How Learning Happens

Ever felt frustrated in class because you feel like your students are just not getting what you’re trying so hard to teach them? You explain the concepts to them every single class and still don’t see evidence of that information being internalized. Could your idea of “thorough” actually be too much for your students? Are you teaching them through a fire hose? Sometimes they can feel that way. If you’re like me, you have been challenged by this consideration.

By taking a look at how your students’ developing minds work, you can learn more about the balance between a thorough lesson and information overload.

What Constitutes Learning? What Constitutes Teaching?

Learning happens when the child absorbs information, adds their own understanding to it, and then is able to reproduce or use the learning in some way. You know that the child has learned when she is able to explain or show the information or skill without help.

Teaching involves decisions and actions. Your aim is to bring your actions into harmony with the child’s probable experience level and chronological development. Your decisions and actions should make learning more focused and intentional than it would be from random activity or general experience.

The learning curve is the normal result of random activity, or “incidental” learning. Add a few teaching skills, a few more decisions in harmony with the child’s present development, and the learning curve will change!

Tip #1 Don’t Teach Too Much Too Fast

When you teach a skill, remember that the child can only understand one idea at a time. The younger the child, the less often you can effectively add new ideas. Learning is easier if it is an outgrowth of an already existing understanding.

A sure sign that your students are not ready to move on is if it takes longer than two classes for them to learn the skill. If this happens, just put it aside for later on in the year. When they are showing signs of frustration and even boredom, it can just mean that you are pushing them beyond their ability to learn. Young children learn best when their bodies are happy and their brains are happy.

Tip #2 The Power Of Repetition

In class, the child needs to be guided through many repetitions, and many error-free performances of the item to be learned. Also, avoid encouraging them to practice at home if they cannot yet demonstrate the skill repeatedly without errors. If they practice poorly, they will be solidifying poor patterns in their learning.

Teaching is hard enough. Helping students “un-learn” is harder.

To make the learning solid, smooth, coordinated, and subject to recall, it must be repeated many times for many weeks. When boredom strikes, remember that the repetition can be presented in varied and creative settings. Don’t be afraid to do the exact same lesson for a few classes. When your students have reached a level of competency, change the lesson up to make it more interesting for them!

The best learning flows from you to your students without obvious effort. Reinforce the skills in each class. The child progresses to the next level when skills are firmly established. When you combine principles with creativity, the children learn more with less effort.

The Teaching and Learning Partnership

It is the child’s job to learn, and the teacher’s job to teach. These two jobs cannot be separated, but must work together. Whenever necessary, remind your students that they have an active role in the classroom to be learners. Of course, you always have it in your mind what the students should learn. But, teachers sometimes forget that what is very easy and obvious to the teacher may be completely confusing to the student! Whenever there is a gap of understanding, it is the responsibility of the older, more experienced person to find a way to bridge that gap.

For learning to happen, the child must have the desire to learn, and you must want to teach, and to reach the child’s understanding. The child must also have a reason to learn. Give them reasons for learning what you present; reasons they can relate to at their own level. With young children, dance teachers can take advantage of the child’s natural curiosity, and their natural joy in moving. Find out what motivates them, and hold that out as a reminder of why they are in class.

Also remember that fine arts involve feeling as well as skill. Ballet is an emotive art. The children need to learn about it with feeling and expression. The basics of movement, music, and expression lead naturally into classical ballet. Students learn easier when the material is presented at their level of understanding, and when it is what their muscles can do.

Practicing With the Twelve Week Rule

We want the learning to become permanent. For this, use the “twelve week rule.” If a lesson is to be remembered, and subject to recall on a permanent basis, it must be practiced and reviewed regularly for about twelve weeks.

Once a week practice can be sufficient. The practice needs to be accurate and mostly error free. Remember, it does not help to send students home to practice something they can’t remember or can’t do very well yet. Wait until they can do it for you correctly in class before assigning it for home practice.

For students to remember what was presented in class:

  1. It needs to make some kind of sense to the students.
  2. The level of difficulty must be comfortable.
  3. The child must be able to do it.
  4. It must be practiced in class without errors.
  5. For long-term memory, it needs to be practiced, performed, and used at regular intervals for about three months.
  6. Use the skill, even if just for an informal demonstration or “Observation Day.”
  7. Make the practice fun, keep it happy.

May your classes of young dancers be full of fun and learning!

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Maureen Haworth says

When teaching and explaining, the teacher should not talk too long! Hammering it home can actually turn the student off (especially when they are adults). If the concept is clearly given the details can be supplied later. Standing for seemingly hours at the barre while the teacher explains in different ways is so boring!

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