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The Straight Path To Learning

A fundamental characteristic of a quality flight-training course is a well-organized, comprehensive syllabus. It's a tool to help you accomplish effective training by logically organizing your lessons. A syllabus also has legal implications. It is the structure that supports the documentation proving that each student has accomplished all the requirements for the certificate or rating.

There is no one specifically correct or incorrect syllabus. Some are better than others. Lengthy, comprehensive ones aren't necessarily of the highest quality. What makes a syllabus effective is its applicability to your situation. If your syllabus consistently accomplishes the goal of getting your students through training without wasted lessons (a common result of poor organization) and your students become knowledgeable, competent, and safe pilots, it is probably a good one. If, however, your students haven't learned what they need to know even though they have met the requirements of the syllabus, it's probably not very good.

A syllabus must be easy to understand for both you and your students. If the language mimics the federal aviation regulations - e.g., "unless otherwise authorized by appropriate authorities designated in chapter 6a(2)(f), and except as stated in paragraph 2b(1), no person shall," etc. - the syllabus will be difficult to use. It should use language that is direct and to the point without oversimplifying.

A well-defined syllabus organizes your training. It must include at least an outline of the required knowledge and procedures for both ground and flight training, and it should be arranged so that the basics precede more advanced concepts. The FAA refers to this as the "building block concept."

Course requirements can be derived from the practical test standards, the FAA's bank of knowledge test questions, FARs, and your own flight experiences. The FAA delineates the minimum standards for pilots, but pilots who only meet minimum standards are at best minimally competent. Therefore, you should enhance your syllabus beyond what the rules require by incorporating what you've learned that is applicable to the training. Don't stop at the minimum. Include appropriate information from a variety of sources such as publications on aircraft systems, piloting techniques, weather, the Aeronautical Information Manual, etc. But don't go overboard either. A syllabus is an outline of major topics and objectives. Save the minutiae for the lesson plans.

A task analysis is the best tool to use to help organize your syllabus. A task analysis is an analysis of a particular task or activity. Begin by determining what knowledge and skills must be learned in order to accomplish a task or flight maneuver or to correctly answer a test question. You'll also need to determine what prerequisite knowledge and skills a student must already possess in order to learn the new material. For example, if a student is to determine wind correction angles, he or she must first be able to use a flight computer. Basic flight computer skills are a prerequisite for the flight-planning task. Once you've completed a task analysis, you can determine which training items must precede and follow other items.

Keep your syllabus flexible and don't become its slave. A syllabus is a tool. If your syllabus doesn't fit your student's situation, it may be too rigidly methodical. Often, commercially prepared syllabi are designed by an "organizer." This is a person who efficiently puts square pegs into square holes and round pegs into round holes but never looks at the consequences of perfect pegging. Human beings - and that includes students - are seldom completely round or square, even though the syllabus holes may be. Fortunately, humans are malleable, which means they may have round tendencies but can still fit into square openings, and vice versa. It's your job as an instructor to help "square up your rounds, and round out your squares." A good syllabus allows for these discrepancies. A poor one does not.

You should use a training record to supplement your syllabus. A record has several uses. It keeps track of completed training and can be used to document all required training that proves that your student meets the FAR requirements for a certificate or rating. Unfortunately, the training record also has become extremely important in today's litigious culture. It may save your butt in a lawsuit. Fear of legal proceedings is the wrong reason to have impeccable paperwork, but it's still worth the effort. Make sure that all the paperwork's Ts are crossed and Is are dotted, just in case. The Aviation Instructor's Handbook (AIH) suggests including lesson outlines in the syllabus. This is a good idea, and students will appreciate having this detail in their syllabus copy. A good lesson outline describes the activities and content of each lesson. Be careful, however, to avoid the pitfall of confusing a lesson outline with objectives.

Objectives are not exceptionally difficult to write if you are careful. Most educators and trainers will agree that a good objective contains the desired result, a standard of accomplishment that makes it measurable, and, in some cases, restrictions or other limiting criteria. Usually the entire objective is contained in a single statement.

For example, the objective of a pilot training course is to obtain a certificate; therefore a course objective might be "to enable the student pilot to obtain a private pilot certificate." This objective is descriptive and measurable. If your student passes his checkride, he achieves the objective. If he fails, he does not achieve the objective. The objective is simple, straightforward, and measurable.

Unfortunately, the AIH gives poor examples of objectives. They do not meet the generally accepted educational standards, although they do meet aviation training norms. The flight lesson objective is a good example of this. The first part of the objective states, "Practice maneuvers listed for review to gain additional proficiency and demonstrate the ability to recognize and recover from stalls." If a student practices the listed maneuvers and demonstrates stall recognition and recovery, he has accomplished the objective. No mention is made of proficiency nor what the student has to do to demonstrate competency. This makes it almost useless as an educational objective.

By now at least one of you is screaming, "Go to the completion standards." The completion standards that roughly correspond to the objective state that the student will "display increased proficiency in coordinated airplane attitude control during basic maneuvers," and "demonstrate basic understanding of steep turns, slow flight, stalls, stall recovery, and emergency procedures." Again, there are no measurable standards. "Display in-creased proficiency" is not a measurable statement, nor is "basic under- standing." Both standards are ambiguous and do not include any specifics delineating what the student will do to demonstrate proficiency and at what level of competency.

The objectives in the example are activity statements. The completion standards are barely measurable. All the student can glean from the objectives is that he will be receiving instruction on the items listed in the content area and will be allowed to practice them. There are no standards by which to measure any of the objectives.

There is also an inconsistency between the objectives, content, and standards in the example. The objectives and completion standards reference steep turns, but steep turns do not exist in the content section. Make sure your lesson outlines match.

This particular lesson is also overwhelming. In 27 years of flight instruction, I doubt I have seen more than three students who could complete all the lesson's activities in one hour. Even the best student would only slightly improve on each maneuver, even if the instructor had enough time to demonstrate them all properly. It's an enormous lesson. Keep each lesson simple. Don't overload your students.

As an example of what educators recommend, objectives for this flight lesson might be:

a) By using the recommended procedures listed in the maneuvers handbook, and without instructor assistance, the student will demonstrate the ability to recognize and recover from stalls by putting the aircraft into a stalled condition, telling the instructor when the aircraft has stalled, then recovering from the stall without going below a designated altitude;

b) With instructor assistance, the student will take off and land the aircraft, depart and enter the traffic pattern, and make the appropriate radio transmissions at the proper time.

These statements tell the student what he will be required to accomplish in order to demonstrate proficiency. The objectives are specific, contain appropriate proficiency criteria, and are measurable. They also represent about one hour of flight time that will allow the instructor to comprehensively explain and demonstrate, then allow the student to practice.

Additionally, other activities may be added to the lesson plan; for example, after the instructor demonstrates the emergency procedures listed in the maneuvers handbook, the student will practice the maneuvers with assistance.

Preparing a syllabus and objectives is time-consuming. It might be easier to purchase one of the many commercially produced course syllabi. The drawback to many of these is that most use the FAA's flawed examples. Often the objectives are activity statements and contain ambiguous standards that are difficult to measure. Some objectives do not match lesson content and/or completion standards. With a little effort you can modify the syllabus, correct mistakes, and adjust the content to produce a viable tool that will fit your situation. It's not necessary to reinvent the wheel, but be aware that many aviation educational wheels are not exactly round, so you may have to do some shaping.

By Jeff Falkner

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