By Erik Hofmeister
This is the first of a short two-part series.
Tell me – I forget.
Show me – I remember.
Involve me – I understand.
Students pursue martial arts for a variety of reasons. One thing is consistent: if they aren’t engaged, they probably aren’t learning, and they probably won’t stay long. Engagement means a student orienting to a task, having some interest in it, being challenged by it, and ultimately being involved in learning. Disengagement is usually easy to get- just stand in front of a class and drone monotonously for about an hour without asking any questions, changing your pacing, or changing your style of presentation. Many college classes are like this, and are terrible at getting student engagement.
Encouraging engagement is complicated, but it’s not complex. Give students something to do. Ask them intriguing questions. Make them active learners and not passive learners. Have them interact with each other. There are dozens of strategies, some of which we will go over in the next few posts.
Besides this short blog post series, how do you learn about exercises, or drills, or questions to ask to engage students? Talk to your peers- everyone has different exercises! Books can be good resources- almost every martial arts book has its own set of exercises and drills. Of course, the internet if filled to bursting- “martial arts exercises” is a fine place to start. Be careful about making everything new all the time.
When Sensei Blumreich and I were first getting to work out together, he showed me many binders filled with elaborate and detailed warmup plans. This contrasts with my warmups, which are pretty routine and similar from class to class. He initially felt he would be bored by my warmups. After doing them for a while, though, he said he actually liked having a similar routine. It allowed him to zone out and just focus on his workout and pushing himself, instead of trying to figure out all these different exercises. So change it up a little bit, or on occasion, but realize there may be value in regularity and consistency, too.
What are arguments against increasing student engagement?
Complaint: You have to learn new skills.
Solution: Learning new skills is GOOD for you.
Complaint: You have to practice something different.
Solution: You practice your karate- why not your teaching?
Complaint: It takes too much time.
Solution: If you spend 30 minutes teaching a technique but the students are disengaged, you didn’t teach them anything. I would rather spend 40 minutes teaching them a technique with engagement, so they will actually learn.
Many instructors don’t understand engagement or know enough about it. Let’s fix that.