Teaching During COVID

It’s been 9 months since the world drastically changed from a microscopic virus called COVID19.  Just as we started to get back on track, the fall surge hits and we are back to square one. We are forced to shutdown and teach only online until at least January. It looks like the modified way of teaching during COVID is here to stay.

Teaching during COVID has changed teaching forever
Teaching during COVID has changed teaching forever

Prior to March 2020, I had spent over 22 years teaching martial arts. Sixteen of those years as a full-time instructor.  At one point I had estimated that I have around 25,000 hours teaching experience.  During that time, I feel I have honed my craft quite well and have become a very good, effective instructor.

When martial arts schools were forced to shut down, we found ourselves attempting to teach classes online.  Oh boy.  What a different world that is.  A very small percentage of the skills I had perfected over the course of 22 years could now be used.  In addition, an entire new skill set had to be developed.  All the while, students expect the same level of instruction they received when still in person.

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Teaching prior to COVID was business as usual
Teaching prior to COVID was business as usual

Some of the issues encountered are:

  • Teaching partner skills without a partner
  • Teaching 3 dimensional patterns in 2 dimensions
  • The inability to move around a student
  • Not seeing the student’s entire body in order to make corrections
  • Different camera angles can make techniques look incorrect when actually correct
  • Teaching students from only one perspective, directly in front, rather than next to or behind
  • Different computer/internet speeds cause for different delays amongst participants
  • Inability to break off into small groups with a separate instructor

In this post I hope to inform readers how I am going about addressing these issues.  Instructors of martial arts or any activity may find it beneficial.  Students may also find it useful to understand how to better help your instructor maximize their teaching capability.

In an in-person class setting I have always tried to teach students by keeping in mind the three types of learners: aural, visual, and kinesthetic.  For more details on this topic, please read this article.  When doing online classes, kinesthetic learning is impossible.  I cannot physically move a high block to the correct position. Nor can I tap the arm that needs to move first.  Visual learning is also limited as you can only position yourself directly in front of the student.  Some students learn better side by side and some learn best with other students on all sides of them.  That leave aural learning as the primary mode of teaching.  I have found that it takes a more detailed, clear, and concise communication style to rely mainly on verbal instructions.

Keeping in mind that aural learning will be the predominant method of teaching, here are few things I have discovered while teaching online for 9 months and counting.

Teaching during COVID can be a little nutty
Teaching during COVID can be a little nutty

Go slower: with internet delays amongst different students, go slower than usual to allow for everyone to stay with you.

Demonstrate everything 3 ways: 1) facing students the exact same way they are (your right is their right), 2) facing students like a mirror (your right is their left), 3) back to students as if you are in front of them facing the same direction.

Use verbal or visual cues to work on timing: give a kihap (yell) or a hand signal as a cue for students to execute a technique to work on timing.

Target something at home: when students are doing drills normally done with a partner, have them pick a spot on the wall, couch, chair, whatever and try to strike at that spot (visually, not actually).

Let some stuff go:  make corrections as best you can but you’ll have to let some stuff go.  Some students will not be able to get more complex correction from verbal cues alone, regardless of how good your communication skills are.

Wave/snap/tap your own hands/legs to signify what side to use: this will give students yet another visual clue as to what side you want them to use.

Engage students by name 3 times at a minimum:  I try to do this every class regardless of whether it is in-person or online, but I have found it more important when online as students are by themselves and lose focus easily.  Hearing their name keeps them engaged and not just watching a screen; they feel like they are a part of a class (which they are).

When doing partner techniques, do them slowly, deliberately, and fully: when working with a partner we always have to go slower and utilize control.  Without a partner, we can do self-defense techniques fully with full power.  It is amazing when doing them this way the similarities the techniques have with movements in our forms.

Even when the pandemic starts to come under control, it will still be many months until we are able to teach and do techniques the way we used to do them.  I’m sure I will continue to perfect online teaching skills and hopefully will use what I have learned to make my in-person teaching abilities better when the time comes.

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