Instructor Pages: Adapting To Students

Published: July 29, 2014

I believe it is important to understand each individual student and tailor instruction to their strengths and weaknesses.

Some instructors have a script and follow it to the letter, regardless of what the student may or may not know, or do. Some organizations cater to novice students to the point where instructors are encouraged to assume that each student is a novice. A phenomenon aptly described as "intermediate group stagnation" happens when students are promoted to an intermediate/solo run group but are not taught to improve their own driving, and instructors are disinterested in helping solo drivers get better.

Providing the best possible instruction and continuously helping drivers improve hinges on three things:

  1. Instructor should know where their driver stands with respect to skills, experience and aggression.
  2. Instructor should have something to teach to the driver.
  3. Instructor should be able to get their points across to the driver.

Knowing

Before I get in a car, I try to ask the student two questions:

Complete novices won't have an answer for the first question, and many novice drivers won't have an answer for the second one. That's ok; in these situations I assume the goal is "be safe, have fun" and fall back to my standard teaching sequence.

If, however, a driver does have goals, I make sure to listen to them and when we go out on track I compare what the driver said their goals were to any issues or opportunities for improvement in their actual driving.

Picking

While on track I try to identify the change that would produce the biggest benefit for the driver, and work on effecting that change. Especially with drivers who have no or limited track experience but significant other driving experience, or with drivers who are unbalanced in their learning (for example, fast but with technique deficiencies) I often find myself taking unconventional instructional paths. For example, I talked about weight transfer with an emphasis on timing braking and turning in, with a novice with zero track experience, a novice with many weekends of experience and an instructor - in the span of two consecutive weekends. All three drivers benefited from understanding basically the exact same concept.

The ability to spot opportunities for improvement is usually contingent on instructors having greater knowledge or ability than their students. That said, an instructor does not have to drive a particular student's car faster than the student can to be useful. Especially with advanced drivers the instructor may only need to offer a general observation, with the driver applying these thoughts to their specific situation.

Communicating

Different drivers learn in different ways. For example, most drivers are able to drive with the most precision by using reference points, but I have had drivers who could not turn at cones but could turn in response to my hand signals. Some drivers need to be given explanations and others want to see the instructor drive.

For the instructor it is important to try alternative ways of getting the point across if the first strategy does not seem to be working. Draw the line on a track map, talk about why the line works, take the student out in the instructor session to demonstrate - one of these approaches has to succeed.

That said, some drivers just can't seem to remember the track, or what they are doing, or don't have the aggression to try certain things. In these cases the instructor's task is to find something else to work on that the driver will be successful at, or if all else fails, to at least keep the driver on the track.