The Way We Learn, Affects What We Learn

March 30, 2017

In the thirteen years I’ve taught lessons, I have repeatedly had to adjust how I teach my students. Learning is not “one size fits all” and any professor, teacher, instructor or tutor promoting this is delusional. I have taught dozens of twins over the years, even triplets, quadruplets and quintuplets. I worked with identical twins that were polar opposites in the water. One was timid and fearful, the other was brazen and completely fearless. If identical twins learn differently, imagine what a group of unrelated students goes through.

 

Some students simply need to be told how something is done and they follow the instructions given to achieve success. Others need to be shown, and there are those that just need to wrestle with an exercise to understand it. I have seen many disinterested students begin to enjoy the water when they learn in a way that is applicable to their comprehension.

 

The Floating Example

 

 

Let's try floating as an example. I can tell a student, “Hold your breath, lay flat on your stomach, put your arms up like superman when he flies, look at the floor and don’t move.” Instant success. It is not that this individual is superior to the other students, he followed my instructions without hesitation and just did it. Another student might need to see how I do this to get a proper understanding of the form. Then I have the student that will try and try to figure it out. I have explained and shown them what to do, but that will not apply to them until they lock into the position, hold their breath, stop moving and keep their head aimed at the floor. There are other styles of learning and other methods to deal with this, but let's stick with Auditory, Visual and Kinesthetic. 

 

We tend to praise the first example. I told the student what to do, they did it and it was an instant success. The second is still considered a reasonable case because both Visual and Kinesthetic people are thinking, “Well yeah, I need to see how to do it!”. The last example is not well received because it takes more; time, classes, examples or explaining to accomplish.

 

The downfall of the first and second method is replicating given instructions, but not necessarily understanding why those are the rules. The kinesthetic learner has discovered their mistake through trial and error because they have begun breaking down the mechanics of the float. The other two may be able to perform the float, but they could not (as easily) tell me what happens if I alter something within the mechanics of the float like, looking up, or breathing out.

 

A specific scene from the show “Breaking Bad” comes to mind. To portray his continued usefulness to his employer, Walt argues that his role is needed because of his level of expertise. He understands the mechanics of the process for “Cooking” is not just following a recipe. He then throws out various complex chemical scenarios that, unless dealt with an expert, will ruin their product or result in possible injury or death. It comes down to knowing how something works and why things are the way they are. If you understand your topic forwards and backwards, you can demonstrate varied examples for every learning group.

 

A Bored Student or a Bored Instructor

 

A good instructor can cover a variety of learning styles and use anything from games, music, humor or the most oddball acronyms to assist their students understanding. The first way an instructor can build a successful lesson is to read the body language of their students. Where are their eyes focused, what is their posture like, do they seem nervous? A big part of how I gauge if my students are “present” is by reading their response to either a question I ask, a demonstration I give, or their explanation of why we do or don't do something. I also look to see if they seem confused, appear upset or frustrated. Being able to read your students gestures is a great way for you to know where you are at in your communication with them. The next important thing an instructor can do is add variety. Staying in one place for too long is physically painful for younger students. They need to be able to move about and release that pent up energy because it builds quickly. It is also exhausting to practice the same thing over and over, especially if the results are unsuccessful. Sometimes I will throw in a short varied exercise, game or just drop the topic we are on and move to another. I understand that dropping a topic is not always preferred, but I know for certain that there is only so much a student can process over the same subject before it begins to breakdown. It is like pulling an all-nighter or resting for a few hours before studying again. You may be blazing through the material, but are you actually comprehending it? Let go of the idea “It has to get done by (deadline)”.

 

Success Coming In Different Forms

 

Success in learning a subject can take many forms. It does not need to simply be reflected in grades, but in the subjects benefit to the student and the life lessons that are applied from the instructor. We often tend to praise students or our children by how attentive they appear, how organized they seem, and how well they take tests. Some of the most successful people fail at all of these. Others might not see the direct success of their students, but will have an incredible impact on someone's life because they harvested a sense of value through their teaching. Validation is one of the strongest predecessors to motivation. 

 

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