Before reading this post...your understanding will be enhanced by going to the BLOG posted in December of last year (2012) and reading the answer to the most common question we get: "How many lessons does it take to learn to drive?"
The answer given was: "As many as it takes". We know that we all learn at a pace which is comfortable for each of us and that we have programmed into our brains during our formal schooling as well as our informal and independent "social" interaction with others. We CAN change this - but most of us would not be comfortable doing this type of reinvention of ourselves. Most of us like ourselves as we are.
Now...think back to your own experiences in a formal school setting - either public OR private. Formal schooling is regimented and controlled. Students are grouped by a "graded" system and all of the students move along in their groups or "forms" at about the same pace. All of the students who manage to make it through the system will graduate at the same time.
This would work well if we were all ROBOTS...if we were all the SAME in intelligence and ability. But..We are NOT the same. We are all very different and individual. The strength of one student may be a weakness in another student - who, in turn, has a strength that the first student does not have. Well...this is US: the Human Race. We all learn differently - because we are ALL different.
At the Milford Driving School we have chosen to have our classroom training use the OPEN CLASSROOM approach to training.
In this method we assume that the students are going to be in a situation where there are MANY different types of students sharing the same learning environment. Some will work and learn FASTER than others...and some will work SLOWER than others. Neither of these learning "styles" is either better or worse than the other. Both are "equal". The important question would be: what is the final outcome...how much does the student know and understand and can they apply it in the real world of DRIVING? No other question is as important as this. No one gains by having students who wish to work faster slow down to the speed of the slowest student in the class - or by having a student who is more comfortable working at a leisurely pace try to keep up with a faster student. Again - FASTER or SLOWER is neither good or bad: both are equal.
When I was a member of a running club, back in the 1980's, we would all gather together and start our Saturday run at the same time. Some of us were slower than others (ME), and some of us went for a longer distance than others. So - we divides into groups during the first few hundred meters...we selected a group that was consistent with our current abilities and other runners with whom we would be comfortable during our time on the road. I learned "the hard way", once, when I joined a much faster group - a group whose abilities were more advanced than my own. I forced myself to stay at their pace and almost completely exhausted myself over a distance I was not comfortable running! I never did this again!
LEARNING is no different. We allow students to decide how quickly they wish to make progress. We allow them to decide to work alone or in a pair or in a small group. It does not really matter HOW they get to the goal of being a COLLISION FREE DRIVER - as long as they eventually get there. That's OUR goal!
This is why the OPEN CLASSROOM works so well when the students sitting in the same room are working differently. Each student is able to choose the way they wish to approach the work and can set the pace. The learning as well as the retention is enhanced.
This solves another problem too: attention to the instruction. SOME of our classroom work is "formal". That is, ALL of the students go through the lesson plan at the same time and at the same pace - and mostly this is a "lecture" type of class. This is what school students, age 16 or 17, are exposed to during most of their High School classes. However, we all learned (when we were in school ourselves) how to "tune out" or "daydream" through the formal lectures...while still appearing to be attentive to the teacher. Consequently, we try to keep direct "lecture" instruction to a minimum, and let the students set the pace and level of attention that they need - while monitoring the entire process.
Also...students do not perform at the same level day to day. So, some days a student can be less productive without hindering another student working in the same environment. We see this uneven level of effort and result on a daily basis. This is normal for all students. Once again...the bottom line is: what did the student get out of the process that they can use to turn themselves into a COLLISION FREE DRIVER?
We have used this method for years and have found it to work for most students and to work well.
First...lets discuss the time that we think is the most efficient period of time to have a student BEHIND THE WHEEL (for the remainder of this post to be known as BTW). Later we will address what we think is the most efficient way to have students grouped in a classroom with many different learning levels.
- We have all taken "lessons" - swimming lessons...dancing lessons...music lessons - well, you get the idea. We have all been there at one time or another in our lives. How long do we expect these lessons to take? Some...only last 30 minutes, such as music lessons and some times dancing lessons. Other types of lessons may extend to 60 minutes. Then why not 90 minutes or even 120 minutes? Wouldn't a student learn more by keeping the training time longer rather than shorter?
- The answer is: not necessarily. A logical question might be: why not? - it seems reasonable!
- Consider HOW we learn. Your brain has to take in information from you 5 senses. Then it must have time to "process" that information before it can use it effectively. Also, your brain must make that process permanent, so you do not have to constantly "relearn" some task every time you want to use it again. A crude, although parallel example would be to consider how we FUEL our body. We eat! But we do not eat an entire day's or week's food supply all at the same time. We would NOT consider consuming all 3 daily meals in the morning...or all 21 weekly meals at the same time (even if we COULD physically do this). Our family and friends would think we were a little "off" or unbalanced to try such a routine. We could even do some physical damage to ourselves. None of us would even want to try this - even if our reason was to "save the time" it take to prepare, eat, and clean up after each meal. We intuitively know that our body needs food in spaced intervals so it can process (digest) it properly.
- To return to the original idea: the amount of time that is "best" to learn something. Learning that has a very PHYSICAL element - such as dancing...skating...and most sports, are usually no more than 60 minutes (and may be broken into smaller segments with rest periods). A full non-stop hour of strenuous physical activity will exhaust even the most fit human being. Learning activities that require a lot of MENTAL concentration may be of a shorter duration - since mental concentration is even more daunting than physical activity (your BRAIN uses more blood oxygen than any other organ in the human body). Therefore, the music lessons I took as a young student, were always 30 minutes - and if there was a scheduled hour, the second 30 minutes was NOT instruction - it was "practice" (of the just received instruction).
- So...how did we arrive at the optimum 90 minutes for a behind-the-wheel driving lesson in the training car? Originally, when we started many decades ago, the time was scheduled as a "clock hour" - that is, 60 minutes. Seemed reasonable since lessons were charged "by the clock hour". Over time, however, we got feedback from our students: they said that they felt as if they were "just getting into" the rhythm of the lesson when we would announce that it was time to go home or pick up the next student. What to do....?? Next, we tried 2 hour lessons - that is, TWO clock hours. Now students were telling us that it was a struggle to reach the "finish" line...difficult to concentrate and perform for that amount of time...and we could SEE this reaction on the part of the student. What to do....??
- We took a hard look at how a lesson worked: there were a few minutes at the beginning, just after the student entered the car, when we would do essential record keeping or determine the next lesson time or review the previous lesson or answer questions. Next we had to do the various "adjustments" - known as the PRE-DRIVE steps - seat, seatbelt, mirrors, etc. Experienced drivers can do these adjustments quickly and efficiently, or maybe not at all if they were the last person to drive the car. For the novice driver this is a set of tasks that may take many minutes, or may need to be coached and corrected. Then: after the 10-12-15-20 minutes that this "getting ready to drive" may take, and after the car is in motion on the road, we practice some of the basic skills in a quiet area for a few minutes to "warm up". By the time the student is ready for review and practice of the skills introduced during the previous lesson and prior to the NEW skills to be learned (if the student is ready for NEW material) - most of 30 minutes had been used. Now, 20 minutes later, we were telling the student that the lesson was almost over. No wonder students were saying that they felt that they were just getting started when they had to go home.
- As fortune sometimes dictates, we were able to attend some professional training seminars that addressed these issues. We were introduced to the idea that, for the type of training we ere doing, a 90 minute time frame simply "split the difference" between a too short and a too long time behind-the-wheel. At first we were skeptical about starting and finishing times being "on the hour" - "on the half hour", thinking that students would get "confused". This turned out to be a non-issue...we never experienced a problem.
- 90 minute lesson periods have been our standard since 1987 (25 years, and counting!). We have been happy and the students have no longer said that they felt as if they "were just getting into it" as the lesson plan neared the end.
- And...the COST is the same: 3 one-hour lessons COSTS the same as 2 90 minute lessons - but (and this is the essential point): students learn more and seem to progress faster with the 90 minute lessons. All of the PRE-DRIVE at the start, as well as the warm-up driving and "review" - only has to be done TWICE rather than THREE times...saving a larger portion of time to "get into it" as the students would say. And...we do not have exhausted and mentally drained students at the end of a lesson plan.
Next Post: The second of the two questions about the "open classroom/open registration"
WHY is it that reasonable, intelligent and educated people think that a complex skill - like DRIVING - can be "learned" in just a few lessons or a few hours???
What is it about driving that seems to move these reasonable, intelligent and educated people to abdicate any of the "common sense" that they use in the daily conduct of their everyday lives?
- The MOST common question that I get (and that the office staff gets) is: "How many lessons do I need to take....?" -or- "How many lessons do I HAVE to take...?" -or- "How long does it take to learn to drive?".
- The real answer is: "AS MANY AS IT TAKES"...."AS LONG AS IT TAKES". It's different for EACH person....no two people are the SAME.
- Consider: similar questions about any other topic specific to yourself..."how many steps does it take to walk from HERE to THERE?...."How many hours do I NEED to sleep to be rested?"...."How many MILES do I need to train to successfully complete a MARATHON?"...."How many CALORIES do I need per day to function in an optimal way?"....and many other questions too !
- For each person the answer and "number" will be different. We expect this. We know intuitively, that learning a complex skill will require some of our time and effort and dedication. We DO NOT expect to "learn" to play the guitar in just a few hours or "lessons". We do not expect to "learn" another language in just a few "lessons" or in a short time period. We do not expect to become proficient playing a SPORT by "practicing" for a few hours or a few days.
- Therefore....we do not attempt to audition for a lead guitar position in a band that is going on a National Tour - after taking only a few guitar lessons. We do not apply to study at a University in a country that does NOT speak our native language - if we have only just begun to study that countries' native language. And - we do not attempt to "try out" for a position on an athletic team - if we have only recently begun to acquire the necessary skills to play that sport. This is ALL REASONABLE and what we would consider to be: "COMMON SENSE".
- WHY THEN do we think that after a few hours behind the wheel, a novice will be able to manage the complex skills that we know are necessary to survive in today's traffic? If you are reading this , and if you are an "experienced" driver: that is: a driver with a minimum of FIVE (5), or more, years of "experience" - you should KNOW that what YOU do every day in traffic took you some time to develop...some time to acquire the necessary skills....some time to become comfortable behind the wheel.
- If you are GOING TO SWIM WITH THE "SHARKS", you are going to need certain SKILLS to be successful. You are going to need KNOWLEDGE that you can apply to the "experience" of being out there with the "SHARKS". You are going to need the CONFIDENCE to know that what you are doing is correct and effective. And, finally, you are going to need some TIME to PROGRAM these skills and concepts into your MIND. After all, it is the BRAIN that is "driving the car". The HANDS and FEET are only the TOOLS used by the BRAIN to carry out the functions necessary.
- Think of SPORTS or MUSIC. Each has a specific set of RULES and each has a specific set of "basic skills" or "moves" that must be learned. Each has a strong element of TIMING that is an essential part of the skill set. In MUSIC, we must play ALL of the notes correctly AND in the correct sequence - but we must also play them at the correct MOMENT: that is: "timing". SPORTS too, has a set of RULES and an essential "skill set" to learn for proficiency, as well as a strong element of "timing".
- DRIVING is no different - a set of RULES (rules of the road and rules of right-of-way: in the Connecticut Operator's Manual) as well as a basic set of PHYSICAL SKILLS that must be practiced and developed for proficiency - and which must become "subconscious" so that we can do them without having to "think" about them each moment that we are driving. We "walk" without having to "think" about HOW to do this - because we learned to "walk" along time ago. It is now "programmed" into our subconscious mind, so we can do it without "thinking" about it. We speak without having to consciously "think" about how language "works" - that is, we do not have to think about the complex rules that are specific to our native language. We have a thought: we just open our mouth and SAY something. AND - we get it done correctly, and are understood, most of the time. ALL without having to "think" about the process. It's in our SUBCONSCIOUS mind and happens "automatically". But we PROGRAMMED these skills there - in our subconscious mind - over some time.
- We are now back to the QUESTION we get all the time: "How MANY...how LONG...? We say that the ANSWER is: WHATEVER IT TAKES. Each student is different. Each student has their own "learning curve". Each student reacts to learning in their own individual way - a way that they have incorporated into their mind over many years in formal schooling.
- Our training is predicated on the idea that students will follow a path that is comfortable for them and that they have refined over a long time. This means a different amount of TIME...a different PACE...and a different NUMBER of lessons and "hours" for different students. This is also why we use a TRAINING OUTLINE with each student to TRACK their individual progress.
- We wish that we had a "Crystal Ball" or some other magic method of predicting how MANY lessons a student will need, or how LONG this might take. But we DON'T! No one does!
- We ask families and friends to be PATIENT with the student - offer ENCOURAGEMENT - do not be judgmental - be SUPPORTIVE!