Sunday, September 14, 2008

Off to a good- if crowded- start

Second class of a ten class series today.

Brand new students.
40-something of them.

That is a whole lotta people to fit into one class!

We're splitting them up next week, but for some of the introductory introductory stuff, it's good to have them all there and only have to go over stuff once. That way we know they all heard it, and they all heard it the same way.

It also gives me a chance to evaluate them, in order to make the best decision for splitting the group.

That was my task today.

41 students.
5 of whom have taken a class before, so I know who they are.

That leaves 36 names and faces to learn in a hurry.

Tried something today that I hadn't tried before- nametags.
The good thing about nametags is that I can keep associating name with face.
The bad thing is that a good, sweaty class does not bode well for stick-on nametags.

I had three primary goals for the class.

1. Safety. As always, the top priority.
2. Have one-on-one interactions with EVERY student, by name, at least half a dozen times each.
3. Get enough of a general idea of the group to be able to make the decision on how to split them.

Priority number one was covered.
Priority two as well.

Now for number 3: how to divide the group.

The question, of course, is how DO I make the decisions on how to split the group?

I look at a variety of things.

1. General body awareness level. How coordinated are they? Is this someone who is accustomed to physical activity, or not?
2. Level of focus and attention. Some of this is indicative of the level of interest, and some is a developmental issue.
3. Are there any kids who need to be in separate classes because they might become disruptive if left together?
4. Likewise, are there any who need to stay together? Siblings. Carpoolers. Best friends who want to take the class together.

For both three and four, it is important to watch interactions between students. Some combinations work very well together, they each encourage the other to excel, and some work the other way around, dragging each other down.

5. Age and gender. Not to discriminate, but because I like to have the classes maintain a balance, if possible. This is way down on the priority list, but if it's possible to keep a mixed group, I like to do that. This is different from most places where they try to group LIKE ages and genders.

Sometimes, with some classes, the split will be along skill level lines, but in an intro class, there are not different skill levels. Everyone is a beginner. In this specific class, all of the returning students first took the class over a year ago, and some of them, it has been several years, so there is no significant difference in skill level for those students. Difference in interest level, maybe.

6. Equipment needs. We have a limited number of certain sized weapons. We can't put all of the students who need those in the same group, or we won't have enough. So the eventual split needs to work with the equipment we have available. This is mostly a size issue. Sometimes works out to fit age/gender lines, but not necessarily.

7. Stated preferences of the students. We had a few specifically request to be at a certain time because of their schedules. As much as possible, we honor those requests. We would have to have a very good reason not to- and we don't have one.

So today I got to do one of the things I enjoy most about teaching.
I got to watch people come up against their lack of experience and knowledge in this particular field, and see what they did with that. Who keeps trying? Who starts to slack off? Who toughs everything out? Who is looking for a way to fake it? Who looks like they are enjoying the challenge? Who looks like they feel like they have just fallen off a cliff into hot lava?

It is ALWAYS interesting to watch the very beginning classes. Always.

Usually, there are a few who connect right away, who have found a spiritual home, and who really want to do this, who put in a huge amount of effort, pay attention, and start to self-correct early on. There were definitely some of those today.

There are usually some who are not developmentally ready to do this at any appreciable level of skill. As long as they are not being a danger to themselves or others, and they are getting enough out of it that they want to continue, that's fine. It will come. They will "get" what they are able to get. There's no hurry. These are usually the youngest boys- boys develop slower than girls, so we see some of that lag here. But it isn't always just that group.

There are usually some who appear to have come into the class thinking it would be easy, or expecting that they would just grab swords and start whacking at each other. These kids don't usually have a great time, and some of them will stop coming to class, usually because they don't want to do the work on footwork before being able to use the swords. Some will have their attitude adjusted, figure out the score, and do okay. Can't tell which will do which, and I'm not going to assume.

And then, usually the bulk of any class, there are those who want to do this, who find it difficult, and who aren't sure themselves exactly what to make of it yet. Everyone learns at their own pace, in this perhaps even more than in some things. Again, there is no hurry. And there is no way to hurry, either. The process of incorporating this new information takes the time it takes. These folks usually finish out the class, work very hard, and then have to decide whether they are interested enough to continue.

Our goal with the introductory series is to get them to that deciding place. To give them enough of a feel for what fencing is, for what it requires, and for what benefits it provides, that they can make a rational decision about how much effort and time they want to devote to it.

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