This is something really important to me, and I’ve had it mind to write about for ages, but watching events unfold in front of me has clarified it again.
Attendance or Attainment. What does the difference mean to you?
Attendance is to attend something. To have made an appearance. Last summer I did a lot of CPD days, (continued professional development days) and at the end, we were given our “6 hours CPD” certificates, whether or not we slept through it, interacted, agreed, disagreed or learnt. Some were awesome, others were… Well…
Attainment is to achieve. When I was head of testing for the Pony Club, I had no issues failing the kids. Well, let’s rephrase that. When I was lecturing them, I’d always prepare them for the grade above what we were doing. If they were aiming for C test, I’d make sure they could pass their C+ with flying colours. Partly because I don’t believe in failure. Partly because, coming from little old Zimbabwe (and teaching a lot of embassy / expat kids) I wanted to make sure the standards were high, so that when these kids went back to the first world they came from, people would be impressed with their knowledge gathered in Africa, not be making exceptions for them. But, if I was examining and an unprepared kid, or a kid with a know-it-all attitude came along, I’d fail them. Later, as an examiner for The South African National Equestrian Federation, I did fail a fairly high proportion of instructor hopefuls. If you can’t do the skills, you don’t get your bit of paper just for attending. It’s that simple.
A lot of courses are only aimed at giving enough information so that participants can answer the questions. “Here is a 100-page book to study… You really only need to read chapter 5 and read the list of past questions on page 89, because that’s where the exam questions come from”. How often have you heard that one? I have. And that, I think, is attendance, not attainment.
Albert Einstein is credited with the quote – “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”.
To this end, when I was Chief Instructor for the Pony Club, all the older kids had to lecture the younger ones. The older C+ kids lectured the E and D kids. The B and A test kids lectured the D+’s and C’s. It freed up instructor’s time, but it was mainly to clarify things for the older kids. If you can’t explain to a 10-year-old how to assemble a bridle, maybe you don’t understand it well enough yourself…
Why am I thinking of all of this now? I’m sitting at a dive centre, (https://www.facebook.com/lutwaladive/) watching some people do their PADI Rescue Diver Course. In some centres, the course is done in about 2 / 3 days. A morning watching videos. An afternoon in the pool. A day in the sea. Wham, Bam, thank you M’am, you’ve attended the course, here’s you bit of paper. Here, it’s a bit different. Breaking down the skills. Doing the theory, then in the pool. Then the sea. Back to watching the video, reading the book, discussing the scenarios. In the water, out of the water. This morning, there was a “accident”. Oh My Word, someone is “drowning” out to sea, quickly, quickly, can someone rescue him – Oh The Drama… It’s taking up a good week. They’ve had to drag in a body against the tide – exhausted rescuers. They had to hunt for a weight belt and plot the search area. They haven’t attended the course, they’ve learnt the information, they’ve done everything practically. They’ve taken twice as much time, been tired and overwhelmed, and they have understood. Some people would be bored and frustrated. And you know what? If I were to have an accident, or to get lost at sea, do you know who I’d rather have out looking for me? The ones who have attended a two-day course, or the ones who have achieved pulling in a “dead body” against the current and plotted a proper search area?
When I learnt to dive, we took it really slow. My dive instructor was pedantic about safety and understanding. We went through the theory, we did all the drills, we worked out the compass and plotting on land. We tested, learnt, practiced, practiced. It helped that he was my friend. It helped that we had no rush. It helped that he taught some of the world’s biggest VIP’s and so had to be ultra-cautious. And, I learnt properly, carefully, thoroughly, and so it made sense.
A couple of years ago, I did a two-day free diving course. There was a set syllabus. Morning one – yoga practice. Pool practice. Afternoon one, yoga practice, pool practice. Skills 1, 2, 3, 4. Day two, pool practice, afternoon, sea practice, you WILL dive to 20m, stay 30 seconds, come back up. The instructor was disinterested. He had a list to follow, we were drilled through his list. He damn near drowned me, and I didn’t finish the course. He was unprepared and only had one thought in mind – to get through his two days.
See the difference?
As a pupil, which way would you rather learn? As an instructor, honestly, how do you teach?