Sunday, 11 November 2012

Task 2d - part three

I found this blog quite difficult to write. Not because I couldn't think of anything to say, in fact the exact opposite was true, but because I found it very hard to put what I wanted to say into words. I hope that what I have written makes sense!

What do you feel you don't understand? Who do you admire who does seem to understand it or who has found a way of making not understanding it interesting or beautiful, or has asked the same questions as you?

The first word that popped into my mind, when I looked at this question,  was "EVERYTHING!" Most of the time I feel that I've just got a handle on something and then life throws me a curve ball and I'm left wondering what on earth made me think that I knew anything in the first place. However, I realise that this is a little melodramatic, very unhelpful, and that I'm in need of some perspective! So here goes,
  • I sometimes feel that I don't understand what is within my control, and what is beyond it, and this leads to situations of frustration and stress.
 I am very keen to do the best that I can for my students - help them achieve good examination results; produce happy and confident dancers; prevent injury or harm; motivate each pupil without placing them under unneccessary stress. I also "know" that I can't control everything that my students think or feel, or the effect that certain external factors can have, in the same way that I understand that I can't get every physique to achieve the same height in a kick or achieve proficiency in pointe-work. However, this doesn't stop me, for example, feeling disappointment in low exam results or getting frustrated when physically capable students don't push themselves to achieve bigger and better things.
I think the crux of this lack of understanding is not knowing when it is ok for me to let go; to accept that I have done everything within my power and can do no more. I can, however, see that by refining my reflection-in- and reflection-on-action skills I will be better placed to identify those areas within my responsibility from areas that are the responsibility of others, or of unique and unpredictable external factors.

I don't really have anyone I can think of that has figured out this problem...well, that's not strictly true! I know several teachers that, to use my examples, don't get phased by poor exam results or students who don't fullfil their potential but their outlook doesn't really fit in with my theories. Phrases like "Well, she's just lazy!" or "She always goes down in exams!" don't sit well with me, as my personal reaction to such statements is usually "you obviously haven't found the right way to approach this student" or "you haven't helped this student to overcome their particular issue with..." Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that they are bad teachers, or that I'm right, I'm just saying that I find it hard to lay "blame" at the foot of anyone but myself for my students failures.

I'm not sure that I will ever "understand" when to let go, and this may mean that I put myself under undue pressure, but perhaps I can find a more positive way to deal it...

  • At the moment I don't understand exactly how I can get my students to adopt reflective practices to help them take responsibility for their own learning.
With time constraints in class, the nature of learning in schools and the busy lives of my students, can I promote reflective skills as well as teaching dance, achieving examinations, and putting on shows? Also, is it only higher grades students that can benefit from this or can young children be encouraged to look at themselves and their learning?
I'm not talking about the reflection-in-action that goes on in class, when a pupil attempts to refine their performance so as to achieve a step or sequence of moves, as from reading about reflective practices, and from past experience, I can see that the very nature of dance allows for this particular skill to develop anturally over time. What I don't know is,
  • Can I expect to achieve reflection-on-action outside of the classroom?
  • If I encourage my students to practice outside of lesson time is this reflection or just reinforcement?
  • Does my approach or verbal instruction make the difference between repetition and improvement?
For example, a student who doesn't know how to do a step before they leave class is unlikely to be able to master it just from thinking about it. Conversely, a student that is competent at a move is unlikely to see the benefit of repeating the step as, in their mind, they "have already got it!"
However, that said, I know that the very nature of thinking about why they can't do the step, or repeating an already learnt move, will afford them insights that reflection-in-action cannot. 
I can see that some of the discussions that I have had with older students (11+)  - about using the internet as a learning tool, and how they might use their phones or other media for recording and then watching back their work - have resulted in several students asking me: can they record me doing a particular step they are struggling with so that they can watch it back; to write down a word I have used or a name that I have mentioned so that they can look it up online.

So many questions here that I can't yet answer, but I think that I will continue to try to encourage reflective practices in my students, and hopefully gain more reflective skills myself in the process. After all, to use Schon's term, it's not a win/lose situation (1983), and, I think, can only lead to a better understanding, and therefore relationship, between myself and my students.
All the people mentioned in the Reader 2 (Dewey, Schon, Kottcamp, Moon, etc.) have asked questions about: how learning happens; how to improve education; how to reflect on your practices. They have formed theories or suggested methods of approaching these problems and pushed forward the thinking within their areas of expertise.
It is reassuring to read that rather than finding a definitive solution, most of them have end up asking as many questions as they have answered. This has not only revealed to me the ongoing process that is reflection, but has also given me strength to keep pushing forward with my own inquiries/ learning as I now understand that it is "ok" to end up with more questions than I started with!

Although I found it difficult writing this, it has really reinforced for me the fact that I'm not going to find any "quick-fixes" to the things that I don't understand. However, I believe I have gained better insight into myself and the way that I think, and perhaps brought myself a little closer to moving forward...

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