Thoughts on Teaching (and Learning) Pt. 1   2 comments

Dreya/Caelia here. As a follow-up to the question posted earlier this week, I thought I’d share some thoughts I’ve had on teaching and learning. I am not a teacher in real life, and I am not a gold or white scarf, but I don’t think either of those conditions preclude me from being able to teach. Most of these musings have come through observation and reflection as a student. I’ve only recently begun trying to teach and I find I truly enjoy being able to share something I am very enthusiastic about. I do my best to awaken a similar enthusiasm in others, and I think some of my success comes from the way I try to teach.


This is how to teach, not what to teach. That’s up to you.

I don’t think you are a poor teacher and I am a good teacher. I think we can all be better teachers. As long as you want to teach someone, I think you are frickin’ awesome. If you can teach them the right things in an effective manner, you deserve a medal.

Also, this is more of a ‘teaching an unattached/new fencer’ guide; if you have minions or Cadets, they’re your problem to deal with as you like. Bwhahaha.

On teaching:

Approaching a new fencer.

Before you swoop down upon a struggling fencer and lift them into the starry realms of knowledge, please make sure they are looking for help. Some people like the thought that someone who knows a lot wants to help them out.  Some people think they’re doing fine on their own, and you can talk yourself blue in the face and show them time and time again and then wonder why the heck they don’t improve (or even seem to appreciate your hard work).  Save yourself a lot of frustration by making sure your target wants to be taught. Ask something like, “Hey, I’ve been watching you fence and I noticed some things you might want to know about. Would you be interested in working on them?”

If they’re willing, don’t just launch into what’s wrong. First, let them know how long you have been fencing. Acknowledge that you may not teach them everything exactly right (depending on how long you’ve been fencing) but you will do your utmost to convey what you have learned thus far. If there is a more skillful fencer at the practice who may teach them, point that person out (or better yet, introduce them) and tell them, “This person knows more than me.”  Advise them that different fencers will definitely teach different things, often in different ways, and that not everything they learn will work for them.

Most importantly, tell them that it’s okay to ask questions at any time, or ask for something to be repeated until they get it. Mistakes are ok. They are, in fact, vital to the learning process. It is the teacher’s job to provide a safe and comfortable environment in which to fail. If you take the time to make the above points, they will most likely understand that you have their best interests at heart (or assume you do, if you don’t) and they will trust you and listen to you. This is good.

Okay, now they’re comfortable. It’s still not time to tell them what they’re doing wrong. The next move is to ask, “What have you learned so far? Is there anything in particular you’ve been working on right now? What have you been thinking about?”  Make them explain verbally and then show you what they’ve learned so far. This is great because it makes them think about what they’ve been doing. If they haven’t done that before, they will start, knowing that  someone will be asking them. This may also explain some weird things you’ve seen them doing and don’t understand or approve of. Chances are that if they are deliberately working on something that’s wrong, or if some of their foundational theory is off, it will manifest in their explanation or demonstration, and then you can go from there. But please ask them where they’re coming from before you tell them where to go; there’s a good chance that they’re not only coming from somewhere different than you did, but also headed somewhere different. If the fencer ends up being taught most of the time by someone else, it’s good to know if that other person is trying to teach them something specific.

Now they’re comfortable with you and you are comfortable with them. Congratulations, it’s time to explicate. Tell them what you noticed about their fencing. Remember to list the good things as well as the bad. Go through the list briefly, and then go back through the list one item at a time, starting with the most egregious bad thing.

Try to give them some reasons why they might be doing bad thing A. Often mistakes branch out from a misconception that happened at a very basic level (“Your knee keeps bending outward because you aren’t keeping your lead toe pointed at your target.”).  Explain and show the proper way to prevent A from happening. Have the student try the proper way several times. If you want to be very sure they understand, have them repeat the problem to you and explain and enact the solution. Review this until you are fairly certain they understand and have mastered the problem. Then, ask them if they’ve had enough for now, or if they want to learn more. If they want to learn more, great! If not, ask them if they have any questions or comments. Then thank them for letting you share your knowledge. Why are you thanking them? Because if you do a good job, they will remember you and tell everyone who asks, “Hey, X is an awesome teacher and really nice. Ask them for help!” You get a great reputation and an opportunity to build your army of loyal minions. Incidentally, reputation-building is the only part of teaching that is actually about the teacher. The rest is all about the student. This is important to remember. Teaching should be an egoless job. If someone can do something better than you, let them. We are all students.

The student should thank you, too, but sometimes they won’t remember that until after you’ve thanked them. Lead by example.

It’s important not to overload a new fencer’s brain, and it happens surprisingly easily. Go ahead, show proper en garde, footwork, and a lunge. Just don’t expect them to remember it all at once. The best way to help ingrain knowledge is, of course, DRILLS! Wheee! Drills are good for both of you, but if you’re a provost or a free scholar and you don’t feel like drilling, collar the nearest scholar(s) and make them do it. Scholars love to drill, and it’s good practice for them to observe other fencers.

To review:

  1. Make sure the fencer wants to be taught.
  2. Explain your experience. Point out more experienced fencers.
  3. Tell them to ask questions or stop you at any time.
  4. Show interest in what they know, not just in teaching what you know. Ask them to explain and show you what they have learned.
  5. Tell them what you have observed about them, both good and bad.
  6. Go through mistakes one at a time, explaining and showing the correct technique.
  7. Ask for questions or comments.
  8. Thank yous all around.
  9. Drill, drill, drill!

Now my arm is cranky and I still stink from practice, so I’m going to take a break from this. Stay tuned for Part 2, What To Do When You’re Watching Someone Else Teach.

Posted January 30, 2010 by Dreya in Musings

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