Basic aquatics skills - part 8
by Ron Coleman
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Continual motivation to expand on current skills, or at least not a complete rejection.
I have, for some time, been discussing conditions that need to be present for efficient learning of aquatic skills. In particular, I have been using my observations of how they learn naturally without a tutor, to relate to formal lessons. It is my belief that by observing how they learn naturally, one should be able to find accurate clues to the best way for them to develop aquatic skills in the lesson situation.
As explained in previous contributions, children who learn by themselves – whether aquatically or otherwise – do so by venturing out, experimenting, evaluating and then retreating to familiar ground to recover, evaluate, and consolidate. They then venture forth again until they master the new era. This process will continue on, mastering new skills as long as there is a desirable goal. That is, the child must stay motivated to keep expanding on current range of skills.
My experience has been that too many teachers, including well-educated schoolteachers, assume that a child wants to learn what they want to teach.
This type of teaching attitude is what could be called the "I am the teacher" … as compared to the "I am a facilitator of learning" attitude.
The former believes his/her responsibility is to impart knowledge or skill. The dictionary, in fact, says "to import knowledge or skill, give instruction in". I suppose if one calls oneself a teacher then by definition this is what one is supposed to do. However, a "facilitator of learning" makes learning easier or less difficult.
It seems to me that if our job is to assist a child to acquire aquatic skills (or maths or anything), then we should be aware of the conditions that enable a child to learn and then manipulate those conditions to provide a good learning situation.
The all too common practice of being a "a teacher who imparts knowledge", not purposely trying to create good learning conditions, is either ignorant, lazy, or just plain arrogant.
The condition of learning being discussed says that for learning to progress from the beginning to the end result, the pupil must be continually motivated to want to learn what we want them to learn.
Now we must keep in mind that while the "teacher" may provide motivational stimulus, it is only the child who can actually motivate himself. So the efforts of the "teacher" must be to stimulate the desire to learn.
Sounds simple enough, but what stimulates one person does not excite another. The study of what motivates people to action can be taken to the depths of complicated by reading Freud and friends, or we can use the K.I.S.S. system and keep it simple. People are basically motivated by moving towards something they find, or anticipate, will give them a degree of pleasure, or moving away from something they know, or anticipate will be unpleasant.
The good "teacher" presents goals that are potentially desirable and then looks for ways to convince the child it is worth the effort.
While the child may perceive that the goal before him could bring a degree of pleasure, this desirability seems to be only one factor that controls the willingness of a pupil to pursue it. It appears to me goals have to have the following criteria:
They must be desirable
They must be believable
They must be achievable in a relatively short period of time
The biggest single mistake teachers make is not acknowledging that children have to see something in it for them. Say we have a 3-year-old we want to teach Freestyle. The child enjoys the water but wants to do what 3-year-olds want to do … play. The child finds play pleasurable. What are you going to do to convince him that learning Freestyle is more fun? "Do it because I say so" is not good enough in our society.
A goal may be desirable but if the child does not believe it is achievable, then motivation will be poor or non-existent.
Not only must they be achievable, but must be in a reasonably short time frame. Children cannot handle long term goals, so it is important to set interim, or stepping goals along the way. The smaller steps will not only keep the child motivated, but will assist in making the whole exercise believable. Too long without success puts doubt in the child's mind about his ability to achieve the goal. On the other hand, success in relatively short time frames makes the child more positive about pursuing subsequent steps.
And finally, in the series on conditions that require to be present for natural learning to occur … we look at frequency.
A frequency that is sufficient for physical and nervous system adaptation to take place.
While I don't believe anybody would not admit frequency is important to learning, the subject seems to be almost completely ignored in most literature.
In an industry that is becoming really serious about being more professional, we see million dollar organisations accepting one half hour per week as the norm for learning to swim.
Let's look at that for a moment. One half hour represents 00.3% of the child's time per week (this is assuming the whole time is used constructively). If you have a program where the children sit on the side and wait their turn with the teacher, with four in the class the percentage is reduced to 00.075% of the week, or 7.5 minutes out of 24,080 minutes. Not a lot to learn aquatic skills.
My discussions with many people about their programs indicate that there are several reasons why one per week is used.
The first is that people won't come twice per week. Another is they stay in lessons longer … and another reason is numbers.
I can't recall anyone actually saying one lesson was the best for the child.
The majority of operators felt two half hours per week for a commercial organisation was about right, taking into consideration customers other commitments and economics. I must admit that I also work this way for that very reason. We seem to get satisfactory results in a reasonable amount of time. Let me say, however, I do not believe even two half hours is the optimum.
The evidence suggests that if … and I say if … we were able to put a child in the water twice or even three times per day under suitable conditions, we would be getting faster and better results. "Suitable conditions" is the key term. Our approach to lessons would have to be different and length of class more flexible … possibly reduced to, say, 20 minutes.
Now I am not suggesting that this is the way we should be going. It is just to point out that all the indications are that if we are considering conditions that aid learning, increased frequency is a tool we are not using to its best advantage.
What evidence is there that they can handle more? A child is placed on the floor at home and begins a journey of development that he/she works on most of their waking hours. They explore, rest, and at it again. They just keep going. Contrary to popular opinion, the range of skills a water competent person has, is just as extensive as what they develop on dry land. Given suitable conditions, there is no reason to believe that they could not develop in the water with similar exposure.
Now I know there will be those who will jump up and down and say, "what about this, what about that" … but once one takes into consideration the difference in environment, the rules are basically the same.
So … do we know the optimum time in the water per week? I don't, but I am confident one half hour per week is not enough – two per week possibly the minimum. While increased exposure would most certainly improve results, I am inclined to believe that there would be a point where maximum improvement could be expected, and beyond that, additional benefit would be achieved at a progressively reduced rate. What that point is I can't say, but it is certainly more than we are doing now.
I can't answer the question on optimum frequency, only make the point that frequency is an important condition that influences the learning of aquatic skill.
This is the last in the series devoted to the acquisition of basic skills and the conditions that need to be present for learning to occur.
It is difficult to gauge whether my contributions have done anything to improve the professionalism of our industry, but I am encouraged by the feedback from rank and file members.
As I finish this segment, I think it might be appropriate to mention how impressed I am with people on the Learn-To-Swim Committee. The behind the scenes work done by these people (for no reward other than the welfare of our industry) is quite unbelievable.