Teach Rope from the Perspective of a Full Time Teacher
Teaching rope from the perspective of a full time teacher
The way we teach rope has been on my mind a lot lately. As I take more and more classes to develop my teaching skills for my real job, I start to think about how I can apply good teaching practices to teaching rope. I think that as educators we need to take a serious look at the way we are teaching because our job is to help our students learn as much as possible in the short amount of time that we see them. I am a foreign language teacher in real life so many of my comparisons in this article will come from that perspective. In the class I’m currently taking there are six standards for what good teaching looks like so my plan is to break down rope education using these standards with each standard being its own section.
Standard one: Deep Content Understanding
Deep content understanding really has many parts associated with it. The first being that the educator brings a deep understanding of what they are teaching to the class, however, in the scheme of things, this is the least important part of the standard. More important is that the students gain a deep understanding of what the educator is trying to teach.
What is deep content understanding? This is one of the areas that I think, as rope educators, we really need to put the majority of our work into. Deep content understanding isn’t just the ability to recreate a tie, it’s the ability to understand and manipulate that tie into its own thing. It’s the ability to think critically about what they are being taught and understanding how to apply it in a variety of ways. Right now, I think that we are spending far too much time focused on the perfect recreation of ties or scenes. And I believe that this is highly detrimental to our students.
There are many ways that we can work to deepen our students’ understanding of what we are teaching them. First off, I think it is important that we share with them a variety of different ways that ties can be used. I also think that it is important that we give them the opportunity to share their own experiences. There is a wealth of information in each class of students. They might not even know it yet but as each mind thinks differently, one student may be able to come up with an application that the teacher hasn’t yet thought of. Finally, I think that it is important that we stop teaching cookie cutter ties and that we start teaching concepts as a whole. For example, rather than teaching one specific TK, in a class, teaching the concept of the position, the fundamental parts, and different ways to stabilize the tie. If students can understand these concepts, they can easily create a functional tie without getting bogged down in the “is this exactly right”, which I really believe is a disservice to themselves, to the person they are playing with, and to the scene.
Finally, the idea of deep content understanding includes the mandate for differentiated instruction. For those of you that aren’t educators, differentiated instruction means meeting the students where they are. It means teaching so that all of the students in the class can advance, not just those on the lowest level or those on the highest level. As rope educators, this is probably the most difficult thing for us to apply in a meaningful way. Successful differentiation really requires the ability to group students according to skill level and having a plan for those students that are below the expected level, right at the expected level, and above the expected level. As most rope classes are only about 90 minutes, this is incredibly difficult to do. Some suggestions for incorporation, however, can include: using the advanced students as TAs to help the students that are below level, having a few tracks that the lesson can follow based on where your students are, or during the time where you aren’t lecturing, modifying the instructions of the activity (either scaling up or down) for each person based on where they are.
Standard two: Coherence and Continuity
This standard is particularly difficult for rope educators to meet as most of the time, they are teaching a one-off class, either at an event or at a con. However, as a community, I think it could be beneficial to do more series of classes where each one builds on the previous class to help the students meet a specific goal. It is also important that if we are teaching intensives, that the day/weekend really works to achieve a goal and each section of the intensive works towards that goal. I think the most important thing to take away from this standard is that we need to work on goal setting and knowing how to take students from point A to our goal within the given amount of time.
Standard three: Active Learning
Arguably, the most important out of the standards, active learning doesn’t just mean that students are doing something active in the class. Certainly, it is better to have them doing rather than listening, but active learning is more that than. Active learning means that the students take ownership of their learning. It means that they have to expend mental effort in order to be able to understand. Repeat after me type activities are good for building low-level knowledge but if we want to really push the idea of deep content understanding (Standard One), something more is necessary.
Active learning means that we let our students work together, make mistakes, and create their own connections with their previous knowledge. It means that when they make mistakes, we don’t just correct them and show them the right way, but that we make them think critically about what they did wrong and how they will fix it next time. It means making them lead the classroom and the instructor acting as facilitator. Our job is to provide the students with opportunities to create their own learning, not to beat the information into their brains with a mallet.
There are a great many ways that we can improve the amount of active learning in our classroom. One idea, if you’re planning to teach a specific tie is to use the “I do, we do, you do” method. First you would demo the tie, explaining your way through it, then having them do it with you and then having them do it on their own, I would argue that we should go a step further and then have them pair up with another group to see what mistakes were made, why they were made, and how they can be fixed. I would then suggest coming back as a whole group to report out on the mistakes and finding areas of common misunderstanding so that those areas of knowledge can be reinforced.
For a lecture based, or non-tying based class, treating it as a discussion with the teacher facilitating the discussion, clearing up misunderstandings, keeping the conversation on track, providing questions forcing students to think about their own experiences, and providing information when there is a significant lack could be very beneficial.
I would also argue that we need more classes that require students to struggle productively (meaning that they are capable of doing the task but are going to really have to work at it) would be a great idea. For example, my favorite class to teach is my version of a connection class where I provide different emotions that the students are supposed to tie with before providing them with the information how to do so. Then, we come back as a group and have a discussion about what techniques do and do not work. This really requires the students to struggle for a little while and puts them in charge of how they are going to achieve the task that has been asked of them. Out of all of the classes I’ve ever taught, that particular class is the one that gets me the most feedback of saying “I’ve never learned so much in one class”.
As teachers, we need to become okay with letting go of the control in the classroom and making our lessons more student-centered. The point of teaching isn’t for us to prove how much we know but to help our students to increase what they know. The class is for them, not for us.
Standard four: Real World Connections
So, rope doesn’t really apply to the ‘real-world’ all that much but I think that we can interpret this a little bit differently. I am choosing to interpret ‘real world connections’ as the ability to take what we teach the students in our classroom and apply it to a scene. This means that we have to teach them how to use what we’ve taught them in a meaningful way. For us, usually ‘meaningful way’ is going to be having a sexy scene with something that is mutually satisfying. The biggest complaint that riggers hear about rope is that it’s boring and it takes too long.
I think that, as educators, we mistakenly assume that people will just figure out how to play after they’ve mastered a tie. I don’t honestly believe that is true. I firmly believe that it is our job to help teach people to play with what we have just taught them. This really means re-working the way that we teach away from ‘practice time is totally different than play time’ and towards the idea that tying is always a connective experience between two people.
A few ways that we can incorporate this into our classes include: having a section of time in the class that is designated for the application of what they students learned, modeling good scene characteristics even when we are just teaching a new tie, and spending less time drilling technique to allow more time for students to discuss how they might incorporate this new concept into the way that they specifically like to play.
Standard five: Critical and Creative Thinking
I think that, overall, critical and creative thinking is where we, as educators, fail most spectacularly. When we go around teaching the right way to do this tie or that tie, we are not at all promoting critical thinking within our students. We are asking them to copy and repeat. While this is a much more predictable way to teach, and definitely much easier, it really doesn’t enhance the deep content understanding of our students. They get a basic idea of how to tie this tie and they might be able to recreate it perfectly but then have no idea of the principles used to create the tie in the first place, meaning that they can’t apply this principles in other ways across the body, modify the tie for someone whose body isn’t suited to that tie, or to be able to problem-solve when problems arise.
I believe that we need to put much more work into allowing our students to think critically about what we are teaching them. This means letting them ask questions about why we do it that way. It means letting them offer suggestions for ways that the ties can be modified or used in other ways. It means letting them change the tie to suit them as long as it continues to fulfill the function. It means us providing more chances for them to tie freeform and discover how the rope behaves and moves on the body. We need to provide as many opportunities as we can for them to take what they need from a class and leave the rest. And most of all it means that we have to stop harping on something being the ‘right’ way to do shibari/kinbaku/rope bondage.
Standard six: Teacher’s Reflective Thinking
Standard six, teacher’s reflective thinking, is the only standard that doesn’t apply directly to the classroom. This is something that we need to do more of after each lesson. After we teach a class, we should be taking some time to think about what did and did not work in the lesson and why. And then we need to be changing our lessons to include more of what did work and less of what didn’t work. We need to be constantly analyzing ourselves, our strengths, and our weaknesses because that is how we are going to help our students get the most out of our classes.
As presenters, we do a lot of things right when helping our students learn but I think that we have a lot that we need to work on. I think that with enough work, we could really change how rope bondage is taught and learned, leading to students with much stronger abilities to do what they want with rope, play the way they want to, and for everyone to be more fulfilled in their kink-lives.