"I can't do that."
"Now, now, you must be positive."
"Okay, I'm positive that I can't do that!"
I don't remember where I first heard that joke, but it contains an element of truth.
Last week I ran an archery range for a Cub Scout Day Camp. I taught 150 grade school boys how to shoot a bow and arrows. In the training I received to be certified as a Range Master, I learned three things are required to master an activity: Positive Attitude, Knowledge, and Skill.
Your attitude is vital because it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. If you think you will not be able to learn something you believe your opinion is confirmed the first time you encounter difficulty. You stop trying so you never succeed. If you think it may be hard but you will eventually succeed you believe your opinion is confirmed the first time you encounter difficulty. You continue trying until you experience success. That is true with any skill. I started to study sleight of hand several times without success. I finally succeeded when I took a sleight of hand course from Rick De Lung because he convinced me that I was capable of learning how to perform it.
Knowledge is important. It doesn't matter how hard you try if you are doing it the wrong way. Knowledge is often best obtained in short segments so students don't become overwhelmed. For example, in juggling I start off by teaching my students the proper pattern for throwing juggling balls. Once they can throw and catch balls which follow the proper flight pattern in the air, I teach them the correct timing of their throws. It doesn't matter if a ball is thrown at the right time if it is not thrown to the correct place. In educational terms, proper throws are a prerequisite to proper timing. You have to learn the first before you can learn and use the second.
According to my Range Master training you should not spend too much time lecturing in the beginning. Students learn best if they get the objects they are using into their hands as soon as possible so they begin to understand the information. (I once heard a lecture defined as the process of transferring information from the notes of the instructor to the notes of the student without going through the mind of either person.) Students understand knowledge by doing, not by hearing. Most magic lectures are not done in a hands on manner. The lecturer is often trying to impart as much information as possible in a brief time, often to sell items on their dealer table. So, I usually take a deck of cards, some coins, and often a piece of rope with me to a magic lecture. That way if a lecturer demonstrates something I want to learn, I have what I need to be able to attempt it myself right away before I forget. I have mastered many things that way which I might not have learned otherwise.
Knowledge is understanding what to do. Skill is being capable of performing it. The only way to acquire skill is to practice. Frequent, short practice sessions are often the best. My archery students were using muscles in unaccustomed ways. I could tell that the longer they held a drawn bow trying to aim the more difficulty they had because fatigue changed the way they fired. So, I limited them to five shots at a time. Then they got in line for another attempt. The cumulative effect was amazing. Every boy improved in some way during the week. Some boys who couldn't hit the hay bales holding the targets on the first day were hitting the Bulls Eye on the last. I tell my juggling students it is better to practice ten minutes a day than to practice an hour once a week.
How can you develop and maintain a positive attitude? When teaching, how can you break knowledge down into understandable steps? As a student, where can you obtain the knowledge you seek? How can you develop skill?