Thursday, November 29, 2012

6 Ways To Demotivate Your Students

is the title of one of my favorite articles from my studies. No teacher demotivates their students on purpose. That's why this article focuses on the non-trivial ways to demotivate your students, those that happen by accident, and how you can prevent from falling into these traps!
By the way, preventing demotivating your students is not equal to motivating your students.

  1. Taking Away Control ...

     ... is great - if you want to kill your students motivation. Imagine a situation like this: You have a student and you really want the student to get it so you will just stand right next to the student and correct every mistake every time. You might just want the best, but you've taken away all the control and what you need to do is to back off.
    Another moment where this happens way faster than one might think is when over-explaining, giving too detailed instructions. 

    One easy thing to implement is the three-try-rule. If we do something new in class, let your students always do it at least three times before you correct them. Giving them multiple chances, they can correct themselves, which in addition to avoiding demotivation also results in a way better learning effect, because they solved the problem themselves.
    To avoid the second problem: know your goals!
  2. Untold Goals ...

     ... will suffocate motivation. You might perfectly well know your goals and they might even seem obvious to you. But not knowing why you learn something, without focus and without application, for example check out Something Is Wrong, where technique isn't a helper anymore, will leave them unsatisfied and with less motivation.
  3. "They aren't ready ...

     ... for that amount of technique yet. It's all about the fun!" Yes, let's go for fun only, because it feels so great to be treated like an idiot! Unfortunately this attitude can often be seen when teaching "low" levels. People are often afraid to "over-challenge" their students and yes, that's of course demotivating, but under-challenging them is equally if not more dangerous. To you it will feel like they learn something, and to them it will feel like you just turned their juicy steak into some liquid baby food.

    To give you one example - when teaching technique, which is usually a challenging factor in class, adapt it to exactly what is needed. This way you can have a challenge your beginners with technique. They are never too unexperienced to have the necessary technique. Check out Putting Technique Where It Belongs. This does not only relate to beginners.
  4. Lack Of Trust ...

     ... or simply doubting their own expertise will kill motivation! It doesn't matter if the insinuation of lack of expertise is presented as verbal feedback, a gesture, your behaviour or how you manage certain situations. This could be even positive feedback as "Hey, now finally even you have managed it". Finally and even are what demonstrate your lack of trust. 

    What I like doing with something new is that I demonstrate only visually and let the students copy it. They can try it out first. I confide in them that they can do it. Once they have tried it, you can give them the help they need to put it completely together - it might not even need your help.
  5. Being Part Of It...

    ... is for motivated people, but who would want those in ones class? There is a fundamental need to be socially involved and accepted, to feel trust and care. If this need is infringed upon, students will feel rejected or neglected which also results in demotivation.
    A classic situation where this is bound to happen is when someone has a question. By answering too short or demonstrate in another way that you don't care, will trigger the feeling of neglect.
    E.g. during the warm up do an improvised big apple. This is a small contribution towards the "belonging together" part.
  6. "I Don't Give A Shit"...

    ... about my own material. This attitude will react in "We Don't Give A Shit About Your Material", which are just other words for demotivation. You come into class and you feel like today's class is only one of those classes you "have to teach", but you couldn't care less about it. You are too good for the material and why should you hide your feelings towards the students? 
    It's infectious! Not showing your students you care about your material leaves them wondering, why they should care and if you don't see anything interesting in it, how could they?  
    There is two things you can do about it: First - change your view from the one who has done it for years to the view of student, who doesn't know the material yet, for example Be A Beginner. All of a sudden the material becomes new and interesting again. 
    Second - Only teach material you find interesting. No "I must teach this in lindy hop" classes anymore for me. If I can't find the interesting part to it, you're not going to learn it in my classes. This way I'm sure I don't fall into this trap.

    If you liked this article, share or comment on it!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Jumpin The Numbers

Swing DJ-ing is choosing music. Choosing music based on dancers, atmosphere, style, maybe place and several more aspects. Atmosphere is a two-way street. On the one hand, you DJ based on the atmosphere, and on the other hand you influence the atmosphere by the music you play. While there are multiple factors that influence the ambiance, the focus of this article is on the speed of the music played.

Speed Up!

What I often do to increase the speed of the music is something I learned from DJ Jenn: pick the next song 4 Bars Per Minute (BPM) faster and the one after 2 BPM slower. Then repeat. Example: 36, 40, 38, 42, 40 ...

This way you will continuously get faster (and increase the energy of the dance floor) but letting them get accustomed to the faster speed, by always having a little slow down.

I've added a few things to smooth out various little hiccups. Usually I encourage everyone to DJ the whole range from very slow to very fast. Sometimes this is not practicable, like when DJ-ing a floor of beginners who can't dance fast, or a late night floor where people want swing but are not ready anymore for fast tracks. The problem is that you'll get too fast out of a range that is comfortable to dance, if you stick to 4-2. If the music is too slow, the dancers will likely have no energy or go home. If the music is too fast it might be frustrating. So to stay in a good range, for example 34-42 BPM, you can change 4-2 to 3-2. This way, you'll go up slower and stay longer in the same range.

Another hiccup often occurs in the higher tempos, when the energy of the crowd is not high enough anymore to maintain fast tempos for a long time. It's the opposite problem from late nights. Opposite in the way that if you follow 4-2, you will stay too long in the fast range. The 50-60 BPM range will exhaust the floor easily. There are two way of solving this issue. One is to increase the intervals : go 6-3 or even 8-4. The other way is to go without going down anymore. Go up up up. 52-56-60.

And Slow Down

To go slower one can simply inverse 4-2 and go down by 4 BPM and then up by 2. I hardly ever do this. I prefer to drop the speed at once. The amount of the drop will vary depending on the energy available. I'll give you a couple examples:

60BPM to 30BPM

This might fit well onto a big dance floor with many people who you just exhausted on very fast music. They'll long for some slow tracks and a few beginners who got left out towards then end will happily join in again after getting inspired.

55 BPM to 40 BPM

This would be typical for a dance floor full of dancers with lots of energy. Dropping the tempo to low might kill the atmosphere here.

52 BPM to 29 BPM

This could be from a set where the scene is not accustomed to dance to beats over 42 BPM. So 52 was definitely on the very high end and dropping the speed to 29 will not kill their energy.

Remember to drop to odd and even numbered BPMs. Otherwise you will miss half of your music.

Occasionally I like to top things off before dropping the tempo. This is done by choosing a song that starts slow and turns fast. A classic is "After You've Gone". After this, people will be ready to dance to some slow songs that swing hard.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Mixing It Up

Learning simplified is done in three steps. The first step in learning is perceiving information. Todays blog post is about how you can code your information and how it effects perception. The dual-coding theory states that information provided in two different codalities sticks better, since two different kinds of "memories" are involved. The two codalities are auditive (phonological loop) and visual (visual sketch pad). If we serve only one codality, e.g. auditive (talking), and the students resource to perceive this information is blocked by something else, e.g. talking to their partner, the information is likely to get lost. On the other hand, if you are serving two codalities, students might still be able to perceive the information in the free codality. 

Hands On 

One obvious one might be dancing and talking at the same time. It's definitively auditive and visual. Something to add here though is that you can serve differently here. You can say what you dance as in what your body does, you can count (might be actually distracting more than helping - unless the focus is counts) or trying to auditively add the feeling, by adding sounds like woo-wap, shi-baam, etc.

This can be used not exclusively for learning, but also for changing partners. If you accompany "Leaders change partners counter-clockwise" with the matching arm movement, you provide visual and auditive coding of the information. You will notice that changing partners will happen more fluently. 

Triple-Coding theory? 

Many people in different kinds of jobs, e.g. social engineers, salesmen and last but not least dance instructors, have experienced that there is a third variable that doesn't show up in the dual-coding theory. That is the kinesthetic part. It seems that some peoples best developed sense is feeling. Of course this raises the question why this is not part of the dual-coding theory. My personal guess is that first of all it's more work to test out three kinds of codalities, and find a proper environment to test all three variables. Probably more important though is that most test environments are not geared towards learning of physical capabilities. Nevertheless, my personal experience is also that feeling the movement helps a lot of my students.You can use this knowledge to add an additional perception layer to your information, simply by making your students feel, what you want them to learn. Might it be a connection or might it be simply the kind of bouncing you want your students to do.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Reverse Lindy: Find Beginners Material As Beginner

Everyone who teaches will eventually run into the curse of knowledge and be faced with a full class of beginners who are totally lost. When developing beginners material there are a few factors that have to be considered. The material is supposed to be fun, easy to learn, but at the same time very basic. These manifold goals naturally open up many different ways of teaching beginners.
This article talks about how I got to what I do nowadays when teaching beginners.

Reverse lindy hop is everything in lindy hop done in reverse. Ta-Da! :) A small example: If you start as leader in a swingout with your right foot back, hold the left hand of the follower instead of right, with your right, instead of your left, and you turn to your left instead of to your right, then you are doing what I call reverse lindy hop. Max & Annie are doing this here.

Starting Out

When I first learned lindy hop we didn't use any technique really, in the next school I learned a lot of technique. Technique was usually taught as a "boring" necessity you had to go through. When I taught my first beginners class, I did the same and taught lots of dull technique. Hence my beginner classes were hard and tedious. For a short period of time I tried to do "fun" classes with very limited focus on technique. This way I lost less students in comparison, but the classes were very unsatisfying to me, since I saw that my students would eventually have to re-learn everything. 

Something Is Wrong

At some point I realized two important things, that have completely shifted the way I teach lindy hop: First I realized - I had done so much technique that technique had become the goal itself. Second I noticed I couldn't do my beginners material out of the box with beginners, with the technique I wanted them to use. Out of the box meaning, without telling them how to react. This felt inherently wrong. So I decided that my lesson plan had to be completely changed.

Be A Beginner

I had been teaching reverse lindy hop for ages already, but I hadn't seen the true value in it. Until then reverse lindy had been more of a game. Reverse lindy hop had one funny property - it was surprisingly difficult. Even as a good dancer I couldn't just switch everything to the other side. This proved extremely useful. Reverse lindy hop enabled me to put myself into beginner's shoes. I recommend everyone to dance reverse lindy for a while. 

Reverse Lindy Results

Everything arm-leading related and in open position turned out difficult. What proved easiest were close position and body leading. 
From close position with body leading you can easily develop everything. Keeping rhythm (as opposed to speed) is something that proved to be easier in close position as well. 

Putting Technique Back Where It Belongs

Starting with basic movements in close position and adding technique when needed has one more advantage it becomes a neccessity- it starts like math in school. First you have the positive whole numbers, at some point you subtract a bigger number from a smaller number and then you need and hence introduce the negative numbers. 
For that necessity to arise, you will have to let them try first and also let them fail. If you anticipate their failure and introduce the new technique beforehand, it easily turns again into "just" technique.
What I experienced is that technique when only taught right in the moment when needed, no one finds technique boring and no one minds. My classes end up to be way more successful than the "pure" fun and no technique classes. Technique has become what it was originally designed for: not a goal itself, but a support for dancing better with your partner.

The Open Position

Now there was only one thing left. It takes forever to get into open position, which is actually quite a fun position to be in and good to know for social dancing. 
In the meantime I had found out, that I wasn't the only one working on this topic, but also quite a bunch of friends - including my favorite dance instructor, Dax Hock, who also provided the above math analogy - seem to have ended up with more or less the same conclusion. The trick I picked to solve the open position debacle ended up being from Birgit, a great teacher from Berlin who runs her own dance studio It's a send out. Open position there you are! From there you can do the underarm pass, which is a nice and easy move, and from there come back to close position. 

Share your thoughts on how you teach your beginners below!