Friday, September 11, 2009

When Your Student Just Doesn't Get It...

Okay, the other day I asked for some teaching tips for the kids with which I worked a few weeks ago. I was sick last week so I couldn't help teach, but I did last night. Ended up with a different group of children. They were a much easier group to work with - until...
A green belt and I were working with 5 kids. The green belt could see how much trouble one little girl was having - holding up the rest of the kids because we had to guide her step by step on every single move we made. So, she asked me if I wanted to take that girl and another promising little boy who just had not learned the entire kata yet or if I wanted the kids who already knew it. I could see the look in her eyes, hoping I'd take the two kids.
This little girl just doesn't seem to "get it". And I don't know what could be the cause of it. She is extremely - make that EXTREMELY - shy. She barely speaks. When you talk to her, she doesn't seem to understand what you're saying. That in and of itself is not as much the problem as the fact that she seems "directionally challenged" - if there is such a condition. When I showed her how to do our "Basic Number 1" kata, I had to break it down step-by-step and explain each step over and over. Again, I expect that with any newcomer (which she is not). But when I stand right next to her and do it with her, showing her each detail of each move, she still doesn't grasp it. The biggest problem seems to be her confusion in direction of movement. When I show her the direction to turn in the kata, giving her tidbits to help remind her which way to go, it does not register with her. When I take her shoulders and start the correct direction of movement, as soon as I let go, she goes the other way. I just don't understand it. I am almost wondering if she may be dyslexic. Could that be it? Have any of you ever tried to teach someone like this?
As I said, this is not a new student. She has been with us about 2 sessions I think. Granted, we have plenty of instructors for most classes, but even working with her one-on-one doesn't seem to improve her excecution of katas or even basic kicks and punches. And the time it takes away from the other students is not fair either.
I might talk to her mother next week and just mention that she doesn't seem to be getting it and maybe if she'd practice at home, it might help. I will probably ask our sensei to say something as I'm just a yellow belt helping with the kids' class. And one of our senseis is a special education teacher. She knows how to talk to parents when their children are just not getting it.
Anyway, if any of you have had students that just don't seem to get it no matter how many times you show them, guide them, tell them, etc. please tell me how you handled it.

17 comments:

Becky said...

Hmmm, I wish I could help you out there. The only student I ever had that just didn't seem to get it was an adult. I'd go over and over the kata with her, and by the end of class she seemed to have it down. But when she got there for the next class, she had forgotten everything I had taught her. She quit after only a month or so.

Perpetual Beginner said...

We had one student (for about two months) who sounds very much like the girl you're describing. I've had kids mix up right and left before, but this is the only child I've ever taught who would mix up forward and back as well.

Mostly it took a lot of patience and one on one teaching for him to learn anything - and home practice didn't really help much, because he would practice the wrong thing, and come back even more mixed up than before.

The plus side of this kind of student (his father was the same kind of learner, but was considerably senior to me, so I never saw him as a white belt), was that for all that it takes them forever to learn something, once it's really in place, it's often rock solid, never to be dislodged.

Michele said...

Hi MAM,
Our first kata is Nai Hanchi Shodan which moves to the right then repeats to the left. Some kids learn better if I become their "mirror". They are able to follow the movements better when I stand in front of them. In order for this to work, I have to do the moves on my opposite side. This seems to work with kids but not adult students.

Being "directionaly challenged" myself, I can relate to her problem. My very good friend and training partner once taped the letter L on my left hand so I would know which hand was my left. He was joking...I think/I hope. I learn better when I am facing the same direction as the move being taught.

Ikigai said...

There might be a condition there, it's always possible. But a lot of times these kinds of problems are curable with time and repetition.

As you say, she is very shy. Your instructions very likely aren't getting in too deep because she has put up mental walls to maintain a feeling of safety. Physically get down to her level (on your knees, etc) and break it way down. Start with telling her to step forward with her left foot, then right. Keep at that until she is following your direction. Then do it with the hands until she is following your directions. THEN start putting some martial arts flavor on it.

Once you establish a base line understanding it might go a bit smoother.

Martial Arts Mom said...

I know it sounds silly, but it seems like I've tried all of your suggestions in one night. LOL But it really seems like I did and not one of them even slightly improved her understanding. I really am tending to agree with Matt (Ikigai) that there is some kind of condition there. We won't give up though. I'll keep trying. We just can't forsake the other kids at their expense. I'll keep you posted on how she progresses...or doesn't. Thanks all for the ideas.

Cheri said...

I've seen this behavior in my son. Dynamo does this when he really hates to do something, but but for some reasons doesn't want to admit he hates it. He gets into a "if I'm absolutely terrible at it, they'll make me quit" mindset. If she's extremely shy, she may be afraid to say anything.

I'd talk to her parents and sound them out about her involvement. Does she seem to like going to karate, or is it a fight to get her there? Whose idea was it for her to join? You can ask her, too, but if she's that shy, she may not answer.

Martial Arts Mom said...

One of our senseis is a special ed teacher. I e-mailed her and described the girl and asked her if she has any ideas if I end up trying to help this girl again. She hasn't responded yet so I'll let you know what she says.

SueC said...

Is there another child of a similar age or just a bit older than this girl who knows the kata? Perhaps he/she could show her the basic steps. If this girl is shy with adults then this shyness will get in the way of learning (I empathise with this - a was a very shy child). She may feel less shy with another child and be more open to learning.

Martial Arts Mom said...

I might suggest another child helping her but I don't know if any of them her age would have the patience with her. She almost needs private lessons because to get anywhere you have to work one-on-one with her almost exclusively. I don't mean to sound negative. I'm just not trained to be a teacher and know how to get thru to kids these kinds of problems. I will talk to my sensei about it and see what he thinks.

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Anonymous said...

Oh I feel your pain! I'm a blue belt in karate. I love to work with the younger ones, too!
It may be her particular learning style. She may not be a kinesthetic learner. I myself need audio, visual, and kinesthetic imput to learn something. I struggled with our kata #3, and had a brown belt write down the kata steps in a chart (kind of like the old footprint dance charts). It showed arrows pointing the directions and each part of the form. I would take the girl and make her go through the form and SAY each movement as she does it. Then, I would write the form down for her (paying special attention to making sure you WROTE some of the things she said to jar memory). For instance it may look like this:

Starting Movement:
Right foot forward stance + downward block
Left foot forward stance +
downward block
Forward snap kick
Double-knuckle punch (kiai)

Draw a diagram to go with it. Some children (and adults!) need more than one type of imput to retain. Hope that helps!

Martial Arts Mom said...

We have diagrams for all of our katas and the kids take them but we really don't think many of them practice at home. Keep in mind, we are a bit different than your usual dojo. Our school is the largest and oldest non-profit martial arts school in the St. Louis area. We are based out of a community center and only meet once per week. No to say that all of them are, but many parents are just signing there child up for this class for "something to do". Many of the adults do the same for themselves. Thus - a high turnover rate. We do our best and that's all we can do, right? Thanks everyone for all the great ideas. I will try to implement some of them tonight in class.

blackbeltsuze said...

Children who can't remember kata direction could have spatial awareness issues due to a learning disability; Dyspraxia? Sometimes this can be seen in children who appear clumsy, can not follow instructions or directions and can not tell his/her left from right.

Worth checking with the parents. Try chalking arrows on the dojo floor, I did this with a student years ago and ensured there was a central focal point (a flag or door) that the student could call the middle, they graded ok in the end and grew in confidence when they started to understand the rules of direction.

Anonymous said...

Break down the exercise in its basic stages and take on tiny step at a time. Of course I don't know the girl but she could be so shy her mind is filled with doubts and fears it blocks the communication between her brains and the rest of her body. Maybe you should let her do some really easy exercises and try to reassure her it's not a big deal and she'll have plenty of time. I think this might be more of a mental problem than anything else, she's probably there because her mom thinks it's a good confidence-builder, the last thing you should do is make her feel in adequate or incompetent. Other than that I wish you good luck, some people are really slow learners.

Anonymous said...

I do think it's odd that a yellow belt is allowed to teach at all, let alone unsupervised. I'm not a karateka but it seems obvious true understanding of kata only comes with years of experience. Perhaps you're not the best person to be teaching this kid since you're only a beginner yourself.

In any case I wouldn't pressure children: a child needs to play (MA-related or not) and there's plenty of time to develop some serious skills later on. Let her get comfortable with her own body and ask her what she wants to do instead of forcing her into things that maybe too difficult for her at the moment. As a child I took up judo and I totally sucked at it (couldn't even remember the majority of the throws) yet as an adult I'm a competent and able martial-artist.

Btw: if she only attended two sessions it is unreasonable to expect her to get the kata right. If she had months of experience and still couldn't do it this would be a problem but two sessions is nothing and no cause for concern. Don't expect too much and let her know that whatever she does or accomplishes is ok. You simply cannot expect a child to display the same mentality and ability you as an adult posses.

Anonymous said...

The little girl may have hearing difficulties.

Anonymous said...

You'd think the mother would have mentioned that. My guess is she really doesn't want to be there and mucks up on purpose.