You're Teaching - But Are They Learning?

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By Bill Kennedy - Last night, at the dojo, John was in charge. John has a radically different way of teaching martial arts. He smiles. He cracks jokes. He took a serious Aikido exercise and called it the "Weeble Wobble" (as in "weebles wobble but they don't fall down"). He encouraged the beginners to get in close. He said that in classical martial arts training, the top students stood in the first row and the lesser students stood in the rows behind them, each learning from the row in front of them. John's comment was that some of the lesson is lost learning that way.

The Sensei of the dojo, George, has a different style. He emphasizes classical Aikido training, where students watch the master closely and "steal" his technique. But even George says that he does more verbal explanations now because some students learn better that way.
I am not comparing the two teachers to say that one has a better style than the other. Quite the opposite. You need both. You need the classical, disciplined approach AND the irreverent, fun approach. They (and others besides) will give you different prisms to view the material through. You will see and retain different things.
My favorite trainer, Kristi, had a bunch of useful techniques she had picked up along the way. She would tell her students, "All those things they taught you about cheating in high school? Forget them! In this class we cheat. Anything you need to get to the right answer is fine. Look over your neighbor's shoulder, consult your notes, ask someone or look it up in the manual." Kristi bribed the students with little chocolates. She would make them get up and stretch. She would hand out "speeding tickets", little yellow cardboard squares that a student could hold up when the trainer was going too fast or too slow. She knew that when the eyes glaze over all learning stops.
I too have done a lot of training. One day, I was complaining to my wife, a teacher, after a particularly disappointing session. She asked me to describe how I trained. She was amazed. "You mean you just stand at the front and talk?" When I protested that I also did a lot of exercises and encouraged questions, she asked, "But what if not all your students are auditory learners?"
It turns out that a lot of research has been done about learning styles since the days when I was in school. We now know that different people learning differently, emphasizing their ears, their eyes or even their fingers. My wife encouraged me to experiment with dividing the class into groups and asking them to present to each other. There's no better way to cement in a lesson than by asking someone to teach it.
So, the next time you hold a team meeting, change things up a little. Get other people to present. Change the format. Throw in a little chocolate and have some fun. Just because we're serious about what we do, doesn't mean that we have to take ourselves seriously.


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