I read this comment on a facebook message written by a dance student
 “So, today my jazz teacher decided that all of us dancers who are insecure with bad dance memory, who hang out in the back of the class and mimic all the dancers who have good dance memory, had to come up to the front of the class and be the leaders.
It was bad. . . .
Then she said, “Well now you guys know what you need to work on. . . . ”
I am still feeling sick from that.”

I felt the teachers actions showed good intention, but a lack of understanding of how her students learn.

Students are thought to have different preferred learning styles (reference).

VARK Learning Styles

The VARK system assesses four learning modalities (Visual, Aural, Read/Write and Kinesthetic). It allows the respondent to identify their dominant mode of learning. Since most learning situations require the use of more than one modality, it also provides an assessment of how the respondent applies the four learning modalities in learning activities. VARK may applied to traditional classroom instruction, job training and sports.

It has been found in scientific studies that kinesthetic learners often have poor memory and need to use muscle memory instead, using repetition (like following people who know the routine.) I always pride myself in being a visual learner and I have shown this in questionaires designed to identify your preferred learning style. However, I feel I pick up choreography quicker if I copy those who pick up choreography far faster. I feel it allows me time to get the movement correct and once I can do this I can remember or link it to the next bit. Although I share sympathy with the learners in this class, I admit that although it is easier for kinaesthetic learners is to copy, changing up the class dynamics makes learners at the front and back learn better.

I do however think the student made an interesting point about ‘pickup’ ability because the material has to be presented a certain way and executed with speed. Part of learning, is learning HOW to learn.

So the obvious question for a dance teacher is ‘when presented with students of mixed preferred learning style, how do you meet the needs of all learners?’

This led me to reflect on my role as a dance teacher in providing opportunity for the students to learn how to learn dancing. I found the following video clips which suggest how to learn or teach learning.

Learning how to learn video clip

Rethinking how we learn video clip

I observed in the dance classes that I attend that as professional dancer the material is presented in a certain way, it is then the responsibility of me as the dancer to conform to the teaching style of the choreographer. Unlike in my dance teaching, it is not the role of the choreographer to cater to the individual learning styles of their participants. I need therefore, to teach my dancers how to use not only their preferred learning style but also any of the learning inputs given to maximise how quickly they learn. At the end of their dance training they should be able to use any of the stimuli given to learn their dance.

I felt that in the classes I attended that the teachers I described as the best dance teachers accounted for different learning styles using tasks, props, imagery, explanations and various pairing or groups tasks. This exposed them to all the learning stimuli and students became more effective through practice at using all stimuli.

This leads to another obvious question; How do I cater for the different learning styles in my classes where all learners are working together?

I digress to my Brian Freedman Master class in London last year. I had looked forward to it for weeks and now I am in the class with 6ft dancers in a mobbed studio and cannot actually see Brian. This is the perfect environment to test the lack of all 4 learning styles. Since it is an advanced class, Brian was teaching large sections of choreography in a row without letting the class dance them until he had demonstrated them all. It would not have taken any longer to teach smaller sections, which would have accommodated the kinesthetic as well as the visual learners and overcome the problem of not physically trying them and not seeing the actual steps the first time through.  I got through the first section as the dance went with the words and I could guess the movement, but I knew I was attempting a loosing battle. Interestingly though….Brian put the video on Instagram…I learnt the routine in less than 5 minutes…explain that!

On reflection, kinesthetic learners can pick it up just as quickly by dancing behind someone who knows the routine. It saves no time to make them stand in front to demonstrate the fact that they have not learned it yet.  If it’s a time issue, all dancers are responsible for learning it in a timely fashion on their own.  For kinesthetic learners, that might mean making a video to take home and practice to until their muscle memory kicks in (or in my case blind panic eases lol!)

It has been reported that learning styles do not change as we get more experienced.  This means I pick up new moves more quickly because I have learnt to use the learning styles most suited to the task and to pick up a variety of ques. However, I feel that as the basics components that make up a dance move are more familiar they become easier to perform, even although the ability to retain a visual input does not alter. That part of my memory in fact seems to get worse the more “experienced” aka older dancers become!  Muscle memory, on the other hand, is still just as sharp as ever.

This reflection shows that as a teacher I need to teach students how to learn as well as how to learn technical and performance dance. By providing opportunities for all learning styles to learn I am actually improving the learning and retention of all learners. The difference in ability to pick up the different stimuli is one difference between a training and professional dancer.

A whole practitioner enquiry could focus on addressing this more closely. My enquiry considers the best learning styles to teach boys general kinaesthetic preferences when learning.

Link to one Response to Dance Teacher Controversy: Teaching Styles vs. Learning Styles 

  • It is the role of the teacher to find a way to communicate the needed information to the student.

    One of the reasons that the teacher is so great is that she can observe how well the teaching is going as she is doing it, and if she needs to, change to a different approach to help her student. She is a really great teacher as well as a heck of a great dancer.

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