I’m going to work on that day during class.  It may change based on which students come to class, but having some framework makes the lesson better.

Timing is one of my weaknesses as a teacher and, more importantly, I am starting to see that same weakness in the students I have taught.  Good time management is important so that students and teachers don’t get burned out, everyone has an optimum opportunity to learn, and everyone can count on class starting and ending on time.  Good planning will help ensure good time management.  One area I am working on is telling instructors how much time they have when the group splits up.  This allows them to budget their own time effectively.  It’s a work in progress.

The pacing of warm-ups- especially intense cardio or strength-training exercises- is always an important consideration.  This is particularly true in a class of mixed strength and physical abilities.  Doing exercises to a certain number (everyone do 20 pushups) may be too easy for highly athletic students and too hard for others.  One solution is to do exercises based on time. For example, however long it takes the _instructor_ to do 20 pushups is how long the class does push-ups.  This allows students to go at their own pace- stronger students will do more than 20 and weaker students will do less.  Another option is to pace to the fastest student- whenever the first person finishes the count, everyone is done.  Regardless of method, making sure that each student gets an warm-up that is challenging to them is good.

I have been teaching martial arts for more than 20 years, 12 years of that as a head instructor.  I’ve been teaching swing dancing for 12 years and veterinary anesthesiology for 14 years.  Even with all that teaching experience, I still learn about teaching and continue to try and improve my knowledge.  In studies of experts (such as expert coaches), one characteristic is consistent- they have a thirst for knowledge of how to do things better.  You keep coming to class to get better with your martial arts.  How’s your teaching?

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