Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Changing Partners: Or Who Is Next?

Changing partners has been a point of discussion many times.  At some point I was convinced it was only people new to the scene who don't believe in changing partners in class, but it turns out I was wrong. There are some Lindy hop schools that explicitly say that you don't need to change partners if you don't want to.

Most of the time, though, you run into this phenomenon in beginners classes, where new couples wish to stay together. This post talks about why changing partners in class is good.

Here is a list of various facts:
Firstly, problems solve themselves.
      Have you ever noticed that the couples who don't change partners in a beginners class usually have the most problems and also the most questions? Sometimes simply changing partners a few times solves problems, answers questions, and helps people succeed.

Secondly, Lindy hop is a social dance and changing partners is one of the the best ways to learn how to social dance.  With each new partner, you get a variety of requests/responses and you learn how to adapt.

Leading and following is much like a conversation. So, unless everybody already knows how to speak understandably, without errors and mumbling, as well as to how to listen and respond, there is a good chance that they'll miss parts of the conversation (or even the entire thing!).

What happens when you change partners?
What happens is that you can test your conversation capabilities by having the same conversation start with a variety of people.  This will give varying results and the easiest and clearest feedback to refine your actions.

Another advantage to rotating partners is that it allows students to get to know the "other half" of the class. This contributes to a more relaxed atmosphere, which is good for learning.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Cognitive Load Theory: Or How Learning Works Vol. I

The learning process can be described (in a strongly simplified way) as
1) perceiving information
2) processing it
3) and then storing and connecting it to other knowledge.
These are three different steps.  Now, one theory in pedagogical psychology that deals with learning is the cognitive load theory. It states that the learning effect depends on the mental capabilities, the cognitive load, during the processing. 

The cognitive load has to be appropriate to the learner's information processing capabilities. In most cases smaller is better. Size matters..

How can we profit from this information?

The cognitive load depends on many factors, e.g. whether the information is presented mono-modal, meaning only visual or only auditive, or multi-modal. When the information is only available in one modality, it will - counter-intuitevely - take up more cognitive resources. Hence, presenting information in a multi-modal way (visual and auditive) will help reduce the cognitive load, leaving more space for the actual processing.

Intrinsic Load

Secondly, if the information being given demands the student to keep various aspects in mind at the same time to integrate this new information, it will create more of a cognitive load.  In order to reduce that load it helps to use structured and already integrated information.
This relates to when you are structuring your upcoming class to connect the inner bits seamlessly together. It's a lot of work, but so worth it!

Extrinsic Load

The cognitive load also depends on the amount of information available to perceive.  Even if it is well structured, too much information at the same time will result in a greater loss.  For example: talking about the positions of the hand, elbow and foot in one phrase and then letting your students practice will probably make them forget one, if not two, of the three positions.  Pick one important part that you think is essential, talk about that, and then let them practice that one key element. 
True, this can be very time consuming, but the result will speak for itself.  After each key element that you've talked about, give them three times to try it out. Then repeat this with a few key elements, and in the end, shortly summarize those elements and let them practice to music.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Finding Music Vol 1

Whether you are a teacher and you are looking for music for your class or you are a DJ and want to grow your collection, the search for swing music is a necessity. 

Every DJ has a bit of a different story on how they started. I can't recall mine, it just started :D 

The easiest way, and I've seen many people do this, is to ask a DJ for some music. However, I would actually recommend not simply copying someone else's harddrive, but rather getting out there yourself and starting from scratch. With copied music, whether you're using it for class or a party, you'll have to listen to it beforehand anyway to familiarize yourself with the songs and make sure they fit your needs and taste. So why not just use that time to find your own stuff? 
Two birds, one stone: You'll listen to different songs as you sort through albums, familiarizing yourself with the one you like as you go along, and you'll be building your own unique collection at the same time. 

To start building your own music collection, there are two truly great collections out there:
  • The Ultimate Jazz Archive 
  • Chronological Classics 

Getting one of those, or even both, will give you a great start. Since they are quite big, two tips: 
First, check for musicians you like. 
Second, check for a certain time period. 
Get those records first. The collections themselves will be too overwhelming. 

On a personal note, a "less" known musician I like very much and is verydanceable is Bunny Berigan. The time period I like most is 32-39. Have fun with it! :)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Last Things Last!: Or What Is The Recency Effect?

 There is psychological phenomenon called the "Recency Effect" gives incoming information a stronger influence on the memory than previously received information.

How can we use the Recency Effect in teaching?

When teaching, we usually use more than just pure content.  There are also other factors like organization or something to enhance the atmosphere. So, what we say before we let students dance, should be relevant to what they are supposed to train.  E.g. the three main points you just discussed for 5 minutes summed up in one sentence.

Another place where you can use the Recency Effect is in the end of the class. Here you can give a short summary or recapitulate what was important in class.

You can also try to use the Recency Effect in areas other than verbal information, such also feelings and impressions. If you finish your class with something positive, the class will likely stay positive in the minds of the students. This is also good, since this is better for learning and also for motivation.