Pedagogical thoughts from the ski trip

Skiing is hard (1)

As such, it is important that the students we take on ski trips are able to be taught how to do it in an effective way. Luckily, on the trip I returned from yesterday, this was (predominantly) the case. It has led me to ponder how the skiing lessons might translate to the classroom.

The top set:

We had one group of students who had all skied before, and they were placedĀ into the ‘advanced’ group. They were itching to be taken straight to the harder slopes and to be allowed ‘just to ski’ (I assume they meant ‘just to ski as fast as they could’). Their instructor, however, had different ideas. Lots of little drills, repeated if done incorrectly filled the first couple of days. This caused a bit of grumbling from the students who didn’t (all) want to copy the instructor or practice these building blocks as they weren’t skiing fast! However, the instructor said ‘I’m not interested in today, I’m interested in day 6’ – seemingly suggesting he knew that repeating these drills wasn’t the most challenging, but was crucial for what was to follow.

I was really struck by this – we are often told that students need to be progressing onto more and more challenging work each lesson, or the students won’t be making progress. Yet here was a group who spent 2 days (12 hours!) doing things that they had done before. Surely that isn’t right? Well…by day 6 it absolutely was. All of the students finished the week skiing confidently on very tricky slopes, utilising the skills they had practiced until they mastered them earlier in the week.

Lessons we can take away – don’t worry about practicing the basics, even if it is seen as boring – it will help them in the long run. And don’t worry if the students are having a bit of a winge about repeating a task/skill; if mastering the skill will benefit them, make sure they can do it – it will give them the key to the tougher work to come later on.

Set 3:

One group had a teacher with a slightly different approach. This group had only had a brief introduction to skiing before, and were shown the basics on the first couple of days. The instructor, however seemed to be in a rush to get them up to the more tricky slopes, and once she did, was less interested in the continual development of skills, and more in getting on to progressively more tricky slopes as quickly as possible. Some students improved well (almost by working it out for themselves) but others didn’t have much confidence in what they can do at all, and rather than wanting to tackle trickier slopes, always took the option of an easier route when given.

Points to ponderĀ – are we pushing students to quickly on to more challenging work before they are ready? Does this lead to students not even wanting to try it in case they can’t do it (more high risk on a ski slope than in a classroom, granted!)? Should we be more concerned with building up the basics than pushing for the hardest thing possible *all the time*, so that when we do tackle the tough work the students are ready to do so?

I should also add – the students all had a great time, and the benefits to them of a week like this go far beyond simply how good they got to be at skiing – looking forward to the next one already!

And one final thought…discovery learning might have a place, but it certainly isn’t on a ski slope!