Friday, May 29, 2015

Enculturating Engagement

In my daytime profession, there is much discussion about how to increase the levels of student engagement for a richer learning experience. The arenas might be different but the principles apply equally. The key to any teaching structure is to provide a safe learning environment, and in Solares' case, it's a place where they are free to develop and to question without fear.

"Why?" is the root of engagement
Explaining why certain phenomena exist, why things have evolved as they have, why things are done a particular way, develops a deep level of understanding.

For example:
(Spatial) Why is there a convention of an asymmetrical hold in partner dance?
(Rhythm) Why is there a an On-1 versus an On-2 debate?

There is more than one Truth
When asked if something being executed correctly or not, I often find myself saying "it depends..." much to the chagrin of participants. What works well in one situation might not work well in another - there is seldom any universal truth in dance. Explaining the pros and cons (once again the 'why') of an artefact plus optional forms allows an individual to exercise her/his own judgement. The exercise of judgement is what makes individuals, individual; and opens to day to dialogue.

For example:
(Spatial) What works when there is a height match and when there's a height mismatch?
(Rhythm) What part of the beat should steps be taken on?

Signing up to a Social Contract
If a participant wants to be treated fairly, to be allowed to learn at their best, they have to do the same for their peers. That means being patient, being supportive, being willing to share, taking part, being willing to make mistakes, being able to ask for help.

For example:
Everyone learns to follow. Everyone learns to lead.
Everyone takes turns partnering everyone, irrespective of ability. That includes the educators.

Questions are thoughtfully entertained
A broadcast question of "does anyone have any questions?" is hardly successful in a workshop where participants do not know each other or the teacher. All questions asked during remedial contact whether: in partnership with the individual, during observation of a single partnership, and in groups; must be thoughtfully considered, and be seen to be genuinely considered.

Feedback is Immediate
There is no surer way to demonstrate that the question was taken seriously. On several occasions, I have interrupted an exercise in order to disseminate the positive point raised, sometimes encouraging opinions from other participants or instructors.

Flexible Pedagogy
Under exceptional circumstances I've allowed valid points to alter the workshop plan, to encourage exploration of unanticipated avenues which are still beneficial to development. This indicates that participants can have a profound impact upon their own learning, and that not only is their input entertained, but it is valuable.

I get feedback too. The response is that these unplanned explorations have been the ones which participants feel they have learned the most from. I think this is because they feel the session was tailored to their needs, as compared to one designed towards an educator's archetype.

The Result
A collaborative community of highly engaged learners. That includes the teachers.