May 24, 2010

Using visuals

Kids learn in different ways. One of the challenges of teaching is identifying the best way to get information from the coach's brain into the student's muscles. "Learning styles" are now an accepted philosophy of teaching, although when they were first proposed, it was extremely controversial, because, gasp, it treated each student like an individual.

It's especially challenging to work with different learning styles in a group class, where you might have representatives of every type, and every one of those kids needs to be reached. The kinetic/spatial learner can't stand still, and won't learn by listening anyway. The visual learner needs a map, and a demonstration. The aural learner has to hear you describe it. The tactile learner must be placed in the proper position.

This is the first of a series on ways to use all these styles in group teaching.

There are lots of things you can do to help the visual learners. If you're lucky enough to be teaching in a rink that lets you draw on the ice (with heavy markers), it's easy-- you can draw pictures. For tots, this might be icons-- a bunny or a frog for jumping, an ice cream cone for "dip" a big 1 for one-foot glide. But on-ice visuals work for older students as well. Of course, there are the actual hockey markings already in most rinks. Want a circle? Put the kids on a hockey circle (believe it or not, there are kids who can't follow a circle, even if it's drawn. If these kids are spatial learners, you can tell them to follow someone, or touch a marker- the wall, you, a cone, etc.) I love to amaze everyone by taking a big marker and drawing a perfect circle (I'd say it's from years of figures classes, but frankly I've always been able to do this.)

Other drawings that help some kids are the different turns, stroking, jumps. One of the things coaches learn to recognize, in fact, is the proper "print" for each jump-- the skate leaves a distinctive mark on the ice for each jump. It's very important for a visual learner to know this mark, because like as not, they can't "feel" it. But they can see it.

Visual learners are also good at visualization, meaning, giving them concrete images to imagine to help them understand where their bodies are in space, which is often difficult even for the athletic kids in this group. Visualizing is also fun, and can make a challenging, frustrating or difficult skill more enjoyable to work on.

One of the most difficult concepts in figure skating is the "open" hip. Hips, of course, are not a hinged joint, or in fact a joint at all, and yet skating coaches are always yelling at kids to "open your hip! lift your hip! you dropped your hip!" Huh?

I like to take a metaphorical arrow, and stick it through a skater's hip (pretending, folks, just pretending). Then I'll tell them where the arrow should be pointed. For a mohawk, the arrows have to point away from each other. For a cross over, they have to be parallel.

The other difficult thing in a crossover is the shoulder position--hips closed, shoulders open. Again, huh? So you tell them to hug the circle with their arms. Want them to lean? Have them lean against you, then step away and tell them to lean "on the invisible coach."

When learning swizzles, kids never glide between swizzles--they just go from swizzle to swizzle to swizzle. So I tell them "it's shaped like a spoon, with a bowl and a handle. Don't forget the handle" I might actually draw a giant spoon, and then trace it myself, skating the swizzle over it.

Visual learners also do well with physical objects, i.e. something they can see. Using objects is great, because it also reaches the spatial and tactile learners, so everyone benefits. Hula hoops can be used to keep a skaters arms in proper position, to get them to stand straight, and to learn shoulder rotation and check. The coach's hand or body is a great tool for both visual and spatial learners, both in demonstration (although I cringe when I see coaches demonstrating things badly-- please don't demonstrate if you are not absolutely positive that you are doing it right). Objects on the ice are great too--kicking a puck, or aiming for cones, for instance.

What style learner is your skater, and what are some clever teaching tactics that have helped her?


  1. This post made me chuckle as I thought of the different learning-to-skate styles my kid and I have. For him, he just needs to see it and BOOM! he imitates it. Me? Oh my poor coach draws on the ice, tells me, shows me, physically adjusts me and sometimes, on a really good day, I start to get it. :-)

  2. I love hearing about using learning styles in figure skating! My daughter is very visual (as well as kinesthetic). It's always been helpful for her to watch the top ice-dance teams on YouTube, especially right before training.

  3. The Same AnonymousMay 25, 2010 at 1:25 AM

    "I love to amaze everyone by taking a big marker and drawing a perfect circle."

    My skating coach did this for crossovers. She did a dip and half swizzles at the same time in a perfect circle. We were quite impressed! :D

  4. Chris had out the big orange cones for me while I worked on Waltz 8. Much more helpful than the coach who said my pattern looked like a bratwurst.

  5. I dunno. Bratwurst is a good strong visual.

  6. When I was learning crossovers my coach told me to hug the circle too :) For the Flip she told me to move my arm like I'm trying to punch someone when I'm jumping. She never drew on ice but she always showed me the marks from her blades on the ice.

  7. That's great for the flip! Totally stealing it! Just don't drop your shoulder while you're doing it. ;)