The Swim Professor

Jim Reiser, M.S.

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How to use Demonstrations in Swimming Lessons

If you are teaching a new skill and want to communicate to your students how this skill should be performed, what is the most likely way you would communicate this information? A Demonstration! When demonstrations are used in conjunction with verbal descriptions, they provide the learner with invaluable sources of information, therefore improving the efficiency and effectiveness of skill acquisition.

There are SIX factors that we need to consider before giving demonstrations:

    1. Status of the model (Landers and Landers, 1973)
    2. When the model should begin demonstrating  (Gentile, 1972 & Landers, 1975)
    3. Correctness of the demonstration (Landers and Landers, 1973)
    4. Observing incorrect demonstrations (Weir & Leavitt, 1990)
    5. Frequency of demonstrations (Hand & Sidaway , 1992)
    6. Demonstrations that include both visual and auditory modeling (Doody, Bird, & Ross, 1985)

Status of the model (Landers and Landers, 1973)

One of the first things to consider when deciding about demonstrating a skill is, who should do the demonstration. It may be surprising to find that the status of who demonstrates the skill can be influential in establishing the effectiveness of the demonstration.   For example, consider the experiment by Landers and Landers in which they compared skilled and unskilled models that were either the teacher or student peers. Results indicated that the teacher was a more effective model when skilled at performing the task. I agree. However, there are times when student demonstrations are also very effective.   If the student is capable of demonstrating accurately, especially in swimming, the instructor can keep the students attention focused on the important aspects of the skill or performance.

When the model should begin demonstrating (Gentile, 1972 & Landers, 1975)

Another decision that must be made about the use of a model is when the model should begin demonstrating a skill to best facilitate learning.   This decision concerns whether to begin demonstrating the skill before practice begins or after some practice has occurred. One argument promotes demonstrating before practice begins so that the students have the idea of what the skill looks like when it is performed.   This approach would be in keeping with Gentile’s (1972) proposal that the goal of the first stage of learning is to “get the idea of the movement.”

An alternative to this approach is to allow students to first try the skill on their own after being provided with information about the goal of the movement and some basic verbal instructions about how to perform the skill (Landers, 1975).   This approach emphasizes initial trial-and-error practice and may help the student to develop some initial coordination, as well as learn some movement characteristics that won’t work. So after some initial exploration, the model could then be introduced.

These results suggest that introducing a model before practice begins is an appropriate technique. However, it is advisable to provide an opportunity for students to observe the model at other times during practice, in addition to this initial opportunity. These results also suggest that there are situations in which allowing students the opportunity to initially explore how the skill can be done before introducing the model can be beneficial.   Personally, I use both of these demonstration techniques in my swimming lessons.

Frequency of demonstrations (Hand and Sidaway, 1992)

Although it is recommended that a skill be demonstrated before practicing a skill, it would also be beneficial to demonstrate the skill at various times during practice.   The question that arises is, if the skill should be demonstrated during practice, how frequently?

A more recent student by Hand and Sidaway (1992) suggests that more frequency may be better than less frequency. This study has its flaws when it comes to learning to swim because the experiment had to do with hitting golf balls into a target.   What’s interesting is that the group that observed a skilled model before every shot vs. another group observed before every 5th shot and another before every 10th shot.   The results showed the group who saw the learner model before every shot did better than the other groups.

I would argue that while this approach may be absolutely true for hitting a golf ball, it would not work for swimming.   My conclusion is predicated on the significantly decreased practice time, which is the best of instructors.   Watching a golf swing takes seconds. Whereas watching a swimming demonstration could take minutes, severely reducing the invaluable practice time.

Correctness of the demonstration (Landers and Landers, 1973; Gould and Roberts, 1982) & Observing incorrect demonstrations (Weir & Leavitt, 1990)

A common conclusion about a model’s performance of the skill is that the skill should be performed correctly.   The studies by Landers and Landers (1973) showed that a skilled teacher as a model led to better student performances than the unskilled teacher. Gould and Roberts (1982) stated that “High-status” models must accurately and skillfully portray the skill.

Why would the more accurate demonstrations lead to better learning?   The most likely reason is that the student is asked to try the skill after having seen a demonstration of it, the student typically tries to imitate as closely as possible what the skilled model did.

Lastly, we cannot forget how the learner can benefit from a “compare and contrast” approach. I have found this method extremely useful. When the learner can see the difference, the “compare and contrast” approach to demonstrations has proven over and over to get better results.

Allow me to share with you a video example of this approach during one of my classes:

Demonstrations that include both visual and auditory modeling (Doody, Bird, & Ross, 1985)

For a student to get the most from a demonstration, the teacher must guide their observations. The critical aspects of the skill should be highlighted verbally and, if possible, visually through freezing the action at critical points (as we do in teaching Breaststroke Arms while using the Traffic Light model) or verbally overemphasizing important aspects of the skill.

Some also remember the visual cues and verbal cues of a skill better if they are provided with information regarding why a skill is performed in a certain way.

Lastly, before teachers have students practicing a skill, swimming instructors should check the students’ understanding of what they have observed. This can be done by asking questions after an observation or by asking students to demonstrate what they are trying to do. It can also be done by asking students to look for particularly important points during the observation and checking for understanding afterward.

Allow me to share with you another video example of this approach during one of my swim lessons:

If you can implement these proven pedagogy practices and motor learning principles in your swim lessons, you will take your teaching to a whole new level and your students will flourish under your guidance!  I hope you found this blog helpful. Thank you for visiting The Swim Professor Blog!  .

The International Swimming Hall of Fame has named Jim Reiser the recipient of the 2015 Virginia Hunt Newman Award for his curriculum and approach in teaching infants, toddlers, and children to swim.  Jim is the first American to win the award in 10 years.

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February 2, 2017 at 1:24 am
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