Yesterday evening Finn had his third proper driving lesson with me. We set off on a circuit of roundabouts, which he was coping well with, until we came to the big Tesco's one. It was dark and busy - the busiest Finn has had to deal with. We were following the road ahead and I realised Finn thought it was safe to go as all the traffic was on the inside lane. I took control at this point, telling him to wait until the roundabout was totally clear and then telling him when the gap was coming. We continued for a few more minutes until it was safe to pull up when he said he felt really stressed and didn't understand what was going on with the roundabout. I explained to him the correct procedure and then asked him about his stress levels - five out of ten on that roundabout and zero everywhere else.
Before we did the roundabout again we went and worked on junctions. The whole time Finn is concerned about what the Examiner will think about his driving. He is fixated on the driving test and constantly says, 'Will the Examiner fail me for this?'. I recognised it was necessary to develop his ability to self-evaluate. He drove round a five minute circuit of left and right turns and then we swapped seats and I suggested I drive the same route. He thought this was a great idea and agreed he would watch me in silence noticing my use of mirrors, speed on approach to the junctions and the timing of the gear change. When we swapped back I asked him what he would like to achieve on his circuit where ten was as good as my drive and zero was rubbish and he said nine. Once round the circuit he was only able to give himself a seven but was unable to say what was good or needed improving and wanted to know from me how he had got on. By way of answering him I suggested he drove the circuit again, discussing with him as he went what was good and what could be improved. When we again pulled up he had gone up to an eight. I then discussed with him what he thought about comparing his driving standard to mine, as an example, rather than his idea of the Examiner's and questioned him as to how he would make decisions when he was driving on his own. We spoke about the Tesco roundabout and his stress levels and how learning to recognise what triggers these kind of feelings and then managing them will keep him safe. We finished off the lesson by doing that roundabout again and this time he scaled himself as zero in terms of stress.
I know Finn will remain focused on the test and because he will probably pass it quickly I want to make sure he will have the skills to analyse his mistakes, recognise his strengths and his limitations and generally take responsibility when he is driving unsupervised.
Since my last blog Finn has taken and passed his theory test and booked his practical test. He has also been looking at cars. I am in a mild state of shock! He did very little preparation for his theory test. In fact, in the morning of the day he was due to take it, I was delivering a Standards Check training day in Salisbury and he was ringing me up at 8.30 asking about stopping distances, fog lights, reflective studs, flashing amber lights, tread depth and alcohol limits. His test was at 4.45pm and at 5.35pm he was back at home - a ten-minute walk from the theory test centre - ringing me up to announce he had passed.
Finn drives every day that I am at home. This interrupts my working day and leaves me frustrated and impatient to get back to my schedule. I pick him up and he drives home or he drives somewhere and I drive home so probably he is getting about twenty minutes a day. In addition to this he has had two more formal 'lessons' where we focused on roundabouts. We started off on quiet roundabouts and then progressed to busy ones. It was Finn's choice to focus on roundabouts and I encouraged him to think about something specific he would like to achieve. This was, like the first time, hard work but I persevered saying, 'well, if you think about the approach first, then going round and then the exiting, is there anything that causes you concern?' Fairly quickly he said about deciding when to go and I asked him about clues he could pick up on to know which way the traffic was going, but I knew he wasn't really listening and so we got the car moving as quickly as possible. I chose a route and we went around it twice. I didn't feel it was a great lesson and when I spoke to Finn about this he said, 'It wasn't really a lesson was it? I didn't really learn anything.' He said I didn't pull him in and discuss his progress enough ... and I thought, I can't win. He wanted to get going and didn't appear to want to stop to discuss.
On reflection, I realise it is very difficult to teach my son to drive. I am so torn between wanting him to take forever over this and recognising that he has great skills and abilities and that I am just wanting to hold him back. He is also self-aware and takes responsibility in his life. He makes his own decisions and thinks things through considering the consequences to his actions. I am reasonably sure he will be a thinking driver ... but will that be enough to keep him safe?
On Friday 2nd January Finn turned seventeen. He'd been desperate to learn to drive for a long time and has had some practice driving the car in and out of the driveway and parking it. In the past he has driven on private land and regularly changed gear for me from the passenger seat. His goal is to pass the driving test as quickly as possible and he has already booked his theory test ... I'm sure many of you reading this, who know something about coaching, will recognise that Finn presents a challenge to me ... If I had my way he would take at least a year to pass his test and it certainly wouldn't be his only goal.
His first piece of driving was a 100 mile round trip to the Norfolk coast so there was no opportunity for teaching, just practice. He did very well. He had a lot of questions about the control of the vehicle and observations that we would be addressing on a proper lesson but he developed a relaxed and confident driving style.
Finn's first 'proper driving lesson' was Sunday (yesterday) evening at 5pm. In answer to my questions around the lesson plan, he wanted to understand fully about the clutch and how to control the vehicle and knew from college that he was a kinaesthetic learner who therefore benefitted most from having a go and learning through trial and error. He agreed that junctions with plenty of opportunity for gear changes and stopping and starting would give him the practice he required with the clutch and so we decided on a practice area. I asked him how much help he wanted from me to get there and he said 'None. I'll do it on my own. Tell me at the end how I got on.' I said, 'Fine. I'd like you to tell me how you got on and, in particular, notice three things that you did really well. Also, I'll keep the car safe so you can concentrate on your driving.' 'Obviously' he retorted. On the short drive he managed everything really well. There was an ambulance with its lights and sirens on and I asked him if he wanted help from me, to which he said yes, so I talked him through how to deal with this. There were two or three potential safety critical situations, such as meeting or pedestrians at a crossing, and I asked him a question to ensure he was going to deal with these safely. There was no need to do anything further. When we pulled up he 'blocked' me with 'Dunno' when I asked him what was good with his driving so I specifically narrowed my questions down to situations I knew he'd handled well but even so it was like pulling teeth.
The lesson then focused on a short circuit of three junctions. After each circuit we pulled up and discussed what went well and what needed improving. He was reluctant to express any opinion at all but went along with me when I made suggestions. We expanded the route to include an uphill start for his clutch and spent a couple of minutes working on him balancing the clutch before continuing the route. We stuck with this circuit for about an hour and repeated it three or four times. I tried to get him to scale himself on how well he was doing and he started off by giving himself a ten ...
This is the interesting part ... He suddenly said, 'Do you do this with all your pupils then? Repeat things and get them to work it out for themselves? It's good isn't it?' This formed the basis of my reflection. I had persevered with Finn despite the fact that he kept 'blocking' me and was constantly asking me if the examiner would fail him for what he had just done. My personal goal is to develop his self-evaluation skills. I will constantly focus on developing his skills to give himself feedback on his own performance and raising his awareness of his strengths and limitations. This is addressing the higher levels of the Goals for Driver Education (GDE). I will do this by pulling him up regularly even if it's only for thirty seconds before moving off again because feedback and reflection need to happen at the side of the road to be most effective and, therefore, practice routes need to be short and repeatable.
Next time Finn wants to practise roundabouts.