Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Some karate teaching conundrums....

Last night our karate classes started to get back to normal following the summer holidays. Since numbers drop off quite significantly during the summer, Sensei decided to combine the junior and senior classes together for six weeks. This meant that I didn't do any teaching at all over the summer though I did get to train with the students that I'm normally helping to teach.

So it was with a little bit of trepidation that I returned to the junior class last night to assist with teaching. About twenty students turned up, mainly young children and just a few adults; this is quite a large class for us.

Sensei had clearly planned to keep me very occupied and after a warm up allocated me six young white belts to go through their first kata. They were all reasonably familiar with the kata and I think Sensei is assessing their readiness for their first grading. With that in mind I set about helping them to fine tune some of the moves, particularly the 'look, prep, turn' bits which are often performed a bit sloppily in early kyu grades.

I find it incredibly difficult to watch more than one or two people at a time, especially when I'm trying to examine details so I decided that after we had run through the kata all together a couple of times, I would take them in pairs to watch whilst the other four practiced alone. I was then able to pick up more easily  which ones actually knew the kata independently and which ones were just copying and following the crowd! So although each child (and one adult) got some individual attention from me and hopefully benefited from that; I was also aware that the children who were left to practice alone soon became more interested in talking and playing together, so their time was not spent as productively as it could have been. Would I have been better to have kept them in a single group and just kept going through the kata with them altogether (which would keep them all occupied the whole time but made it more difficult to spot the ones that were 'hiding' behind others) or was it better to do it the way I did?

My next task was to take the red and white belts through a sanbon kumite exercise in pairs using an age uke block. There was an odd number of students so I had the problem of what to do with the 'odd' person. The choices are to partner the student myself, which then makes it difficult to watch what everybody is doing but gives the 'odd' student a good experience; or have one group of three students, which makes life easier for the teacher but not such a good experience for the student! I chose to partner the student myself and tried to watch the others as much as possible. Fortunately the students were familiar with the exercise and I was pleased with how well they did it, however I think if it had been a completely new exercise for them then my choice would have been the wrong one. What do you do when you have an odd number of students for a paired exercise?

My last task was to take the whole class for a sparring exercise. This was basically just getting them in pairs and getting them to practice bouncing correctly on the balls of their feet, switching stance, moving off line a bit, maintaining a guard and keeping the correct distance from their partners. With such a large group it's hard to know who to watch first. I think one of my problems is that I feel that I should try and give everyone some individual attention and that is not always possible with a large group. Sensei suggests leaving the adults to get on with it once they know the task - learning is their responsibility, and to focus my attention on the children. I think this was sensible advice.

Obviously adults must take responsibility for their own learning and be relied upon to practice alone or with a partner but my last question is:- to what extent should children be expected to take responsibility for their own learning, is it reasonable to expect young children (6-9yrs) to practice alone or should their learning be supervised at all times so that they remain occupied?

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14 comments:

Shibo Saru said...

Keeping everyone's focus is a difficult task. Even for upper kyu and dan ranks, if left on their own, end up chatting. I often find myself in the middle of a good conversation during kata practice. The trick is to recognize you strayed and pull yourself and other around you back into practice.
I agree with you Sensei. Focus on the kids and the adults can choose to work or not. It'll show in the long run who chose to work out.

Indomitable Spirit said...

Hi Sue

I also agree with your Sensei - spend more time with the children, esp the younger ones.

At that age childrens' attention spans are not very good so ideally they need as much supervision and direction as you can manage.

Adults' attention on the other hand can easily be refocused and redirected verbally to the task at hand.

Avril

Matt said...

It's funny, when teaching kids I like to keep the sensation of a ball rolling forward. The kids should be working or in transition at all times, because giving them a moment to be stagnant will immediately turn to conversation or play.

Felicia said...

I think anyone who's ever taught adults and little ones together has similar issues. It's hard to watch and do, but sometimes the situation calls for doing both. Sigh...

I kinda agree with your sensei, but I think the adults need some "love" too. We know the younger set has to be almost constantly engaged or their attention will stray, but karate is about discipline and they hafta learn to follow both verbal and non-verbal commands and cues. Personally, I've found that sooner I let the younger kyus know that they are expected to not waste time and follow what their seniors (regardless of age) do in the "off" (as in away from sensei) time, the sooner they understand that and at least try to follow suit, if that makes sense. In other words, whatever we expect from our young ones, we usually get - be it wandering minds or earnest participation.

I agree with Shibo Saru that It's easy to stray focus-wise, but learning how to get back on track can start with 7-yr-old yellow belts, too, IMHO...

Sounds like a good class, though, Sue. Your school is lucky to have you...

SueC said...

Shibo Saru, Avril - 'focus on the kids', I'm hearing it loud and clear! It must be the best advice since everyone's saying the same thing. Thanks for commenting.

Matt - '..a ball rolling forward', I like that! Keep them busy all the time - exhausting but true!

Felicia - I know what you're saying, I need some 'love' too! Adults definitely need feedback and praise occasionally. I agree with you that children often rise to the standards of conduct and achievement expected of them so letting them know that practising alone for short periods is mandatory not optional sounds like a good strategy. Thanks.

SenseiMattKlein said...

You bring up some very interesting and common situations here Sue. When practicing kata, it sometimes helps to let the ones who know it best be the "leaders". It is ok for the others to copy, as long as they don't depend on it. If the leaders help the others, it will make it less boring for them and more challenging as they strive to help the others. Probably better to let them all go together and use this method if you have one or two that really stand out. If you have any helpers, it's better to break the group up, but in this case it appears you did not.

Regarding the odd numbers, I try to get someone from a later class to stand in and balance the numbers, or if you have a helper, they can. Helpers are worth their weight in gold and there are lots of things you can do to encourage people to help. In the absence of any help, I would let your students take turns being the odd person out and practice their kata or something until they can cycle in.

SueC said...

Hi Matt, using the more confident or advanced students as 'leaders' is a good idea so I'll give that one a try next time. Unfortunately I didn't have anyone available from the next class to pair up with my 'odd student' so I should probably have got him to rotate with one of the other pairs. We live and learn! Thanks for your advice.

sandman said...

Leading large groups of kids is especially challenging - a lesson I've been getting plenty of experience with lately. We have a group of about 7 young ones - ages 6 to about 9 - and all 10th to 8th kyu. I've been called on to lead them in katas a handful of times lately, and let me tell you it is not easy. They are all "wiggly" to some extent, but a couple of them are especially so - to the point that they distract the others. One night I ended up having the biggest offender sit out for most of the lesson after getting on to him several times. The next night I tried instead just to keep him separated from the other "wiggly" ones and just ignored all of his wandering and bouncing. That seemed to work much better - he wasn't distracting the other kids anymore and I was able to give the kids who were trying the attention they needed.

John Coles said...

Hi Sue. My two bobs worth. It wasn't until relatively late in my teaching career I started teaching children's/teenager's classes. I didn't have a repuation for relating all that well with this stage in the development of a human being. Much to my surprise I found it rewarding and a learning experience for me. One thing I got out of it was a real lesson in teaching is an art and not a science. What works for one kid doesn't for another, for one group doesn't for another, for the same group or kid one day doesn't for them another day. I learnt to be adaptable and flexible. It challenged my teaching and technical knowledge as I had to develop and modify the approaches I'd experienced and used before. The only suggestion I'd profer is to be adaptable and flexible. ... As an aside, I was quite surprised how many of these age-challenged students responded positively to discipline. At the Jan de Jong Self Defence School, my teenager class had the longest average length of membership of any class in the school. The average length of stay I calcualted at about 6 mths and virtually the entire class of that class had been members for 6+ years. That was definetly rewarding.

SueC said...

Sandman, one kid distracting all the others is definitely a problem as you end up giving more attention to the least deserving kid and less to the ones that want to learn. Trying to keep the main distractor a little seperate to the others sounds like worth a try - thanks.

John, 'teaching is an art not a science' - I have to agree, it requires a lot of creativity! Children are such unpredictable things - I think a trial and error approach is often needed so 'flexible and adaptable' sounds like good advice. Thanks for commenting.

Ronald said...

Well, I think if you have the will to learn martial arts or karate focus in not going to be a problem. That is also what I told to my kids when they decided to enroll in karate class. It should be within their will so that nothing we go along their way while training. As the saying goes if there is a will, there is always a way.

SueC said...

Ronald, 'where there is a will, there is a way', so true! Thanks for commenting.

Kyokushinblog.com said...

My own experience tells me that the majority of smaller children require constant attention to keep on task. This, unfortunately, holds true for older children and even teenagers.


-Brett

SueC said...

And the occasional adult!

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