Sunday, January 30, 2011

Stages of Competence

This past week our coaches had a good discussion concerning the 4 stages of developing competence. In developing a skill, a person is:

unconsciously incompetent – completely unaware of their lack of skill. Of course, many children are at this stage in many areas, but I also think of some adults I know and their joyous, uncoordinated flailings on the dance floor. At some point the person then becomes:
consciously incompetent – all that’s changed is that the person now realizes they could be better at this thing they’re flailing at. Their skill hasn’t improved, simply their awareness of their lack of ability has. With focused effort, the person then becomes:
consciously competent – much has to happen between stage 2 and stage 3. Really, it’s the crux of everything – how do we get people from stage 2 to 3? Brenda Powers, of Choice Literacy, argues that it’s often “third things” such as books, videos, demonstration lessons, etc. that provide the person with what they need to improve their skill. With time, the person then becomes:
unconsciously competent – the skill has become natural enough that little thought is given to decisions that are made. In the case of the dancer, after someone has pointed out their lack of coordination , and a great deal of dance lessons have been undertaken, the person can become a graceful, fluid dancer who need not concentrate to the degree they must have when learning their new steps.

For those of us attempting to teach people acquiring new skills, the mistake we too often make is assuming the person is already at stage 2. We take for granted that they’re aware of their need to improve and are willing participants. If, however, they are still at stage 1 no amount of advice or instruction will get through to them until they realize they’re not as good as they think they are. This requires us to “create the need”. Until they know they need help, they won’t hear a bit of the advice that’s given them. No need to buy something they already think they have.

And so, the parallels to coaching should be fairly obvious at this point. As coaches we must:
1. Find out which stage our learners are at
2. If they’re at stage 1, we have to create the need for change to take place
3. If they’re at stage 2, we have to provide those things the learners need to improve their skills. This is the very heart of coaching, and many books have been written about what coaches do at this stage.
4. For teachers at stage 4, we can help them develop what David Baume has termed “reflective competence”.

His thoughts, and I agree completely, are that we can’t stop at simply being unconsciously competent, otherwise how will you teach someone else the skill? If you don’t know how you do it, you can’t pass it on. So in order to become a teacher of that skill yourself, you must become reflective about the theories, skills, and knowledge required in the process.

Regarding teaching, this is where future coaches are made. Those reflective teachers who know why they do what they do and are aware of the literature and research behind it are the perfect people to help those further down the stages of competence.

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