Developing a skill: teaching techniques

Differentiation and the feedback loop!

Chapter 7: Developing a Skill: Teaching Techniques

Skill development is never a smooth upward trajectory. Learn about effective teaching techniques that help maintain forward momentum even when progress is slow.

Within each of the stages described, there are two subtle teaching techniques which are fundamental to achieving success:

  1. Differentiation (including Big Target to Small Target, Balloons and Bubbles)
  2. The Feedback Loop

1. Differentiation

Differentiation is the key to motivation and your judgement here is crucial. At every stage of learning be prepared to make the challenge easier or harder. This is called differentiation. If your child is struggling to hit a shuttlecock then use a balloon or bubbles. If they are hitting the shuttlecock successfully then bring in a target. If the target is too small make it bigger, if the target is too big, making the challenge too easy, then make the target smaller.

You must keep on your toes and judge when to alter the task, keeping your child on the edge of their limits as much as possible. If the challenge is too easy or too hard motivation will be lost. The challenges should be easier to start with so early success is achieved. As your child develops their skills the challenges get progressively harder much like any game which features different levels.

If motivation is being lost then go back to making the challenges a bit easier and have some more success. If you are having success every time go for a more difficult challenge.

We sometimes found that it was a good idea to leave certain skills and re-visit them weeks, months or even years later as we did in the clip below. The challenge was to knock a balloon off the tub with a golf shot. Diddy Roo was only 1 year old and could not lift the golf ball in the air on her own. There was no way she could achieve the challenge at this point. We left it for a while, kept practising and then re-visited it when she began to lift the ball. She was then able to complete the challenge.

Goals: Big Target to Small Target

I often introduced a target immediately in the challenges, as it gives purpose and direction. It helps your child understand what they are trying to do. Diddy liked to use 4 trains as his target and was very good at hitting specific ones.

If your child is finding it hard to hit the targets then bring in so many targets that you can’t miss. We did exactly that with some of our early golf challenges whilst Diddy Roo was just learning to hit a golf ball. The dolls and teddies almost covered the width of the room so that when she hit the ball it would definitely hit one of the teddies.

You don’t need one target until your child can hit a ball accurately with great consistency. This may take several years!

In this tennis challenge we started with 4 teddies, then gradually reduced it down to 1. Once proficiency is established then you can reduce the number of targets until you are down to one small target.

Diddy and Diddy Roo were both able to improve their accuracy in a very short period of time and I put this down to the superhighway of accelerated learning that we discussed in an earlier chapter.

I tried to see how far I could take this by making the target as small as possible.

In the cricket challenge above (overarm bowling) Diddy had to land the ball on the smallest possible target (a table tennis ball).

After learning how to serve a badminton shuttlecock we set up a challenge for Diddy to serve into a bucket, which is a very tough test.

With Diddy Roo I tried to take it further and asked her to serve into a small cup.

I would be mindful of your child’s motivation and confidence when you go for a very small target. I wouldn’t spend a huge amount of time on such challenges unless your child is highly motivated to succeed.

Moving Targets

The next stage on from a small target is a moving target. We didn’t do a lot on this but I think it is a great area for further challenges.

In the challenge below Diddy volleyed the football to hit a balloon floating in the air.

Start with a big moving target that drops slowly before reducing the size of the target.

Equipment: Balls, Balloons and Bubbles

As you move through the stages of learning, the equipment changes.

Balloons and bubbles are great fun and the perfect starting point for all our challenges, particularly when your child is very young. Balloons and bubbles both take time to drop to the floor and give your Diddy more time to get into position to perform a kick or hit.

Once perfected you can move onto the proper equipment (e.g. tennis balls and shuttlecocks) or use an intermediate step (such as a sponge ball). In our tennis challenges we often used soft tennis balls, making it easier to get power in the shots.

Be prepared to scale down all the equipment to an appropriate size. We actually struggled to find a tennis racket that was light and small, which led to Diddy resting his on the floor in between shots. However, we were able to find a cricket bat and golf clubs that were the perfect size without much trouble.

What if we can’t do the challenges?

Add the word YET onto the end of this sentence: “We can’t do the challenges YET!”

Be patient. Make the challenge easier (differentiation). Build up to it step by step so that your child has all the basics in place:

  • If they can’t kick a ball straight it is unlikely they will be able to kick it into a basketball net.
  • If there is a target, then make the target bigger. In fact, make the target so big that it can’t be missed.
  • If the ball isn’t being hit cleanly, use balloons or bubbles. Change the challenge as much as is required to achieve success.

And remember that you can always come back to the challenge at a later stage to allow your child more time to develop their skills further.

2. Feedback Loop

There is an important distinction here between positive encouragement and positive feedback.

Positive feedback is the correction to the skills e.g:

“Well done, hit it harder Diddy”

and positive encouragement is:

“Well done Diddy, that was amazing”

Both are very important.

The younger the child, the more positive encouragement is needed. Have a look at this video and see how many positives comments are used.

As your child gets older more feedback can be given, although it should always be as simple as possible. Positive feedback can be given continuously during each stage of learning.

Feedback may be verbal e.g:

“Can you hit it higher / lower / harder / softer?”

Feedback can also be non-verbal.

For example, you can change the angle of the racket, the grip or the stance. Just go in and move your child into the correct position – the why doesn’t need to be explained.

You can also give feedback by talking through the skill when you are demonstrating e.g:

“Daddy hit that shot too hard”

Your child will observe, model and repeat the words you are using.

Things I learned: teaching mum and dad

When filming Diddy Roo a brilliant thing happened. She started to teach me how to do the skills.

Diddy Roo would tell me how to hold the bat or racket and put me in the correct position, copying what I had told her weeks before.

This is a fantastic way to play and teach and I would encourage all of you to give this a try.

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The Sport Diddy Handbook