Saturday, October 10, 2009

Tae Kwon Do and the linear learning style

Of all recent situations I've been in, the one that reminds me most of what a linear, one-thing-at-a-time kind of person I am is when all three black belts, all zero red belts, all zero blue belts, and the one other green belt are all absent and I'm called upon to teach Tae Kwon Do class. This has happened twice so far, and will happen again soon.

As anyone familiar with martial arts classes knows, teachers typically take the class at the same time that they teach it. So here I am, simultaneously trying to kick and punch out the best kicks and punches I can model, count out each kick or punch from 1 to 10 in Korean, and scan the row of students facing me to make sure everyone's more or less "on target." I can practically feel what I imagine to be the unsually narrow bandwidth of my brain's intake circuitry straining to the breaking point, ready to short out at the slightest additional distraction.

In his "Why Students Don't Like School," Dan Willingham argues convincingly that there is no such thing as an auditory vs. visual learning style. But what about linear vs. holistic learners? I'm convinced I not only perform better, but also learn better, when things are presented to me one at a time, and I've heard many other self-identified "left-brainers" say the same thing.

But I'm still waiting to hear whether any empirical research backs this up. Or is it possibly the case that everyone learns better when things come one at a time?

Of course, when teaching (or taking) a martial arts class, one thing (or one muscle) at a time isn't really practicable.

4 comments:

RMD said...

"I'm convinced I not only perform better, but also learn better, when things are presented to me one at a time, and I've heard many other self-identified "left-brainers" say the same thing.

But I'm still waiting to hear whether any empirical research backs this up. Or is it possibly the case that everyone learns better when things come one at a time?"

Behaviorists would agree with your very last sentence: "everyone learns better when things come one at a time". Behaviorist use "behavior chains" to teach complex behaviors one step at a time .. . at it works!

Also, Direct Instruction is based on this concept. .. it teaches one concept at a time, holding all other concepts fixed. I can see the amazing results with my child as I do the DI Funnix reading program. It looks like magic (really!) to me, but it shows the power of teaching one step at a time.

As to your question about studies . . .I'm guessing the Precision Teaching crew would be able to cite some studies showing the value of teaching one concept at a time. They go one step further and use measurement to determine if that step is mastered.

Great blog . . . thanks for sharing!

Liz Ditz said...

Is all learning the same? I'm not sure.

What you are doing when you teach the TKD class is to get the students to produce correct physical behaviors-- getting the brain to move the body in certain precise ways, initially through modelling and verbal prompts, and in the mastery phase as a complete suite or symphony of a chain of discrete...behaviors or movements.

What Willingham was addressing was cognitive processes.

What you describe is a mix of cognitive processes (counting in Korean, surely not your first language) physical pattern mastery (kicking and punching) and back to a cognitive process (scanning the students' physical output & comparing their behavior to an internal model).

Let's add another degree of difficulty: performing a physical task to a verbal prompt.

Once upon a time I was riding a horse under the instruction of a new instructor. The subject was dressage. The instructor kept saying, "Use more leg!", becoming more and more heated as whatever I was doing didn't meet the requirements. Just before the whole thing boiled over, we stopped to regroup.

It turned out that when the instructor said, "use more leg!" what was happening was that (a) the horse was taking too few steps per minute and (b) each step was too small. The instructor was using the phrase "use more leg" to express two different concepts! I had a dim sense of (a) but none of all of (b).

Somehow I was supposed to know (or feel) the deficits in (a) and (b) -- I didn't. The only thing I could feel was that somehow the horse felt -- "soggy". And I didn't know exactly how to fix either (a) or (b).

Eventually I learned to feel both (a) and (b), and to fix both. But I still remember the frustration of being told "More leg!" and trying my best to perform "more leg" with no success.

RMD said...

Liz Ditz said:

"The instructor was using the phrase "use more leg" to express two different concepts! I had a dim sense of (a) but none of all of (b). "

This is at the heart of Direct Instruction . . . most issues in instruction are caused by unclear instruction. It was so hard to get teachers to teach clearly that Engelmann, when he developed DI, had to use scripts.

Nancy Bea Miller said...

Interesting! I think perhaps the difficulty you experienced in this situation stems from the fact that you were both learning and teaching at the same time. That you were being forced to teach material you have not yet mastered yourself, that wasn't second nature to you. Nerve-wracking, but not exactly clear-cut proof of the superiority of the linear learning style. Some good food for thought here, though!