Things You Might Want to Know When Teaching Someone

We most often see teaching as a subplot, or as a necessary component of a more vital plot—the character, often young, is thrown into a situation for which his or her skills are not sufficient, and it’s up to the mentor to get the character up to speed. This is the case whether it’s a young hero learning swordfighting, someone who’s just been shoved into a position of reasonable authority in the court and is needing to get the hang of wheeling and dealing now… you name it. Either way, though, here’s what a character about to serve as mentor will need to consider.

First off, it helps to know how much the student already knows. If you assume too little knowledge, you tell the student things she already knows. Not only can that come across as condescending, but if making sure the student learns is time-sensitive, the increased learning time from the review can push you closer and closer to the deadline. On the other hand, assuming the student knows more than she actually does will leave the student frustrated and you constantly backtracking to explain concepts you thought were self-evident, assuming you can even figure out that she doesn’t know or guessed wrong from context. It’s a delicate balance.

It also helps to know what the best way of teaching the student is. Teaching isn’t one-size-fits-all, after all! Some people work better with visual demonstrations, others with lectures, others with hands-on trials; some need to have instructions and explanations provided in painstaking detail, while others work best if they can ask questions and still others just need to be lightly guided into figuring it out for themselves. Then there’s taking into account their prior experiences with the subjects, learning disabilities—while you can try to apply the same teaching style to everyone, or pick the style that works best for you and hope that makes up for any difficulties it might present to the student, it’s not going to work near as well as learning to teach in the way the student best learns from.

What does the student need to know? If your time is limited, you can cover everything and make sure it all sticks, point by point, but if time is short, you might need to prioritize parts and let the others slide. Never forget, though, that some concepts absolutely need to build on other concepts before they make sense at all; you can try to teach all the rules of grappling to a newbie tabletopper, or try to teach a beginning writer to choose the best ending for a short story, but it won’t do you any good if the former still doesn’t know how to make an attack roll and the latter doesn’t get the concept of plot. (Real-world writers and GMs may wish to take note of this.) You have to strike a balance between what the student needs to know as soon as possible and what the student needs to know in order to learn what she ultimately needs to know.

Thinking before you teach may not eliminate the time and frustration, but it should certainly decrease it.

Stay tuned for more Things You Might Want To Know When!

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