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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Knowing Your Audience

I taught one of my NRA FIRST Steps Pistol Orientation classes yesterday.  In it, I had 3 minors - 13, 14 and 16 year old kids (YES, in California!).  Their mother had taken the dry-run of our upcoming Practical Defensive Pistol class, and wanted her kids to have a good foundation in handguns.

These are the youngest students I've had in one of my gun classes, and it was a great learning experience.  For me.

I'd guess the average age of my students is somewhere in their early 40's - typically running from the early 20's and going into their late 60's.  Being adults, they are in the class with a purpose.  They either want to start a self-defense program, or they may just have a curiosity about guns, and are interested in the safety aspects.  I've had a half-dozen students this year who are getting into some form of law enforcement, but have never shot a gun before and don't want to start their professional training totally unprepared.

But these three kids, I think, were different.  I think they looked at it more as a "necessary evil" to be able to get to the fun stuff of shooting guns!  The reason I say this is because I could see their attention wander, as is to be expected with most kids.

All three of them did absolutely superbly both in the classroom when they were handling the guns, and in the range when they were firing them.  But with kids in particular, I need to think about ways of keeping them mentally occupied even during the more mundane - but very important - parts of the instruction.

During the class, we have a number of exercises that get everyone up and out of their seats.  For most aspects of the class, I follow the pattern of Explanation-Demonstration-Student Exercise.  Picking up a gun for the first time while keeping it pointed in a safe direction, finger off trigger and verifying it's unloaded.  Or practicing grip and stance.  Or loading, decocking and unloading a gun with Snap Caps.  There are 6 different exercises, plus the live-range time during the 4-hour class.

For my 35 year-old and older students, this seems to be a perfect amount of up-and-down, tactile involvement.  I don't think it's enough for the younger students.  They need much more tactile and visual stimulation to keep them engaged.

My wife is a 5th grade teacher, and I'm going to pick her brain for some ideas.  I also want to find some ways to get them to ask more questions.  The class is very "loose" and all adults, regardless of age, ask a lot of questions.  I had to pry it out of these kids!

Accept The Challenge

Time to teach an old dog new tricks!  For me, this was a great lesson about how important it is to know your audience.  I think it is possible to adjust my class to help keep the younger students engaged, while not making it so "whiz bang" that it turns off my "normal" students.

I think everyone likes to be entertained.  I think information can be best digested when the instruction has a good mix of planned interaction, AND when the nuts-and-bolts parts of a course of instruction are "brought to life".

Keep 'em on the edge of their seats, then they're yours for life!

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Lucas @SurvivalCache said...

Your class sounds like a great intro experience.

If it were up to me basic gun handling would be taught in every school like drivers ed and sex ed.

I can't tell you many people I've shown a gun, or took shooting for the first time who pick up a pistol like it is going to bite them. Some will grab it with two fingers like something that is dirty or smells bad.

If I have kids they will be raised on safe firearm handling.

Chief Instructor said...

Lucas, it was kind of funny a month or so ago. I had an older lady - probably 65 or so, who took this class. I always do a pre-class interview with the students to get some info on their shooting background. One of my questions is if they'd ever taken a shooting course before.

She kind of sheepishly said that she had... 50 years ago in high school when she was growing up in Arkansas!

Truly the Good Old Days.

GunRights4US said...

My wife used to pick up a gun two-finger style. Now she handles it like a pro! Makes me plumb proud.

Chief Instructor said...

Guns, what's with the two finger deal? Probably a third of my first-time students do the same thing.

Electro-shock clears that tendency right up... ;-)