To spend more time with my two little girls and to learn something new together, I enrolled us in a Taekwondo dojang. I got to experience the teaching and learning techniques firsthand and was very surprised by how Taekwondo instruction gets many of the pedagogical principles right. What was even more surprising was how these principles aligned with those of good video games (which makes them so addictive). Granted, that we are being taught by a 9th degree black belt and there aren't that many there and this school is the second oldest in the United States (going on 50 years). Here are the principles that have really enabled Taekwondo withstand the test of time and transition to different cultures:
- Clear Goal Setting: By far having a wide range in belts training together is a clear and visual reminder of what to aim for. You line up according to rank and the black belts are so clearly better than you! These visual reminders help set goals and drive learning.
- Safe Sandbox: Everyday you have to practice the basics. It is very clear that it is ok to fail. For me as a grownup, it is an awesome experience to be a learner alongside little children and have them outperform me. It is humbling and very good for my soul!
- Increasing complexity and diversity of content: There is a very clear sequence of forms, kicks, sparring techniques etc that have to be mastered and new pieces are introduced gradually. You practice the basics everyday, but everyday you are also pushed to move outside your comfort zone (your zone of proximal development).
- Completely student centric: Unlike school and classrooms, the Taekwondo learning environment is so centered on each individual learner. That is the wonderful part about that. Each child gets personalized feedback on her performance which helps her reach her full potential. But this last part is where I wonder about the ability of this form of instruction to scale. It just cannot. And I also dont see technology coming in to help solve that issue.
- Mentoring and Teaching: Finally, there is an extremely strong culture of learning by teaching. As you advance through the belts, you are expected to teach, thereby deepening your own understanding. The underlying benefit to this piece is that it promotes the longevity and sustainability of this martial art form. Because each class that graduates as black belts will go forward and teach (ideally!).