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The Use of Words in Teaching

I have been teaching martial arts for 40 years now – and in doing so, have learned a few things about teaching. The reason I think I have something to contribute about teaching is that I have tried to experience each of those 40 years as a year unique into and of itself – rather than just repeating one year after another – in groundhog-day-esque fashion.

By rough calculation I think I have taught around 25,000 classes (consisting of a mix of private lessons, group classes and seminars).

One of the many things I have noticed, in doing teaching experiments, is that through subtle and optimal use of words/phrasing, we can obtain much better results in performance and uptake than we otherwise might have.

I realised a long time ago, that if I throw a ball in basketball, I need to throw it in a direction and at a velocity that allows the person to succesfully catch it … that is my responsibility. If they miss it – it’s MY fault.

In other words, if I am not getting the results I want whilst using the words I am using (even though I may be describing what I want accurately) then I need to change the way I am communicating. No use being right but not getting the outcomes we want.

No doubt some will think this is blatantly obvious; but I would beg to differ; because when I look about me everywhere (particularly in the teaching fields) I am not seeing a lot of evidence that teachers are even aware of how little they are collaborating in the communication process.

Yikes – Danaher-esque … those who don’t like super-long-winded posts will have already bailed. And for those who are intolerant of even the normal variety of long-winded posts – I’ll offer a quick example and then I’ll wind up.

Example of just the first part of shooting a basic double leg …

We might begin our explanation of how we take the shot by explaining how we drop or level-change to get a pre-stretch on our rear leg and get ourselves under a possible over-hand right – then as we are coaching our students through the process, we shrink back to drop and level-change – and as the pace increases and students are hitting all the relevant point, we shrink right down to drop

So eventually our phrasing shrinks down to small, fast monosyllabic chunks of info e.g.: drop-step-fold-step-up-drive.

If it sounds complicated, it actually isn’t. In law-enforcement for example – when experience a ‘stoppage’ (gun jammed) when firing a weapon – the usual command is something like DROP-TAP-TAP- RACK. This keeps students operating at the ’speed of life’ – but the instruction certainly doesn’t start out that way; rather, it is concise and overly wordy (much like this post).

We go from concise explanation – to short explanation – to single words. Develop this habit, it will serve everyone well. As simple but transformative coaching idea …

PS: Experiment with different words – you will get a wide range of varying results. Find an optimal sequence …. good luck.

PSS: I predict one of the first comments might be something like – better to have outlined your explanation with a paragraph – then a sentence – finally, finishing with a word.


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