Dec 17, 2009

Group classes are not private lessons

I am a big believer in group classes, as regular readers know. And although a lot of parents like it when the classes are tiny, I like it when the classes are big. (Although this week's PreAlpha 1 with 22 was pushing that envelope a bit.)

A big class allows kids to see the range of people who get engaged by the sport, and to see that everyone has strengths and everyone has weaknesses. I like the energy I get from a lot of kids with different styles and needs.

It can be hard to understand how to watch group lessons. Parents are understandably focused on their own child, and will sometimes complain that their skater is not getting attention, or not getting "as much attention" as another skater. So when is this true, and when is it tunnel vision? When should you confront a coach about what you see, and when should you sit back? How much personal attention should each/your child get?

Here's a few things to look for:

Are the children all moving? A group class, at any level, needs to engage every student in the class. If your child is just standing there (if anyone's child is just standing there), while everyone else is moving, this warrants a question. The answer might be that the child was refusing to move. There are limits to how much a coach can coax a reluctant or recalcitrant skater. I have seen it get to the point where I have to just turn away from a child. However, I would hope that I got to the parent first before they had to come to me. If your child won't move, you can bet I'm going to ask you what's going on and how I can help make it a better experience for him or her. At any rate, the coach should know what you're talking about, and should have an answer. The answer might be, "I'm so sorry I didn't notice." Accept this. In a very large class especially (coach-student ratio of greater than 10 or 12-1) coaches do lose track of kids.

Has your child done something new, or something better, during the course of the class? You might think the coach isn't paying attention to your kid (more on that in a moment), but if she's suddenly doing a one-foot glide three times farther, or lands a jump she never landed before, then something was communicated, whether you observed it or not. Today, teaching stroking in an Alpha 1 (Basic 3) class, I was able to give the "best improved" fist bump (hey-- I don' do stickers), to the absolute worst skater in the class. She listened, and applied, and was doing real live quality stroking by the end of class. In the very first class she went from unready for the level, to on track.

Does the teacher address each child as well as the class as a whole? In a half hour, with 15 skaters, I have time for two "lectures" to the whole group and one personal conversation with each child. I might get in a little more one-on-one with a child who is having more trouble, but that's it. A group lesson should address the whole group. Even the one-on-one time should focus on information that everyone can take advantage of. It is not a private lesson. Do the math. 30 minutes, 15 kids, 2 full group explanations. Each student gets 1-2 minutes of one-on-one before I run out of time.

Is the coach having extended conversations with other coaches? Especially in a class with more than one coach, some conversation is necessary. But this should not be going on and on and on. It should not involve coaches from other classes. And I don't care if the coaches are talking about the kids, or about the lesson. It looks to you like they're gossiping, so it should be kept to a minimum.

Does the child know the coach's name? Is the coach trying to learn the child's name? (Big red flag: coach never picks up the attendance book.) Does the coach only know the names of the really good skaters, give the bulk of his or her attention to his or her own students? Unacceptable.

Finally--ask your skater what they worked on in class, or if they enjoyed class. If they can tell you something they did, they felt engaged and successful.

But in the end, don't expect private lesson progress or attention in group classes.

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