Sunday, January 19, 2014

On the benifit of testing

Granted, I'm typing this after too many glasses of wine, but I feel I must comment on the benefit of testing--if not for you, then for myself when I reread this.  For a couple of years, P. another adult skater, and I have been in group lessons.  I have gone up the ISI ladder while P. has not.  What is the difference?  Is it because I'm a more natural athlete than P.?  Or perhaps it's due to my earlier skating activity years ago?  To that I say HOG WASH.  P. is trimmer and more fit than I am, and prior skating experience means little at this stage of the game.  I think in a nutshell it is because I have driven myself to complete the various ISI levels including the "test" at the end.  P. on the other hand has not bothered.  He started off in hockey skates but has recently bought a pair of figure skates and has engaged a private coach, so I know that he's motivated about mastering the fundamentals of figure skating.  But he has never bothered to test.  By test I don't mean the formal test one does before a panel of judges, for example during a moves in the field test, but simply the demonstration one does in front of the group lesson coach to show that the student has indeed mastered the entire core set of elements which define a given ISI level--at least at some minimal level.

Ever student has his strengths and  weaknesses.  P. can easily do most of the skills required to pass several of the ISI levels such as Alpha, Beta and Gamma but he can't do certain skills in just about every one of those levels.  He refuses to test, and avoids refining specific skills, but yet wonders why his skating doesn't seem to improve.  My answer is because he doesn't test!  Every skater has elements which are difficult stumbling blocks and also elements which come naturally.  I am convinced that it is the stumbling block elements which teach you the most and permit you to advance.  If you avoid mastering, for example the T-stop, your skating will not advance, not because of the lack of that single skill but rather because the skills to which that element contributes beyond itself do not grow.

This is very much like when I was in grad school.  A number of us were in classes together.  Some of us were in defined programs and would sign up for credit and thus a grade at the end of the course.  Other students just "audited" the course. Those of us who were under the gun for a passing grade learned much more than the auditor students.  For us it was master the material or be washed out of the program.  Because of that, those of us who took a given course for a grade did whatever it took to master the material including coming to grips with the material which we didn't understand.  We reread our notes and cleared up uncertainties either by discussions among ourselves or by confronting the instructor.  For the causal auditors, if they learned something, anything, that was OK.  My  suspicion is that if you confronted those causal students a month after the course ended and grabbed them by the scuff of the neck and asked them pointed questions about the course material, they would have not been able to tell you the correct answers.  Bottom line: testing FORCES the student to dig in and really master the skill.  Any effort less than this will be as rewarding as kissing your sister.

But back to skating.  Time and again I find myself butting into one or two elements of a given skill level which stubbornly take months and months to master after I've conquered the rest.  It's infuriating, but it's the mastery of those impossible elements that pushes my skating skills forward.  The breakthrough generally goes well beyond the test itself and surprises me in how other related skills seem to magically improve.  Will my skating friend P. ever get this?  Maybe his private coach will hold his feet to the fire.  I can only hope so.  Geezers our age don't have time on our side.

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