05 April 2014

It's Easy if You Know It

What can you learn about academic subjects from training for a two-mile run? I had an epiphany about it while I was doing interval training: one of the biggest benefits from doing intervals is to break the 2-mile run (in the case of the Army Physical Fitness Test) into more manageable parts.

"Too easy" is a common, if maddeningly trite, Army phrase. But as all overused and under pondered phrases, it has a root in truth. Running a good 2-mile is fairly easy when you realize that running 800 meters at a reasonable pace is a piece of cake. Then, all you have to do is string four of those together.

Too easy.

More frequently uttered in a math classroom than the above Army training is, "this is hard!"

When teaching any skill or motivating someone to complete a difficult task, good teachers and leaders will make it seem easy. I used to respond to my math students, "it's easy if you know it."

So true. There are a few things instructors can do to make something seem easy:

1. Disassemble the problem into easy components. This is the essence of teaching math. One step at a time, then move on to more complex variation on one type of problem. Teachers get their students in the zone when they can relate something back to a concept that students have mastered.

2. Articulate to students when they know something. When someone is learning something, they don't know what they don't know.The corollary is that they don't know when they know it. Teachers need to identity that a-ha moment so students can build on the confidence of moving in the right direction. Also, success is partly a mindset, one that has to be developed.

3. Celebrate progress and accomplishment. Praise goes a long way, especially when one is struggling to learn tough stuff.

Now that I have left teaching for the time being, I'll be doing the NCO business to leading and teaching younger Soldiers. We'll probably even be doing a lot of training and assisting of Afghan forces one we get over there.

We'll see how easy that is. 

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