[reproduced from the Winter 2001 issue of Caution:Horses]
When we walk into the arena do we always know what we want to have accomplished by the time we walk out? This is a critical question, one that is easy for the well prepared, professional instructor to answer but difficult for the instructor who is flying blindly.
If the instructor has taken the time to write the program down lesson by lesson then s/he has a fair idea of what is on the schedule for each day. This does not mean that the instructor has no flexibility, or that s/he gets only one day on each lesson, or that each lesson can only be taught one way. It simply means that, just like a professional classroom teacher, or any professional teacher, she stays on schedule and on task with a specific focus in mind.
Lacking that specific focus is the fatal flaw in many a lesson. It is the difference between the lesson that is nothing more than a pony ride and the lesson where the student leaves the arena with increased skills and work to process for the next session.
Many instructors ask, “Why should I write this program down? I know it by heart. I have been teaching it for years.” One may have been teaching for years but when one attempts to put the program on paper, even with the help of a friend, one often finds that there are many muddled areas. What seemed so clear may suddenly be a bit confused. It is easy to say, “I really have this in hand; I just can’t write it down, but when I am in the arena it is all clear.” Is it really?
When we are in the arena, we have many ways to cover up the messy areas of our logic. We can postpone the exercise. We can go on to something else. We can blame the horse. We can leave out that step entirely. Or we can wait until the student figures the problem out for himself. How often do we hear, “Well, they are beginners, what do you expect.” Is the problem that we just cannot put the idea down on paper? Can do it in the arena but we just cannot put the ideas down the way we want?
Writing down a lesson plan is just about the best way to discover whether or not one truly understands the material. If the teacher has the material well under control it is no problem to write lesson plans and divide the plans into meaningful units with interesting activities and goals and sub-goals. If this cannot be efficiently done, then the teacher probably does not adequately understand the material.
If the material is understood, it should be possible for the student who just learned it to teach it to the next student in a clear and systematic manner. Of course, if the material was not presented that way in the first place then that won’t happen. Asking a student to teach something to another will let the instructor know quickly if s/he is making the material as clear as s/he thinks. This is a good test at any time to see if the students are learning what the teacher thinks they are learning.
Why not try it? First, try to write down the program from first mounting through first canter. Second, take any lesson and ask one student to teach what you have just taught to a new student or another student. Hint: If the teacher has to help…
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