When do you feel the most satisfaction after teaching a class? When just few of the students have been able to master the material presented at that lesson? Or, when the entire class has succeeded in learning to do the items you have presented? Would you like to feel that you could take the credit for what your students learn, and be able to honestly say, “they learned this because I did ______”? There are decisions you can make that will make learning easier for your students and make a difference beyond the mere demonstration of the dance skills!
A New Learning Curve
Education specialist Madeline Hunter defines instruction as “a process of deliberate decision making and action that makes learning more probable and more successful than it would be without teaching.” Remember being graded “on the curve”? Did you feel offended by this process? Rightly so! The so-called “learning curve” is a normal result of random activity! Skillful teaching should change this curve:
— to a curve more closely resembling this one, which indicates that a higher percentage of students will be above the “average” middle of the curve:
A. Selecting The Objective
- The level of difficulty must fit the students.
- The teacher must know her objective, reason, or goal.
In other words, where are you going with this? When the objective does not relate to the student’s previous experiences and skills, frustration or boredom sets in. That blank stare on a student’s face may not be boredom, but an inability to understand what is expected. (See “Challenge? Or Frustration?”) Effective teaching starts where the student is engaged and comfortable, and then progresses forward from there.
B. Teaching To An Objective
- Decide on the student behaviors that will lead logically to the objective. (How do you expect them to respond to what you are teaching?)
- Use your creativity to present in ways that will make the learning easy. (What can you do to get their attention, to reach their understanding, to motivate them?)
Activities of the teacher and the student should lead to the selected objective. In a dance class, there will be several ongoing objectives covered in each lesson.
Selecting a “theme” that recurs throughout the class can improve the students’ learning of basic principles. Examples: “Today we are going to work to see that both legs are turned out equally.” Or, “Today we will work on using our heads and eyes to give expression to our dancing.”
C. Check For Learning, and Adjust Presentations
- Draw out a behavior from the students that shows whether or not learning is happening. (How do you know they learned it?)
- Try to see ballet skills “in embryo” so as to not misjudge a student’s efforts to learn a skill. (Is the basic movement pattern there? Or partly so?)
Objectives chosen for dance class are sometimes too difficult, or move too fast for good learning to take place. Students can often follow a teacher as she demonstrates, but then not be able to do it or remember it on their own.
If the student possesses the necessary background, the material will flow easily, and there will be little or no difficulty in learning it. A good general rule: if a skill takes more than two lessons to accomplish, it is probably at the frustration level. Drop it, and try again in a few weeks.
D. Using the Principles of Learning
- You can make effective use of known skills to make the learning of new ones easier. (“You can do this, now try it this way,” or “add this to it”, etc.)
- Give them reasons for learning, reasons that mean something to them, whenever possible.
Learning follows predictable rules. Using these rules will enable a teacher to make better use of class time, to increase the rate of learning, to increase the degree of retention. Just for starters, anything taught “just beyond the middle” of the class period will most likely not be remembered. Motivation will be at its lowest during this part of the class.
The very last activity will be remembered best. Next best is the first one. Things repeated throughout the class in between other things, will be remembered better than those taught only once, even though the “once” might be a good slice of class time.
Decisions concerning the above points, made or not made, do affect the accomplishment of the students.
A Self Help Guide
Decide on a goal for one of the exercises:
- Expectation: _______________(What do you expect the class to do?)
- Objective: ________________(Why are you teaching this item?)
- Future ballet exercises or steps that will be built upon this exercise: __________________________
As you plan your classes, it helps so much to know why you are teaching each item in your class. If you do not know why, then your teaching will not connect as well into the total picture of ballet instruction. The students will benefit much more from this approach to planning class as well.
- The Power of Teaching Progressions
- Planning from a Bird’s Eye View
- Progressing Into Ballet Technique
- Using Ballet Terminology and Musicality in Class