Teaching by Testing and Patterns

“This is confusing!”
The student gaze me a beseeching look, obviously not understanding that section of the form. With every new belt rank, students must learn a new form. Every form becomes a bit more complicated, a bit more advanced. The area that this student was struggling with was a common hang-up for new students.

In the past, I would have the students repeat the difficult section multiple times to drill the movements into their muscle memory. Lately, however, I have been trying something new – with a higher success rate. I began asking the student to find the patterns.

I did this by asking:

“What always comes after this block?”

“When you’ve punched, what always comes next?”

“How many times have you done the block? Right, once with each hand. So, do you do it again?”

Move by move, I asked him to think about the patterns. At first, I offered bits of advice (“We do it twice, once with each hand. Have you done that?”). 

With this tactic, it took only two repetitions for the student to grasp the movements of his new form.  

There are a few factors that have I have combined to teach Tae Kwon Do forms this way:

1. Testing Students Improves Their Memory

Research shows that students learn material better when they’re being tested on it – even if they don’t get the answer correct at first. There’s something about being put on the spot that helps them remember it. So, I have started asking them questions about what comes next (putting the student on the spot), ESPECIALLY if the student is struggling. (Because of I know they lack the knowledge, I do not put stress needing the knowledge; I give them just enough time to rack their brains a moment before helping them out.)

2. Connect the Dots

My education courses have emphasized the effectiveness of connecting new material to old. These connections help to weave information into a student’s awareness. At the very basic, teaching forms this way connects one technique to the next. “When you do _____, the movement connected to that is ______.”  

3. Seeing Patterns

Forms are heavy on patterns; Almost always, we block first. Almost always, we go to the left first. The same block of techniques are repeated from one side to another. Understanding these patterns helps a student to remember the form. So, in teaching the students, I am starting to emphasize the patterns to help the student learn the movements. It also helps the form seem more logical, less random, and therefore easier to understand.

On the downside, this teaching tactic is very time-intensive. I would not use it for students who grasp the forms well, as it would probably bore them. I would also be careful to use it when I suspect that I will not have the students for long. It will probably be best used for the specific movements which confuse the student, rather than for the entire form.

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