Mimicking vs. Being Forced to Think

I have about a dozen children in my Martial Arts class. When teaching them their martial arts forms, we do a continuous series of moves. I stand in front of them and do the forms while they follow along behind me. When they stand behind me they do just beautifully!

Originally, I thought, “These kids are good!” When I first started teaching Kung Fu, I couldn’t understand how we could do the same moves for weeks with students following along perfectly, then on a review day, I’d say, “Okay, Johnny, step up to the front and show me ‘8 Chain Punch.'” and, he couldn’t do it.

At some point I realized that my students had simply been copying me! Children are excellent mimics. While we were in class, they had been watching me and copying the moves. Then they went home and couldn’t remember the moves to practice on their own.

In looking for a solution, I reflected on how my martial arts instructors taught me. As a new martial arts student, I was frustrated at the expectation that I could be shown a move and two minutes later be expected to practice it on my own. I know what happens in my brain – I forget and have to dig deep to recall what I was shown.

The reality is that in order to internalize new material, you have to make yourself think about what you are supposed to do. You might get it wrong, but at least you’re getting your brain and those neural connections working, and that gets it into your memory, a little bit at a time.

If we help youth through the whole process, they won’t know how to do it on their own afterwards. It’s really hard as a parent or teacher, especially when working with a student who struggles, to walk away and let them sort the learning out. But we must let them practice, so that they learn and remember.

So, how do we help our youth without doing too much for them?

For example: You’ve got a student who’s taking a test and is stuck on a question.

Tell Them What They’ve Done Correctly

Find something right about what they’ve done. They don’t need to hear what they did wrong. Instead, tell them what they did correctly, so that they feel a measure of personal power and capability.

This strategy is an excellent communication strategy when dealing with anybody, whether in the workplace, in your family, or at school.

My personality style is: one who critiques first and my business manager is: one who appreciates first, so if I critique first, he often perceives my critique as hurtful. I’ve had 14 years of working with him to learn how to appreciate first.

I’ve had to learn this same approach when communicating with my son. He’s the only ‘feeling’ type personality in my house, and is quite sensitive. Certain personalities really need you to appreciate first, to find out what’s right first, and not to go right to the critique. It may seem like it’s more efficient to go directly to the point, however, it can be the worst thing you can do and a strong de-motivator.

If it’s your personality style to critique first, train yourself to appreciate first. Practice the skill, it will pay off immensely.

Teach the Next Step and Leave!

After you’ve told them what they’ve done right, then tell them the next step. Don’t get into long explanations; just tell them the next step: The next step is this. It may be counter-intuitive. It may seem illogical to not tell them why. But a contributor to learned helplessness is that learning becomes overwhelming (Mikulincer, 1995).

If they’re getting it wrong and they’re frustrated, and we try to take the time to go through this long explanation about why it’s wrong, what to do next and how to do it, that youth is on sensory overload.

The conversation might sound like this: “Yes, you got that right. You got the notes down just beautifully, there. Here’s what you do next. Okay. You’re on your own.”

Walk Away – Leave and Don’t Look Back!

This is the hardest thing to do!

Now, they might say, “But… but can you…?”

No! They may try to guilt you into not leaving them, but no; you go! You walk away. Resist the urge to take care of them! Resist the urge to do it for them! Resist the urge to give in! Resist.

Personally, I can relate to this. I realize I learn the same way. If I’m stuck, don’t give me a detailed explanation. Just tell me what to do to get to the next step. In that moment of ‘stuckness’ that’s what I need. Teach me the explanation later when there’s more time, I’m less frustrated and I’m calm. Or, let me learn on my own in my own time. If you try to give me a long, detailed explanation I’ll quickly reach overload. I’m a visual learner, so telling me isn’t going to help anyway. Draw me a picture.

Excerpted from Motivating Students To Choose Success, Proven Strategies To Lend A Helping Hand. Get your copy today and learn how to motivate students to be successful!

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