Sunday, April 11, 2010

Are there any questions?

In our classes, prior to the closing ceremony, it customary for the instructor to ask, "Are there any questions?".  Usually these are answered with briefly, then any announcements are made, and the we pack up, get changed into civvies, and go straight home*.

This format is fine for covering Q&A about administrative matters, but not ideal for consolidating learning. While I have been toying with extending the time available to allow greater reflection and sharing about technical matters, I am coming round to thinking that keeping it brief is fine, and other approaches may work better anyway for enhancing reflection and learning.

One approach that appeals is used by one of our Shihans.  After giving the class a new or challenging exercise to work on, he'll often get the group to debrief  by having the class form a circle around him and each in turn describe something they just learned or observed.  This encourages reflection, and also gives everyone the benefit of picking up on the perspectives and observations of others.  The instructor is also at liberty to respond briefly to some of the observations, but it's not compulsory.  I think I'll trial this method for a while in my class.

Another good way to help consolidate one's own learning is to make notes after each class.  And review them later.

*Or hang round and chat, but that makes for a late night.


FredInChina said...

It is not easy indeed, especially with a group of students at different levels with different aspirations.
I would like to hear how your experiment went in a little while Dan.

A good source of interactive information are internet forums, but the good ones where non partisan, "non bashing other styles", respectful types are few and far between... (I actually know of only one).

Offering a collection of books and magazines in free consultation or short time borrowing might also be an idea to explore.


Dan Prager said...

Hi Fred

And blogs, dont forget blogs!

I reckon that written material and even video are, at best, useful adjuncts to learning martial arts. My take is to treat books, videos, and stuff from the internet as fuel for thought and inspiration.

It may be possible to do a bit better through interactive forums, such places often get bogged down in status displays, etc.

Travelling around the world and meeting and training with people in person, sounds like fun too. ;-)

-- Dan

Anonymous said...

You'd think asking that question would be most appropriate right after a technique was demonstrated, that's the way things are done in our dojo and all students are encouraged to go directly to sensei if they have a problem. Besides that the most hardcore of students regularly train extra among themselves, sensei's usually somewhere in the vicinity and when he has some time he'll gladly answer questions. We also have a website with a private forum for questions, extra information and suggestions. Perhaps that might help.

Dan Prager said...

Anon: Naturally, questions are encouraged during our classes. Asking are there any questions straight after demonstrating a technique is a trade-off: you may get pertinent questions and good discussion, but it cuts into practice time.

In large classes the instructor and sometimes assistants take a more supervisorial role, and are often to be found troubleshooting, making suggestions, and answering questions from practice pairs.

A private forum is an interesting suggestion ... I'll have to think about that one.

FredInChina said...

Indeed, blogs & traveling! wink wink... LOL...

Very few MA forums offer a "safe" environment to have an intelligent conversation...
and those that do, are zzzzzzzzzzzzzz due to lack of activity.

I am a big fan of kyokushin4life; even it is directed at Knock Down Karate, every MA style is welcome and the atmosphere is very respectful. That makes for great conversations and learning.
(If you decide to try it out Dan, my forum name is also FredInChina; I keep a workout log there.)


Anonymous said...

It depends on what type of questions you get and how to the point they are: it's your job as an instructor to keep it short and snappy and to delegate more intricated questions to another time or opportunity. A lot does depend on how many students there are and what level they have: the other night we had two newcomers and sensei actually seemed a bit ticked off with their showing up since he had planned a fast-paced, very technical lesson and now he had to divide his time between two groups. These guys really didn't have a clue, when asked if they had a background they replied they 'did MMA'... God, they couldn't even do a jab properly. So much for the invincible and technically proficient cage-warrior. Specific questions can always be adressed during partnered training, it doesn't really matter when the questions are asked aslong as there's an atmosphere of encouragement and the will to guide students as best as possible.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dan,
I often find (from a students perspective) that question time immediately after a technique is practiced is no man's land for my brain. If I had a question about a specific aspect that I realised I was doing wrong, it would occur during my attempt to execute, and I would ask straight away.

After practicing a certain technique, when you say you will try a group review, I often have not processed the information enough to ask certain questions (although it is useful for others). I find there is still a hole missing from the lesson without a time set aside for questions that take longer to develop. There seems to be a window that closes when I leave the mat and get changed, after which I forget whatever train of thought I was on.

Adam P

Dan Prager said...

Hi Adam

Interesting perspective. I like the justification of a generic time to ask questions that have taken a little longer to develop. The most common at-the-time question is, of course, "this is isn't working: what am I doing wrong?".

Many painful techniques (especially strangles) have something of a brain-wiping effect on uke (at least me); like when something is ont he tip of the tongue I figure, if it's important it will come back eventually. Making notes immediately after class helps, too.

BTW: If you are the Adam P who used to train with me, please drop me an email - long time no see!