Basic-Teachng-art - 8/20/17
"Basic teaching for the SCA instructor"by Lord Semyon Aleksandrovitch Drakon.
This article was added to this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium, with the permission of the author.
These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
The article was first published in the May AS 50 Cockatrice, the A&S newsletter of the Kingdom of Lochac.
Basic teaching for the SCA instructor
by Lord Semyon Aleksandrovitch Drakon
Teaching or instructing is in theory a very simple thing to do. You present information regarding your topic of choice and your audience absorbs said information and therefore retains that knowledge for later use.
Unfortunately that isn't the case. So what I propose to do is give you an example of some of the different techniques you can use to more effectively communicate your knowledge to another person or group of people.
Step 1: Know your subject matter
It sounds obvious but time and again, especially in the SCA we see enthusiastic people happily trying to show someone else what they themselves only learned a few weeks beforehand. It's especially prevalent in the fighting community though I can't imagine it's much different in the arts and sciences.
The issue is that the person imparting the knowledge has yet to properly bed it in. In attempting to teach it to someone else they are likely passing on their own incomplete and unpracticed version of said knowledge which causes problems down the track when more experienced instructors have to then retrain those students.
So know your subject matter. You don't need a PhD but simply ensure that you have either significant practical experience in a physical endeavour, be it dancing, playing a musical instrument, archery or fence or have a better than layman's knowledge of a theoretical subject like Heraldry, clothing pattern design, or illumination. Even if you are an expert, it doesn't hurt to revise and re-examine your sources and refresh your own knowledge.
Step 2: Cater to your target audience.
I will use a fighting example for this one. You have been invited to go and teach at Knight School, the event that is rapidly becoming the premiere training event for heavy armoured combat in Lochac. You are informed that the steward would like for you to run your classes aimed at newer fighters; those with less than 12 months under their belts. You write your lesson plan to teach basic sword and shield techniques. This plan includes introductions to stance, range, timing, measure and the basic 5 shots. That is where it ends.
In this example having you then move into the realms of more advanced fighting techniques would be less than useful. Your target audience are new fighters, likely trained in a 'throw them in the deep end' environment unless they are lucky enough to belong to a group with a formal beginners' program. They are there to learn the basics and to go away from your lesson with the knowledge they need to practice to build up to the next 'level'.
It never hurts to do a little pre-lesson preparation of the class. Perhaps if you are teaching a class on embroidery at festival, aimed at rank beginners in the art make sure that is widely known in the advertising. If you have people signing on for the class before the day, get in touch with them on Facebook or via email and get an idea of what their experience level and interest is like. This leads us to:
Step 3: Plan your lesson.
Don't ad lib a lesson. A lesson needs to have structure and be presented in a logical way that flows easily and presents information so that it is readily absorbed by the students.
Establish who you are and how you qualify to teach this lesson:
"Hello everyone my name is Semyon and I'll be taking you for basic shield making today. I've been a member of the SCA for 23 years and a fighter for almost as long. I've made dozens of shields over that time and thought I might share at least some methods for helping you all make your own."
It doesn't have to be war and peace, all it needs to be is this is me: I do this and will be telling you how I achieve it. You're giving your audience some security in that they then know you know what you are talking about.
Establish the goal of this lesson;
"By the end of this lesson you will know how to select materials for building a shield, have an introduction to the use of the power tools used to cut the shield to shape and how a shield should be strapped. I shall also have a handout for you to enable you to further finish your shield and a guide on more advanced techniques."
Write the body of your lesson in the plan. It doesn't need to be verbatim, personally I find the use of bullet points best as it gives me a phrase that triggers the information I have memorized.
Make sure you have the equipment, props, handouts and delivery media be it electronic or paper based ready to go before the lesson starts. 5 minutes into your lesson is not the time to find out your left your naalbinding reference book in your pavilion.
Coming from a military and police background as my sources of true instruction training I often use those methods when I am teaching. The military have a very structured method of imparting even classroom information that works very well as it concentrates the mind on the task to the exclusion of all else.
We'll call this method the Describe, Demonstrate, Practice and Correct, and Revise method. It works like this.
Firstly the teacher will describe what is going to happen;
"I am going to throw a sword cut to one."
He will then demonstrate the technique by performing the technique once while verbally describing what he is doing.
"When throwing the cut to one I let the tip of the sword drop behind my head while my elbow starts forward, my weight transitions onto my front foot as my hand comes across and the sword extends forward towards my target. Just prior to impact I close my hand thereby adding a slightly higher end speed to my blow. As the blow lands the heel of your back foot should be off the ground."
The demonstration should be done slowly and with the opportunity for your students to ask questions if appropriate. Clarity at this point and as perfect an example of whatever technique you are using being the base is important as it lays the foundations for the following parts of the methodology.
Then the teacher will have the students practice and correct. If I were teaching black work embroidery using this method, this is where I'd have the group slowly working on a very basic pattern while I circulated and critiqued what they were doing. If I were teaching fighting then I would have the class either facing a live opponent or a pell depending on numbers. The trick here is to ensure that your corrections are accurate and are positively constructive. Nothing damages a student's confidence more than an impatient or negative teacher.
Finally we get to the revise section. This is where you quickly go back over what the lesson covered, perhaps touch on areas of difficulty generally and give homework.
That's only one method and it works extremely well in almost any teaching environment where you are dealing with adults. Most adults, even interested ones have an attention span of roughly 20 to 30 minutes so if your lesson goes for longer than that remember to factor in breaks.
Step 4: Stay on target
Here are a few pitfalls you may have run into or may see.
It's very easy to get carried away when teaching something you enjoy. This is where a lesson becomes a conversation or a lecture. It's the point where anecdotes start replacing examples and crowd out practice time. I have been guilty of it myself as have nearly every other fighting teacher I have ever seen and not just in the SCA. The big thing is to resist the urge to digress. I'll again use a fighting example as that's where most of my instructional experience lies:
I am teaching the lesson on throwing a cut to 1, as part of that lesson you must include how to recover the sword back to your basic guard stance or what we call high guard. Generally when first taught it's a simple low return, sweeping the sword back down the sword side of your body and lifting it so it neatly drops into position with the hilt behind your shoulder and the blade at an angle above your head. Simple right? Unfortunately this is where it can go pear shaped and I have been as guilty of it as anyone else.
Feeling happy with that, instead of staying on topic, having your students practicing it again and again you get carried away with excitement and then go on to describe alternate returns, which then segues into second shots you can throw from those alternates, then your feet start to move and shields turn up... I think I am getting the image across.
To quote Red Leader 'Stay on target'. If, after your formal lesson you want to share stories of high adventure, or discuss Elizabethan variations of certain garments other than a basic chemise, or how a certain high court dance has its roots in the simple pavane you were teaching then go for it. During your formal lesson is not the place to do this however.
Another point of interference that comes in under this are the 'interjectors'. Those people who stand on the fringe of your lesson who can't help but chime in with their two cents worth. Remember YOU are teaching this lesson, Keep control of it. Try your best to keep such interruptions short and get straight back to what you were doing before you were interrupted. Don't be rude to the person who has done this, the Society is founded on courtesy after all. Thank them for their input and perhaps suggest that they might like to share some of their knowledge once the lesson is ended but remember, it's YOUR lesson. Take charge, even if the person interrupting is a Duchess who has specialised in the area you are teaching for ten years.
Step 5: Questions
Always be ready to accept questions, however at the start of the lesson establish when you'd like them asked. It's perfectly reasonable to say 'please keep your questions for the end of this section.' it's also fine to simply have people put a hand up and ask, particularly if what you are explaining is intricate or very detailed. Be patient with questions; remember the people you are teaching don't know this stuff as well as you do and may not get it first go. Also as a rule, if you don't know the answer to a question, ADMIT IT. Tell the person asking that you don't know or aren't sure, then go and approach someone you know who is also conversant in the subject and see if they know. Failing that, go and find the information yourself from the sources and make sure your student gets their answer. This establishes you as someone who cares enough to do that extra work and make sure your lesson was complete and as someone humble enough to admit that they didn't have all the answers.
This method isn't the be all and end all. It's the method that works for me, works for the military and Police Force and is a simple and effective way of structuring and delivering information.
Copyright 2014 by Simon Miller. <semyondrakon at gmail.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited. Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, please place a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.