While teaching black belts seems more impressive to the outsider, anyone who has spent time on the floor as an instructor will attest that the most difficult group to teach is made up of the youngest members of the studio: the mini-dragons. The biggest issue most instructors have is with keeping the attention of their students while they teach. This issue is most noticeable with the younger students.
At their age, most mini-dragons have a limited amount of focus. What that means is instruction needs to be broken up into smaller, more easily digestible bites for them. It requires getting them moving fast and keeping verbal instruction without movement to a minimum. Standing a group of mini-dragons in line for lectures lasting 30 seconds or more is a recipe for lost focus on their part and lost control on yours.
Keeping students focused and motivated is easily the most difficult job of an instructor taking charge of a mini-dragon class. It requires patience, skill, and creativity.
As a new teacher, the one thing I have the most trouble in dealing with is maintaining the focus of my mini-dragons. It may be the single most difficult thing I deal with out on the dojo floor. There have been times when the thought of doing a hundred dragon drops was more enticing than going out to teach a mini-dragon class. Here are some of the tips I’ve learned to help myself and other instructors when working with the youngest of RDK students.
I call these tips “Grabbers” because they are used to grab the attention of students and get them refocused on the lesson at hand. They’re quick and easy tools to keep a class moving, exciting, and focused.
Competition: Kids LOVE to be challenged, and they love competition against their classmates. Have the students form two lines and face each other, then have them go through a series of exercises, form repetitions, or so on, where they challenge the child across from them. Asking a student if they can punch harder, get into a lower stance, recite the RDK code, or run in place faster than their friend across the line, is a great way to get students motivated and get them excited. This sort of exercise keeps students on task and hides the repetition of forms.
Challenging them to snap to an attention stance and be “frozen like a Popsicle” to see which group is more focused is a great way to demonstrate the benefits of RDK training — focus and discipline. Parents will often comment on how amazed they are at a child’s discipline in class.
Line Drills: A tactic that works for disguising repetition with young and old students alike, the line drill adds a nice change to the format of any class. Have students get into lines and perform a form from one side of the dojo before running back — snap kicks, bag sets, stances, it can all be done. If you get creative you can even add in varying relay races, like army or bear crawls, to get the competitive juices flowing. Award points to the first team to finish, making sure they get into a straight line in attention stance at the end.
The Highlight or Spotlight: If the class focus begins to waiver during instruction of a new form, use spotlighting or highlighting as a way to get it back. Call out for the group to “lock it up” or “take a knee” and shine the spotlight on one of the students who is doing well with the move. Have the student stand and demonstrate a few times. Then ask the class if they can do the move or form as well as the “Superstar” student. Make a big deal of getting that spotlight to help encourage the other students to try harder.
Exercise: Younger students can generally only focus on a task for a couple of minutes (some even less) and long periods of repetitive instruction wears on them. Short rounds of exercise are a fantastic way to reclaim focus and to pull energy back into a lagging class. Have students run in place, drop for push-ups and crunches, do an around-the-world session of jumping jacks. Grab their attention and get their energy moving again. Once the short exercise session is done (even 15 seconds will do it, but try not to go longer than 45), return to the lesson at hand.
Story Time: Where a younger student may have problems dealing with abstract instruction, they tend to excel when information is related to them. Using familiar events and tying them to instruction will enable the mini-dragons to grasp the teaching much quicker and easier. Having the students “huddle in” and “lock it up” while you tell the story adds to keeping their focus.
Get Down To Their Level: Mini-dragons live in a world filled with giants. To better connect with the tiny students, a smart teach will drop down on their knees and get down to eye level with them. Reinforcing that connection with your students, building a rapport with them, is how an instructor can turn a difficult, unresponsive, or unfocused student into a mini-dragon who is excited and eager to learn.
A quick footnote before I end this: This list isn’t all-inclusive. There are tons of other techniques and methods you can use. These are just a few little tricks that I’ve learned as an instructor at RDK San Dimas. Every student and every class is different and it is your job as an instructor to figure out what those differences are and how to work with them.
Good luck and get out there to teach!