I’m not great at swimming. My eldest nephew takes after his dad, a navy diver, and seemed to be able to swim from birth. A family trait which I am all too familiar with- his Dad’s sister once challenged me to a race in the pool: she finished before I’d hit the halfway point. Their prowess in this arena is the best visible argument I’ve ever seen for genetics. The youngest nephew, however, clearly takes from my side of the family. Despite being quite athletic as a brood, swimming really isn’t our thing. Our propensity for hypertrophy, and cake make us well suited for full contact sport, and buffets but ill-suited to floating.
Suffice to say my nephew doesn’t have the best start, and is unlikely to become the next Phelps or Thorpe. He has three main disadvantage when it comes to swimming. First disadvantage: despite being very slim, he is unusually heavy and muscular- he lifted my 16kg kettle-bell for a bit of a laugh! Second disadvantage: he has extreme difficulties at school- excluded permanently in KS1 (long story!) Third disadvantage: he is a very insecure chap and has a lot of emotional issues, as I’m sure you guessed from the second point..
Regardless, I pushed on with teaching him to swim good!
What I learnt from the experience?
Modelling-I rely heavily on my subject knowledge. Whilst I can swim, I am not intimately connected to the process and not able to step outside of that process. I found myself modelling the process of swimming, as much for myself as for my nephew. My effort of memory, and struggle to explain ended up as a useful teaching point. I was forced to make statements such as, ‘I think you have to kick from your ankles…. but flutter your legs a bit too.’ My nephew joined in, and tried to explain the process himself, ‘you are sorting of kicking in the middle too.’ Whilst I’m not sure how this would impact in the classroom, it did force me to think about my own modelling: should I play act my level a little more? Would I lose the power of the classroom if I did so? Do I co-construct often enough? Is co-construction even something I want to shoot for?
Challenge and Praise– I push students to try to do things they are not yet comfortable with. In a classroom this is fine, in a pool it needs a little more care. Whether it is the best thing for the learner is debatable. My ITT rushes my mind towards the Vygotskian idea of just out of reach, but my experience in the pool (and the classroom) make me question this. Is there anything said for solidifying current practice and gaining confidence with that area?
My nephew was searching almost constantly for ways to receive praise -Interestingly, I’ve read his ed. pysch report,long story, and it states that he dislikes praise of any sort. He would use his feet and breastroke whilst stating ‘look how far I just did.’ His response to this type praise was to take more risks. Do we need emotional security, as well as physical security, in order to challenge our current level? I would not usually hand out this type of praise in the classroom; I like to think of myself as setting high standards, but given my nephews clear need for encouragement at every new step in the process, perhaps I need to reassess this. Should I be stopping to inform the class that their comprehension of verbs is fantastic? Do they need this to move forwards to analysis? It is very hard to see the world from outside of your own personage on these matters, and as a person who dislikes praise I would find this type of teacher frustrating. At school I was much more a fan of the tough task-master- always pushing for more.
Skill transfer: It may be an emotional response, but I genuinely feel that there was no transfer of skill. Despite being a fairly decent teacher and a rarely drowning swimmer, I was a poor swimming instructor. We went to the pool everyday during his three day holiday, each time staying for around two hours. In this time my ‘pupil’ went from being able to walk across the pool (10m) to swimming across it with a float. That seems like slow progress, though its worth noting he has been excluded from school and can be poorly behaved- and we did spend a lot of time on the slide. Not making excuses but these are factors in my poor performance.
Perhaps more importantly I have no ‘data’ on whether or not he retained what he learnt. His main learning point may have been that sliding on your belly is a bad idea.
* I need to re-think how and when I praise and model.
* I will purchase a copy of the secret lives of learners- a colleagues recommendation.
* I will try to remember my nephews inhaler when we go swimming! Else his Mum will likely think of imaginative ways to kill me.
* I need to be much more active in extending my subject knowledge.
* I will praise more at AFL points, and record what I observe.