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Teaching During the Pandemic

Updated: Mar 22, 2021

It’s been almost 12 months since my world drastically changed due to a microscopic virus called COVID-19. We were forced to shut and move online in March 2020, opening back up for face-to-face classes in July, only to have the rug pulled from under us again in November and again, more painfully in January 2021. We’re back to online-only teaching for at least the next month or two, although, with vaccines being rolled out, the end is potentially in sight.

Covid spreading around the world
Covid Spread

Prior to March 2020, I estimate that I had over 4,000 hours teaching experience and I feel I have honed my craft fairly well and become quite a good, pretty effective instructor. When the Family Martial Arts Centres schools were forced to shut down, we found ourselves forced to teach classes online and what a different world that is. A very small percentage of the skills I had honed so far could now be used and an entirely new skill set had to be developed. This had to be done at breakneck speed, with students still expecting the same level of instruction they received in the Do Jang, person-to-person.

Some of the issues we encountered were:

  • Teaching partner skills without a partner

  • Teaching three-dimensional patterns in two 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

  • Left not always being left, depending upon the settings of your IT equipment

Instructor teaching martial arts over Zoom
Zoom Class

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 kinaesthetic. When doing online classes, kinaesthetic learning is impossible as I cannot physically move a block to the correct position or 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 left 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,discoveredings here are few I've while teaching online.

  • Make sure your students understand that you will be giving them clear but detailed guidance on what to do with hands/feet/body/etc - you cannot be there to move the lazy ones’ hands around for them!

  • Go slow - with internet speeds differing across students, go slower than usual to allow for everyone to stay with you. This has been a real issue sometimes when the broadband infrastructure in the UK has hiccoughed

  • Demonstrate everything three ways: once facing the screen doing it correctly as per instructions, a second time mirroring for students and the last time with your 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 kiyap (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 and try to strike at that spot. The concept of ‘honesty’ works well here

  • Let some stuff go: make corrections as best you can but, just like in class, you cannot correct everything with everybody. Some students will not be able to get more complex correction from verbal cues alone, regardless of how good your communication skills are.

  • Wave/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: 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 utilise control. Without a partner, we can do self-defence techniques fully with full power. It is amazing when doing them this way the similarities the techniques have with movements in our forms.

  • Truly understand the Hyungs: all too often these are taught by using a ‘watch me & copy’ method. Now I have to fully explain stances, foot positions and hand movements, eye lines and other elements. You can only explain a Hyung to someone if you really know how to do it. My test of a good instructor? Hand in pockets and explain Bassai to me!

Some of you love online teaching; some of us hate it. But know this - we are doing our very best to give you the closest possible experience to normal classroom teaching.

I, for one, will be taking many of the additional skills I have learned back into the Do Jang when we reopen for face-to-face teaching and for when the gloves come off and we are genuinely back to normal. With any luck, I shall be a better Instructor for it, just as you will be better students for having stayed engaged with online classes.

A black belt is just a white belt who never gave up
Never Give Up

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Gemma Lace
Gemma Lace
Jan 22, 2021

I really enjoyed reading this, as both a teacher and a student. As a student, learning in a pandemic, I’ve learnt to consider my own frustrations as a student when designing my own teaching sessions at Uni. The frustrations of not being able to hear or not feeling heard. The frustrations of not being able to see, and if not feeling seen. And the frustration of failing connectivity, at a time when we are desperate to feel connected. What touched me about this post is the shared desire amongst teachers across all environments to engage, to inspire and to develop others in a rapidly changing and isolating new world. Keep up the cracking work and keep learning and evolving with…

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