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Old 12-03-2010, 05:52 AM   #1
Tim Ruijs
 
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Learning and Grading

Why is it that in Aikido we cannot resist to impose our Western way of thinking? Off course, I already hear you say: " because we have been brought up that way" and/or "our school system works like that" and/or "our companies work like that". And rightly so.

But to practise Aikido requires you to learn and understand a thing or two about the Japanese culture. Yes, that is hard, very hard. Aikido is about change: your change. Learn to see/observe differently.
Kano (founder of Judo) wanted a finer distinction between his students (only distinction white and black belt existed) and introduced the kyu/dan system. In Aikido this system exists today in many dojos, but more importantly it is the system Aikido headquarters applies. So everybody follows suit.

IMHO, you cannot judge ability on an absolute scale. How much better was Mozart than Beethoven, if at all? Does it matter?
Relations are very, very important in Japanese culture.
In Aikido the single most important relation is that with your teacher. The teacher makes you do all chores to help you progress and to understand the art (much similar to blacksmith). The more tasks you get assigned, the more your teacher trusts you. How would you grade this? Is it really important to be graded?
Really, if you want to learn Aikido, observe and train well. Forget about grades.

The above touches many subjects. What I am interested in is your take on learning Aikido and Grading.

In a real fight:
* If you make a bad decision, you die.
* If you don't decide anything, you die.
Aikido teaches you how to decide.
www.aikido-makato.nl
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Old 12-03-2010, 06:30 AM   #2
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Re: Learning and Grading

I don't see anyone making the argument that the grading system(s) in aikido are able to "judge ability on an absolute scale". It's when you expect them to that you run into trouble.
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Old 12-03-2010, 06:44 AM   #3
Marc Abrams
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Re: Learning and Grading

Tim:

I would not "localize" this aspect to "western thinking." I think that you find a wide variety of approaches towards testing and learning in and out of Japan. At my school, I actually wrote a blog about this subject, because testing creates so much anxiety in so many people.

http://aasbk.com/blog/?page_id=68

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Marc Abrams
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Old 12-03-2010, 07:33 AM   #4
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Re: Learning and Grading

Quote:
Marc Abrams wrote: View Post
I would not "localize" this aspect to "western thinking." I think that you find a wide variety of approaches towards testing and learning in and out of Japan. At my school, I actually wrote a blog about this subject, because testing creates so much anxiety in so many people.
Note to self: read blog
Testing does have it purposes, absolutely. But why testing for a grade? Then one needs to define what constitutes that grade; one must make sure everyone gets enough practise time. Students focus on grades. In other words your students start to dictate what happens in the dojo.

In a real fight:
* If you make a bad decision, you die.
* If you don't decide anything, you die.
Aikido teaches you how to decide.
www.aikido-makato.nl
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Old 12-03-2010, 07:38 AM   #5
Pauliina Lievonen
 
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Re: Learning and Grading

Grading and learning - what I've observed in our dojo is that people who are about to grade or have just graded, often make a growth spurt in their aikido developement.

I guess it's the more intensive training and the fact that they have to concentrate on a few techniques & principles for a time and really examine them in more detail. It seems to encourage people to take more responsibility of their own training as well.

Sure in theory one can develop just as well without the extra pressure of grading but people being people gradings do seem to work quite well as an extra motivator.

kvaak
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Old 12-03-2010, 07:42 AM   #6
Basia Halliop
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Re: Learning and Grading

A comment my dad once made about academic testing, may or may not apply here, but seems relevant to the discussion...

We were talking about 'teaching to the test' and he was suggesting that when it becomes a problem is when the test isn't actually testing what you want the students to know. Make a good test that accurately evaluates your priorities, and 'teaching to the test' is no longer such a bad thing.
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Old 12-03-2010, 07:44 AM   #7
Pauliina Lievonen
 
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Re: Learning and Grading

Quote:
Tim Ruijs wrote: View Post
Note to self: read blog
Testing does have it purposes, absolutely. But why testing for a grade? Then one needs to define what constitutes that grade; one must make sure everyone gets enough practise time. Students focus on grades. In other words your students start to dictate what happens in the dojo.
Grading is a learning opportunity for the teachers as well, for sure. I think it's very useful to think about what constitutes a certain grade. It means the teacher(s) have to form a clear idea of what is important at what point in the students development. Which is useful to know when you teach said students.

And making sure that everyone gets enough practise time seems like a good thing as well to me...

I don't quite see how that leads to students dictating what happens in the dojo, could you explain a bit more how you're thinking?
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Old 12-03-2010, 07:45 AM   #8
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Re: Learning and Grading

Pauliina, I've noticed the same thing... sometimes I think the real point of testing is to get people to do test preparation. Tests stress me out a lot yet I always really value the test preparation.

For a lot of people, test preparation seems to me to help them get away from the 'just show up to class' mindset... They seem to start to think more about their own individual strengths and weaknesses and take some initiative to put extra time and energy in to learn what they need to learn and improve wherever they're weak.

Last edited by Basia Halliop : 12-03-2010 at 07:49 AM.
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Old 12-03-2010, 07:53 AM   #9
Marc Abrams
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Re: Learning and Grading

Quote:
Tim Ruijs wrote: View Post
Note to self: read blog
Testing does have it purposes, absolutely. But why testing for a grade? Then one needs to define what constitutes that grade; one must make sure everyone gets enough practise time. Students focus on grades. In other words your students start to dictate what happens in the dojo.
Tim:

I do not offer grades for tests. You either pass or not. I have set up an atmosphere where students do not actively pursue testing. I usually have to encourage them to start preparing for a test. The training atmosphere is where we are all intensely trying to learn very deep material (I always include myself in that learning process). I have taught at an undergraduate and graduate level in the field of psychology. Grades in those different contexts serve different purposes. In my Aikido dojo, I frankly think that they detract from the overall process of developing and maintaining "beginner minds."

Regards,

Marc Abrams
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Old 12-03-2010, 10:32 AM   #10
Tim Ruijs
 
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Re: Learning and Grading

@Pauliina Lievonen
In practise aite and tori try to work out how a technique works, each wih their frame of reference (what they think is true at that time). When they do the same technique with other people they both find things have changed and some stayed the same. All do the same technique, but make mistakes in different areas. There is no rule by which you can measure their individual performance in that technique, let alone a collection of techniques.
Off course the teacher may judge them on distance/timing, posture and movement, but this too is subjective.

The other issue...a grading system defines for each grade a set of techniques. Over time a dojo will have many students with different grades. All of these students want to progress and make the next grade. Thus, want the techniques for their grade to be handled in class. Because of the many different grades, the teacher is almost coerced into a planning for the season to make sure all techniques are actually handled. In my view the students therefore start to dictate what the teacher should do or else they cannot make the grade. All that remains of Aikido in such a system is going through the motions until the next test. This would give rise to the "prepare for testing boost". Actually you should always have this mindset.

@Marc Abrams
Read your blog and for what it is worth I agree with your approach Put them through a test without grading.

@Basia
This I dig. Put students through a test, but do not tell what is being judged

In a real fight:
* If you make a bad decision, you die.
* If you don't decide anything, you die.
Aikido teaches you how to decide.
www.aikido-makato.nl
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Old 12-03-2010, 07:52 PM   #11
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Re: Learning and Grading

Quote:
Because of the many different grades, the teacher is almost coerced into a planning for the season to make sure all techniques are actually handled. In my view the students therefore start to dictate what the teacher should do or else they cannot make the grade.
I do see what you are trying to say, but...

Sure they can. It just means they have to take the time outside of class to ask more senior students or the teacher, and study on their own before and after class...

Although you could also argue that if the test is designed such that it is testing what the teacher actually thinks the students should know, then that material SHOULD be covered a lot in class. Otherwise the teacher isn't actually teaching what they think students should be learning, no?

Granted instructors don't have complete freedom in setting the test requirements...
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Old 12-03-2010, 08:03 PM   #12
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Re: Learning and Grading

Quote:
Tim Ruijs wrote: View Post
The other issue...a grading system defines for each grade a set of techniques. Over time a dojo will have many students with different grades. All of these students want to progress and make the next grade. Thus, want the techniques for their grade to be handled in class. Because of the many different grades, the teacher is almost coerced into a planning for the season to make sure all techniques are actually handled. In my view the students therefore start to dictate what the teacher should do or else they cannot make the grade.
That has not been my experience. In the dojos where I've spent most of my time, the chief instructor teaches what he thinks is important, which may or may not include the techniques for any particular test. Typically, time outside of class is needed to develop a test-worthy understanding of the full library of techniques.

Particularly for dan and advanced kyu ranks, one could argue that willingness to devote that time outside of class is also an important measure of the student's seriousness, and therefore their readiness for testing.

Katherine
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Old 12-03-2010, 08:29 PM   #13
Janet Rosen
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Re: Learning and Grading

Quote:
Katherine Derbyshire wrote: View Post
Typically, time outside of class is needed to develop a test-worthy understanding of the full library of techniques.
This is in line w/ my experience at all the dojos I've been a member of over the years. Either it's grabbing a peer/senior to say "hey, can you stay after class a few minutes..." or arranging to meet a few folks when the dojo is not holding formal class.

At one dojo, you either selected and asked a sempai, or were assigned one, typically one or maybe two ranks ahead of you, who was responsible to work w/ you on getting ready, including focus on techniques that for one or another reason hadn't been presented in formal class in a while.

Janet Rosen
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Old 12-04-2010, 03:03 AM   #14
Tim Ruijs
 
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Re: Learning and Grading

Thanks for sharing your views.
It fills my heart with pleasure to know that at least some dojos out there got beyond the mere testing of techniques.
The dojos where I have trained simply listed a number of techniques for a specific grade. You needed to present a reasonable execution of the technique and passed. I was always left with the feeling that something lacked...

I especially like the example Janet gave: to assign a more experienced person (sempai) and make him responsible for the preparation. This way both learn. This would be in perfect sync with the ways of a traditional dojo. Thanks Janet

Still curious though about the importance of grading when learning Aikido. Note grading, not testing, I think we all agree on the advantages of testing.

In a real fight:
* If you make a bad decision, you die.
* If you don't decide anything, you die.
Aikido teaches you how to decide.
www.aikido-makato.nl
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Old 12-04-2010, 10:32 AM   #15
Janet Rosen
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Re: Learning and Grading

I'm very confused about exactly what you are asking.
I've never seen a dojo assign a "grade" to a test. You know upfront forvwhat rank you are testing, you test when you and your teacher agree, you pass or you don't. The only exception to this I've ever known of are some dojos consider it not a test per se but more of a demonstration of what you can do.
Can you clarify what you mean by grade as distinct from testing for rank?

Janet Rosen
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"peace will enter when hate is gone"--percy mayfield
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Old 12-04-2010, 06:26 PM   #16
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Re: Learning and Grading

In re: Pauliina's comments: it seems to me that every time I am going to test, I go through a period (sometimes brief, sometimes longer) of being overwhelmed by the idea of all that I have to know for the test -- even though I know that the focus of the test isn't the list of the techniques. Each time, this has forced me to discard the particulars (the list of techniques) and somehow get a grasp on some principle that makes the particulars fall into place. Each time it's been a valuable experience, because each of these principles goes far beyond that list of techniques, and thus far beyond that test.

In re: Basia's comments about "teaching to the test": one of my between-real-jobs gigs was teaching prep classes for standardized tests, including the college board SAT. I'd always had a rather disdainful attitude towards these tests previously, but having to look at the SAT in depth -- and we were looking at it cynically, with a view to how to game the system -- made me realize that the test really was well designed to evaluate proficiency in some of the most fundamental skills necessary to do college-level work. It was an eye-opener for me on the subject of testing. I think it's well to approach testing and test results with some skepticism, but I do believe that a well-designed test that matches a well-designed curriculum is neither an impossibility nor a meaningless metric.
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Old 12-05-2010, 03:30 AM   #17
Tim Ruijs
 
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Re: Learning and Grading

Quote:
Janet Rosen wrote: View Post
I'm very confused about exactly what you are asking.
I've never seen a dojo assign a "grade" to a test. You know upfront forvwhat rank you are testing, you test when you and your teacher agree, you pass or you don't. The only exception to this I've ever known of are some dojos consider it not a test per se but more of a demonstration of what you can do.
Can you clarify what you mean by grade as distinct from testing for rank?
Do not be confused. My bad, I just realized I may have used the wrong term and caused some misunderstanding on your side. My understanding was that to grade and to rank have similar meaning.

My question, point of interest, is how important is ranking ( ) when learning Aikido?

In a real fight:
* If you make a bad decision, you die.
* If you don't decide anything, you die.
Aikido teaches you how to decide.
www.aikido-makato.nl
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Old 12-05-2010, 04:38 AM   #18
Dave de Vos
 
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Re: Learning and Grading

Quote:
Tim Ruijs wrote: View Post
My understanding was that to grade and to rank have similar meaning.
I guess this comes from the dutch word for rank or degree being "graad".

But I think in english "grading" could mean assigning a "score" to a test performance.
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Old 12-05-2010, 09:40 AM   #19
Janet Rosen
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Re: Learning and Grading

Quote:
Tim Ruijs wrote: View Post
Do not be confused. My bad, I just realized I may have used the wrong term and caused some misunderstanding on your side. My understanding was that to grade and to rank have similar meaning.

My question, point of interest, is how important is ranking ( ) when learning Aikido?
Tim, then I'm still confused and simply have to rephrase my question: You said you understood testing but not grading, as in rank.
If one is not testing in order to advance in rank, then what would be the purpose of testing?

Janet Rosen
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Old 12-05-2010, 11:46 AM   #20
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Re: Learning and Grading

Quote:
Tim Ruijs wrote: View Post
Students focus on grades. In other words your students start to dictate what happens in the dojo.
I think on some level this is a good thing. Not that the hierarchy completely reverses, but that, based on the particular needs of the students in any given class, the instruction should be affected somewhat...in order to suit the needs of the students so they can begin to operate more and more autonomously within the confines of the material covered...but I take a somewhat contructionist view of learning: the classroom is a place where people get together to learn. Once students have a good start on how to go about the lesson, they help each other learn through interaction while the instructor goes around giving advice on how to refine key aspects of the lesson or approach to the lesson.
The testing and subsequent issue of grading (whether pass/fail or some gradient like A, B, C, makes little difference to my mind) is a relative measure for the use of the student and teacher within the specific context of the school he or she trains in. Testing should just be a more obvious example of a continuous assessment process...a way of creating a more specific focus on some aspect...and in martial arts I think the main point becomes to be put on the spot and see how one performs.

Gambarimashyo!
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Old 12-05-2010, 01:13 PM   #21
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Re: Learning and Grading

Quote:
Janet Rosen wrote: View Post
If one is not testing in order to advance in rank, then what would be the purpose of testing?
Testing can be used to take students out of their comfort zone, put them in front of the class and have them show/explain several techniques.
Many students stress out for lots of reasons. Testing would simply be another technique/tool to learn the student something (e.g. keep calm, be more confident).

Quote:
mathewjgano wrote:
Testing should just be a more obvious example of a continuous assessment process...a way of creating a more specific focus on some aspect...and in martial arts I think the main point becomes to be put on the spot and see how one performs.
Agreed. Also instruction is affected by the needs of the students, absolutely. But the needs are not about completing a list of techniques to make the next grade.

In a real fight:
* If you make a bad decision, you die.
* If you don't decide anything, you die.
Aikido teaches you how to decide.
www.aikido-makato.nl
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Old 12-05-2010, 01:37 PM   #22
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Re: Learning and Grading

Quote:
Testing can be used to take students out of their comfort zone, put them in front of the class and have them show/explain several techniques.
I can see the value of this... although not sure if I'd still call it 'testing' if there wasn't an evaluation or judgment of some kind?

Although there's a lot of evidence from what I've read that elements of what we think of as 'testing' actually are very valuable to consolidate memory and understanding. Not only to evaluate it. E.g. according to some research, when students are quizzed on things they recently learned, they tend to afterwards remember those things better and longer than if they had spent the same amount of extra time studying in some other way.
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Old 12-05-2010, 01:40 PM   #23
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Re: Learning and Grading

Quote:
Tim Ruijs wrote: View Post
Agreed. Also instruction is affected by the needs of the students, absolutely. But the needs are not about completing a list of techniques to make the next grade.
I agree completely. In my opinion, the techniques are just classic "what if" scenarios to provide a way for showing what has been learned. It's good to know the techniques, but only so we can focus on what makes them work: the different principles of strong/resilient movement.

Gambarimashyo!
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Old 12-05-2010, 01:42 PM   #24
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Re: Learning and Grading

Quote:
Tim Ruijs wrote: View Post
Testing can be used to take students out of their comfort zone, put them in front of the class and have them show/explain several techniques.
OK.
So we still have semantic differences. To me that isn't testing.

I like the idea of informal demos as part of class/feedback loops and have been in dojos that do that. Having several pairs of students demo lets the instructor see and give feedback on the spot while students see how other students interpret what they have been working on.

Janet Rosen
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Old 12-05-2010, 05:44 PM   #25
Pauliina Lievonen
 
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Re: Learning and Grading

Quote:
Tim Ruijs wrote: View Post
My question, point of interest, is how important is ranking ( ) when learning Aikido?
May I turn the question back to you and ask what you think yourself? I'm guessing you think it would be better to not have different ranks, but maybe I'm guessing wrong?

I wonder if the actual test situation would work the same and have the same effect if there was no rank involved. Would it stress people as much? Cause the same anxiety? Would people prepare as well?

Testing and rank certainly have their pitfalls and weaknesses. I see them as a training tool, and as any tool, they need to be used carefully. If students get too focused on testing or rank, is it the fault of the tool, of of how it's being used?

As someone said earlier in the thread, hopefully a test tests the things that the teacher thinks are important and that he or she would cover in class anyway. And in an ideal situation, rank would simply mean that a student who has a certain rank, knows certain things that are expected at that rank. I know in practice this isn't always true, though...

kvaak
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