My 14-year old nephew (I’ll call him ‘Z’) is a great swimmer, and since the past few weeks he’s been teaching swimming lessons to kids. He had some interesting reflections on how he approaches teaching, and for Day 6 of 30 Days of Summer, I want to share some of his strategies.
- Strategy 1: Model expertise for the student. A student was expending more energy than required during butterfly stroke, which was impacting their performance. Z brought them out of the water and made them reduce the arch on their back and perform the stroke again, doing the swimming motion in the air itself. After a few repetitions, the student was able to self-diagnose that their initial approach was less efficient. Doing this exercise gave them a precise image of what expertise looked like, and what they could work on to get better.
- Strategy 2: Personalize the learning. Some students need to practice a certain technique; others need to practice a different one. Z will split students up into smaller groups based on what they need to practice. Personalizing the learning helps each student work on what they most need to, helping them get to mastery quicker. Students also remain more engaged because they feel their time is being well-spent.
- Strategy 3: Help peers learn from each other. Often, to teach a swimming technique, Z will reference another student who is correctly implementing the technique. Helping peers learn from each other is a great way to highlight positive examples, boost the model student’s confidence, and create more teaching resources (because students themselves start to act as teachers). It also helps break the strict teacher-student divide, and makes expertise seem more attainable (if their peers have mastered it, they can too).
- Strategy 4: Teach the ‘why’ along with the ‘how’. One student was flailing out his arms during freestyle stroke instead of bending at the elbow. Apparently, this can cause injury and lead to long-term muscle damage. Along with showing the correct technique, Z explained the reasoning to the student, giving the student greater incentive to make the correction.
These strategies might seem obvious, but try to think: how much of this did our school teachers do (or, to be fair, how much of this did the education system enable teachers to do)?
I’ll end with a quote from a weightlifting podcast I heard, in which a coach reflects on his experience training novice weightlifters.
“I am coaching a human being, and every human being is designed to failing… for some people when they get afraid I might need to push them, for some people I might need to create a bit of space, and that took time to realize. You need to be really good at coaching, you need to be really good at programming, and you need to be really good at measuring. But what you really need to be is an incredibly good ‘people person’. Have some empathy, and understand how people work. That’s my biggest lesson from the last 8 years” - Coach Blanco