Aug 2, 2010

Learning styles- the movers

People have different learning styles, and it's one of the challenges of teaching, #1 to identify that style for each skater, and #2 to incorporate each skaters's learning style into a group class, where you might have 4 visual learners, 2 aural learners, a couple of process learners, 1 of the visual learners only works if they also get challenges or competitions, plus there's a tactile learner and 3 kinesthetic ones.

Their are four types of kinesthetic learners-- the tactile ones, where you have to actually place their bodies in the position; the process ones, who have to do in order to learn; the spatial ones, who have to understand their relationship to the space around them; and the "connectors" whom you must be touching or they can't hear you (not being facetious). This last type aren't always kinesthetic in their actual information processing, but because of the physicality involved in teaching them they tend to fall into this group.

Tactile learners are the most challenging for sports coaches, because of the very skittish (and litigious) environment in which we teach. One of the first things experienced teachers will tell you is "never touch a child." Careers get ruined because other adults misinterpret physical interaction between teacher and kid. Better to keep your hands to yourself. (I have a "no hug" rule, which just kills me, because I love these kids to death.)

Of course, in a sports environment this is next to impossible, especially for the kinesthetic learners. Therefore, if I have to touch a child, I will always go to the parent after class to explain what was going on.

Here's some teaching methods for these kids that you may have observed:

Tactile learners
These skaters need their limbs held in position. Very young children almost always learn well this way; for instance when teaching scooter pushes (one foot pushes the other along), kids will generally favor one side and have a lot of difficulty switching sides. If you physically hold down a child's foot and make them push with the other (yes, while they're moving--it's hard on the back!), they will start to understand the feeling of balance and propulsion on the "hard" side. With these kids instead of saying "point your toe" you do it for them. You stand them at the wall in a spiral position and physically left the leg to the proper height. You adjust their arms for crossovers, turns, and stroking, and so on.

If you must touch a child, you find the least "fraught" body part-- the hands, the feet, the head (i.e. the extremities). I have only one child, a disabled girl, whose mother has basically given me carte blanche because you have get right in there with her.

But there are other ways to help these kids that involve no touching at all. Tools work extremely well--exercise stretch ropes, hula hoops, beany babies (you'd be amazed at the skating skills you can teach with beany babies), their own gloves. You can have the kids themselves partner up and place each other in positions (if you luck out and get a tactile with a visual, they both benefit hugely).

I recently had a mother casually mention to me that her son likes "heavy load" exercises, so I started incorporating races that end with a thump against the boards, or we do two foot jumps, with noisy (therefore hard) landings. These exercises focus him for a good chunk of time after they are done-- amazing. It's this sort of thing you need to be on the look out for. I'll now incorporate these sorts of things in every group lesson too, in case there are "heavy load" kids among them.

Process learners and spatial learners
Kinesthetic process learners need to do (you find process learners among all the types--the aurals will repeat instructions out loud, the visuals will need to draw them). You can't stand them around while you explain things to the aurals, or draw pictures or do demos. Spatial learners fall into this group because they also must move-- they feel themselves in space and in relation to other skaters, and again, can't process technique that they aren't actively engaged in.

The best way to help these kids is to give the class one thing at a time to do or improve, so that explanations stay short. For instance, if you're working on stroking, tell the class "no toe pushes" (and exactly what that means) or to focus on proper arm or head. Then keep adding corrections. The point is to make sure they're moving and attempting the proper technique. They'll get it eventually just by doing it over and over. But they'll never get it standing around and listening, no matter how brilliant your explanation.

Games, choreography, "add on" and solo demos (where they are the demonstrators) also help these kids learn.

Not all connectors are necessarily kinesthetic learners-- they may not learn by touch, but touch is how they relate and communicate. These skaters don't need to have their limbs placed just so, but they need a hand on the shoulder in order to understand where the information is coming from. You'll often see me in class with a "helper" standing in front of me or next to me, with my hand on his or her shoulder; this is because without that physical contact, these kids don't know how to listen. You can spot them easily, because they are unable to have a conversation with a friend or classmate without touching the friend; sometimes the friend does not like to be touched. Ice is slippery. Hilarity ensues.

Kinesthetic adults are very problematic in figure skating. First, adults, if they ever knew, have often lost touch with their learning styles. Most adults in skating class want you to talk them to death, even if they aren't really absorbing the information. Further, adults are big, so handling them is trickier from a safety viewpoint, and they're skittish, so that touching them can set off unintended and undesirable consequences, which just makes them more skittish. Adults will also tend to grab you and hang on for dear life, when all you're trying to do is put their arm in the proper position.

Read about other learning styles by finding the "learningstyles" tag in the cloud.

What's your or your child's learning style and how has your coach or group teacher used it?


  1. Great post, Xan! I’m not a skating coach, but as an educator I know how important following a child’s learning style is. It was fascinating to read how learning styles apply to skating.

  2. Ditto! I remember the days when every time the kindergarten took a walk to the park and go to a certain hill, BAM, down went my son, splat onto the ground. Never heard it called "heavy load" but it's descriptive. I remember a time when most of the boys in the class would seek out this type of stimulation.

    DS has many strong modalities of learning, but for skating it is kinesthetic, visual and auditory. His coach from the very beginning used touch. You can bet I watched very closely at first. W/o it DS would take forever to learn. I wish there were mirrors in the rink. Coach has started to use video and that is so effective!

    Too sad about the hugs part. Some of the coaches, particularly the female coaches give and get hugs. I haven't seen the male coaches do this though (I can totally understand why).

    It's unfortunate that a few spoil it for everyone.

  3. I would say my son falls into the tactile/process learner category.

    Both of my son's coaches have been "hands on" and I've never had a problem with it. Sometimes I laugh when they're over at the boards because all I can think of with some of the positions they're trying to achieve is "my son's a gumby doll". The coach can show him where his legs, arms, head or hips should be, but if they don't actually position them so he can feel where they should be, he'll keep putting them in the wrong position. I trust his coaches, and my son to tell me if he felt a coach touched him inappropriately. I think trust is so important in the child/coach/parent relationship.

    I agree with sk8rmomp that it's unfortunate that a few spoil it for everyone else. I think touch is a valuable tool for coaches and it's a shame that good coaches are afraid to use that tool.