Philosophy and Psychology14 Apr 2010 07:34 pm

At the end of the last blog I mentioned that in this post I would finish my thoughts on the components of change in respect to my experiences as an educator and as a coach.
Remember that I said it was beneficial to keep in mind the three dimensions of change, which are:
1) Beginning a new ritual or habit
2) Honoring the emotional or psychological motive behind old habit
3) Replacing the biochemical role of the old habit

In both athletics and academics it is important to develop successful repetition with frequent review.

When teaching a math skill I teach a model which will allow the person to solve problems involving that skill such as long division or adding fractions. I will have them practice the model several times on extremely simple problems so that they experience success and can better learn the steps to the model. (I’ll often have them do the exact same problem a few times so that they stay focused on the steps of the model and not on retrieval of math facts).

I will only move on to harder or more complex problems after they have demonstrated mastery over the model being employed. To assist in their committing the model to memory, I will often have them verbalize each step as they are writing it. Likewise, to reinforce the importance of knowing the model and each of its steps I will often give them more points for doing the steps than getting the answer correct.

Each repetition of the skill and model is making the wiring of the brain and, therefore, memory of the skill stronger. That is why it is important to break down the skill in a way in which they are performing it correctly. If a person is getting the wrong answer over and over again they are committing these mistakes to memory and making these wrong connections strong in the synapses of their brain.

When teaching multiplication tables I will break it down into as small amount as possible so that they can repeat the right answers fluidly, and then slowly add on a few more times tables so that they have a high rate of success allowing the correct math facts to be committed to memory.

Similarly in athletics I use the same technique. I break down a skill such as free throw shooting, or fielding a ground ball into a number of steps to create a successful and efficient ritual for the athlete. When I was growing up we were often made to practice for hours even if our success rate was poor. In fact, we were forced to practice a skill longer with more reps when we were failing. This often unintentionally had us become more entrenched in the bad habits which were limiting our success.

Repetition should increase when someone is being successful, for that will allow the good habit to become part of the athlete’s muscle memory, or a student’s memorization. When success isn’t occurring one should either take a break for awhile, or the instructor should find a way to break down the skill in such a fashion which will promote success.

In the classroom I’ve never been fond of moving on to the next lesson or skill until the previous one has been mastered. I, likewise, will have frequent reviews of previous skills to make sure they are being successfully transferred to long term memory to be available whenever a person may need this skill in their future (kind of like riding a bike).

Though my examples focused on math I employ the same techniques and learning principles for all other subject matters. In all studies ,success is obtained when one is able to commit information and skills to long term memory, this is best accomplished through repetition, success, and review.

In athletics and academics the psychological and emotional motive is usually taken care of by providing the student with success. In most cases as a teacher or a coach you are usually teaching new skills and are seldom replacing old ones, so therefore, you aren’t meeting resistances from old habits and loyalties.

Yet, whether a skill is new or old you sometimes will come into conflict with an emotional/psychological motive. Oftentimes these will appear as resistances to learning or executing a skill or model you are teaching. Maybe a child has a poor batting stance or shooting form due to either learning the skill before their bodies were strong enough to perform the skill correctly, or their old habit remains due to fear or comfort levels.

The solution to this is to be patient with the student and to break down the skill to a level below their resistance and start there, building up their trust and comfort through success. Old habits fall away when they are replaced by non-threatening ones which produce success while tending to a fear. Fears in sports are often present in performing skills that could involve a possible painful experience. One should show the person how the methods you are teaching insure their safety and are designed to help the body perform at its best. Yet, one should never force such situations. In the end, an athlete unwilling to endure a challenge or push their body to another level of achievement has the option to decline. Likewise, a student always has the option to decline instruction. It is our job to create a positive and successful learning environment which will maximize their interest and abilities.

This post will make more sense if you read the previous one.

Jim Guido

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