This month’s T-SQL Tuesday, started by Adam Machanic (Blog|Twitter), is being put on by SQLServerCentral author and MCM, Robert Davis (Blog|Twitter). This month the topic is learning and teaching so I thought I’d share some information about how the Army turns civilians into soldiers, based on my experiences as a Drill Sergeant.
From Day 0 of Basic Training, known as pickup day, almost every aspect of Basic Training is well thought out, planned for, and fairly structured. What seems like chaos to the privates going through it, is actually a well orchestrated machine that was planned long before they ever laid eyes on one of their Drill Sergeants. I am not saying that it isn’t stressful, or challenging mentally and physically for them, but there is as we say, a method to the madness.
Transforming civilians into soldiers is accomplished through a process known as soldierization. It is a lot like building a house, you have to create a solid foundation before you try and put up the walls. In the Army every block of instruction is building on the skills previously learned. Imagine what it would be like to hand a group of eighteen year olds M16’s, walk them out into the woods and have them attempt to perform a combat patrol without any kind of instruction. Most probably have never handled a firearm of any type before, some have never been in the woods before, and none of them will know the difference between a tactical column, and a wedge formation. However, by the end of Basic Training, they will have spent multiple days and nights in the woods, performing combat patrols and applying the various tactical movement techniques.
To accomplish this in the Army we do everything in three phases, essentially the Crawl, Walk, then Run model for training. First we instruct soldiers on the basics and establish a basic foundation from which everything else builds off of. Then the privates have to perform the measure at slow pace, receiving corrections from the instructors to ensure that they perform the tasks to standard. Once they have demonstrated the ability to perform a task slowly and apply all of the terminal learning objectives correctly, the move to full speed execution of the task where the again receive corrections to ensure that at full speed they continue to perform to standard.
There is a significant amount of structure behind this, but different soldiers respond and learn in different ways and as a Drill Sergeant you have to be able to adjust how you present information at times to break through to those hardcores that take on the nickname “can’t get right”. However, you can’t just wing it when it comes to teaching these skills, there are established instruction packages that contain all of the information and how you are supposed to present it, and if you don’t know and follow this information, you will fail. One of the items that we teach in Army Basic Training is Drill and Ceremony, and there is a highly structured method in place for teaching all of the positions and movements known as modules.
When I had to pitch my first module as a Drill Sergeant Candidate, I thought it was ridiculous to have to memorize a block of instruction on how to teach the position of attention. I mean really; how hard can it be? There is actually a really good reason that there is such a structured method of teaching, its really easy to miss important items if you try and wing it, and since this is the foundation for every other aspect of Drill and Ceremony, if you screw it up, the rest of what you teach will be that much harder. In Drill Sergeant School you have to memorize and “pitch” at least three of these modules, each one randomly selected at 6PM and had to be pitched the next morning at 8AM. It made for some interesting nights, but having done it, and seen how bad things can be when you don’t know the module, I gained a new appreciation for the structure behind this method of teaching.
To teach the position a lead instructor pitches the module, with a demonstrator, another Drill Sergeant that does everything wrong until corrected, showing how the position is properly performed. After the initial introduction, the lead instructor asks for questions, and then starts the entire process back over, using the demonstrator as an assistant instructor while working back through the model, step by step and having the privates demonstrate the position of attention. Once everyone has appropriately demonstrated the position of attention the first time, we transition to the Run phase and have the privates practice alternating from Rest to Attention repeated. From there they learn how to execute facing movements, render the hand salute, assume the rest positions at the halt, and properly return to the position of attention before ever taking their first step in a formation.
One thing I have tried to apply in my civilian life teaching is this same type of methodology, but it is really much harder to do than it is in the Army, because someone else hasn’t developed the structured packages of instruction that I can just download and use. However, if you pay attention to how successful speakers like Bob Ward, Paul Randal, Brent Ozar, and Buck Woody structure their presentations, you can begin to see how to build your own packages of instruction that build the foundation early and start putting walls up immediately.
I have never been the kind of person that could read about something and actually understand it. I don’t generally do well in lecture based classes, or in situations where there isn’t some type of practical application of the information being taught. Most of what I know about SQL Server, I have learned through practical application. I learned how to write TSQL by reading TSQL that was already written by Developers and figuring out how it worked. I learned how to write C# the exact same way. This applies to my life in general, and is not just related to IT or SQL Server. I learned how to work on cars by working on cars with my dad as a kid. I’d say that I learn the most when I can take something that is already working and tear it apart to put it back together.
However, the further along in life I have gotten, I have actually found that I learn even more when I have to teach someone else. How you actually go about teaching someone else depends a lot on who they actually are, and the topic that you are trying to teach. To me,