• Jessica Strong

Optimizing your Dance Classes for VARK Learning


Optimizing your dance classes for all 4 Learning Styles

Listen to this Topic on the Dance to Learn® Podcast

How can we as dance teachers optimize our classrooms to engage each of the 4 different types of learners so we can ensure that every child that enters our studio is nurtured and supported in their development?

To begin let’s break down VARK and what each letter stands for: 

Stands for Visual. When thinking of a Visual learner we want to create materials that are going to ignite their sense of sight because these learning types learn best by seeing and visualizing the topics and concepts that they are learning. 

A stands for Auditory. Auditory learners tend to enjoy listening and sounds. Therefore we want to tap into their sense of hearing by creating auditory cues for these types of learners. 

R stands for Reading and Writing. These types of learners will react well to teaching tools that you incorporate into your classroom such as coloring pages or storybooks to enhance their learning experience. 

Lastly K which stands for Kinesthetic. Kinesthetic relates to the physical senses. These types of learners learn through their entire body with hands on experiences. They learn best by doing not by watching. 

Visual Learners

So how can you tell the type of learners you have in your dance classes and how can you create lesson plans that tap into each one of their individual intelligence's?  Let’s start with Visual Learners. How do you know which students are Visual Learners?  You can tell if a child is a visual learner if they lose focus during long lectures. If you’ve noticed you’ve been talking for a while, and a student begins to get antsy or distracted - they are most likely a visual learner they would rather watch than listen. They will tend to be observant and like to watch what others are doing, but may not always catch the auditory cues or spoken expectations during class. They respond better with seeing directions instead of hearing them. They probably like to copy the actions and behaviors of others and may get in trouble if they start playing games of monkey see monkey do that aren’t necessarily the intentions of the activity. They really enjoy visual aids that allow them to witness and see what they are learning. 

1. Include Visual Aids. 

In the Dance to Learn® programs we begin our classes in a Learner’s circle where we can explore our concept. Our concept is always explored with a visual aid. IT’s usually 2-3 printables with bright and colorful images that children can easily recognize and relate to. For example. Right now it’s August and we’ve been learning about Back to School and Back to Dance. So our Visuals have been back to school related items like school buses, pencils, backpacks, lunch boxes etc. We will place each visual aid in the center of our learner’s circle and we explore the pictures and how they relate to our dance concept. If the concept is pathways we will have school bus traveling down three different roadways - a straight road, a zig zag road through some traffic cones and a circular road. 

2. Add choreography to your rules and expectations. These learners may listen well and appear focused, but they are truly going to grasp what is expected of them through visualizing others. So one way to help these learners with rules and expectations is to assign an easy hand symbol or gesture that you can perform to explain expectations. Such as Big Ears! Small Mouths! Think of it as the “peace sign” when everyone got a little too loud and the teacher holds up her peace sign until the whole class is quiet and hold their up too. 

3. Demonstrate everything. These learners are going to respond well when an instructor demonstrates. So be sure you are up on your feet and dancing right along with these learners so they can mimic and copy you. They really love copy cat games and mimicking others. The best way to help them through class is performing the moves with them so they have a visual reminder of what happens next. 

Auditory Learners

Let’s move on to Auditory Learners. How do you know if your student is an auditory learner?  Auditory learners are going to respond differently to different sounds and pitches. Think of your tone when talking to these learners. If you tend to speak to them louder than others, they may think you are angry with them and could result in a negative response. If you keep a consistent positive tone and pitch in your voice they are going to be more likely to respond in a positive way. Additionally auditory learners are going to have an immediate physical response when music is playing. These may be the dancers who just want to get up and move and have a hard time waiting their turn or focusing on the instructor when the music is playing. Also they can have a negative response to music that is too loud or may ask dancers to be quiet so they can hear music that may be quieter. They are going to really enjoy spoken rules and expectations. Auditory learners may also be very chatty and talkative. They may like listening to you - but they also like hearing themselves talk to.  How can we be sure to optimize our dance classes for Auditory Learners?

1. Say your Terminology Words and Concepts. Going back to our Learner’s Circle and introducing our concept. We always include a visual aid. The visual aid is probably not going to be as exciting for our auditory learners as it is for our Visual learners. So to keep our Auditory Learners engaged in your visual aids be sure to play a game of say and repeat. Using our school bus example. As the instructor you could say “Ok On this page our school bus is traveling down a straight pathway. Can everyone say straight pathway?” They would say back to you “Straight pathway.” Having them listen and repeat the words back to you, it’s going to help them assign that visual to the concept therefore helping them remember what a straight pathway is when they hear it again later in class. 

2. Say and Repeat Technique. When applying rules and expectations you can use this same “Say and Repeat” concept. Let’s say a rule in your class is Keep your hands to yourself. As you’re sitting in your learner’s circle - you’re going to say and do the rule for the class. Let’s assign the hand movement of giving yourself a big a hug. So you’re going to say “Keep your hands to yourself!” while simultaneously wrapping your arms around yourself. Then you are going to have the class “say and do” the rule back for you. So they will repeat the sounds and the visual action back to you.  This way you can appease both your Visual and Auditory learners at the same time. Also find times where you can sing a direction or use an instrument or noise to provide an auditory cue for a transition.

3. Use your Voice. Lastly as you are moving throughout your class, be sure that while you are demonstrating the movements and activities - be sure that you are also vocalizing each movement. Let’s say the kids are doing an obstacle course and they are pretending to be a bus traveling down the 3 different pathways. So as you are demonstrating the movements you are also saying “Let’s march down our straight pathway!” Great “ Not let’s bourrée walk in a zig zag around these traffic cones! Awesome “Now let’s drive really fast by running in circle around our hula hoop!” Remember your tone and your pitch as you demonstrate. If you sound boring and un-enthused, your auditory learners aren’t going to be very excited either. 

Readers & Writers

Let’s talk about our R Learners. Readers and Writers. How do you know if your student is Reader/Writer? 

Students who learn with reading and writing. We don’t want to forget about these learners during our dance classes. Even though they are still in preschool they are still going to have certain characteristics of R Learners that we are going to want to develop. Your R Learners may enjoy spelling out the words on the visual aides and get excited to learn what the words are. They may want to use a their finger to trace out the words on a visual or around other objects on the visual aid. They may ask you to read words or ask the meaning of a word. They are really going to enjoy coloring pages and holding items in their hand for fine motor development.  So how can we optimize our Dance Classes for these learners?  

1. Be sure you have the words spelled out on all your visual aids. So if your bus is traveling down a straight pathway you will have the word STRAIGHT written across in large letters. After you’ve viewed the visual aid, said the word, now you can ask everyone to spell it with you. Some may want to trace the letters as they spell. This will help them associate different letters with different sounds which will ultimately help them with their literacy. This will also be appealing to your visual and auditory learners as well as they visualize tracing the letters or hear the sounds each letter makes. 

2. Have a visual poster of your class rules and expectations. Refer to it throughout class for your “R” Learners. This will also appease to your Visual Learners. Maybe arrange your rules in a way that spells a word like DANCER or BALLET. The whole class needs to exhibit certain behaviors to earn each letter. As they earn a letter it is marked off the chart. At the end of class, if all the letters are earned they get a sticker. To include your Auditory Learners say each word as it’s marked off. For example. “I really like how everyone followed directions. Let’s mark off the Letter D for Directions. Can everyone say Directions!”  3. Utilize your visuals in a way that tells a story. For example - if you want your dancers to be a school bus travelling down the 3 different pathways include each visual aid next to the pathways. As the dancers march straight, bourrée in a zig zag and then drive fast by running in a circle. Place the visuals next to each pathway so your readers and writers can refer to it. This will also help your visual learners as well. Include props that mark each pathway so the dancers can visualize each new pathway. Be sure they are placed sequentially so the dancer can associate the props and movements with the sequence of events.  4. Storytimes. Don’t be afraid to include a storytime in your class on occasion. There are great books that you can incorporate right into your dance classes so movement and dance is still explored. If you do include a storytime be sure you choose stories with great images for your visual learners. Also be sure to build in say and repeat moments throughout the storytime for those auditory learners.

Here’s a fun fact in case you didn’t know!  I have written 3 children’s books in the Florrie Flamingo series to help dance teachers provide movement based literacy opportunities throughout your dance classes. I feature one of the books - Florrie Flamingo’s First Ballet Class in this week’s YouTube video. I have included a link in the description of this podcast so you can learn more. 

5, Coloring Pages. Lastly if it’s possible to turn your visual aids into a coloring page then do it! Coloring doesn’t necessarily need to be done in class - but it will be a great way to allow your dancers to take what they are learning in dance class home. Parents will have a chance to engage in their child’s learning. Be sure to include the words on the pages so your R learners can practice spelling and reading the words outside of class. 

Kinesthetic Learners

Finally let’s talk about our final learning type. Our Kinesthetic Learners. How can we pick out our Kinesthetic Learners in class?  Dance is going to be most beneficial and helpful for these types of learners as they will learn best through movement. The word kinesthetic refers to our ability to sense body position and movement. This means that to really understand something, they need to touch it, feel it and move it around. You’ll know if you have a kinesthetic learner if you have a child who is constantly moving. They will probably have a hard time waiting their turn or taking long breaks without movement. They may also want to touch everything. They enjoy tactile experiences and learning through touch. You may also find these dancers doing their own movements throughout class. Maybe it’s time to learn a dance and they are in the corner twirling uncontrollably until they fall down. They are learning through their experiences so in doing this they essentially want to figure out what happens when they twirl uncontrollably for 30 seconds. So how can we really engage and enrich these learners throughout our lessons.  So how can we optimize our classrooms for these types of learners?

1. Perform. After visually seeing each pathway, saying the pathway, and spelling/drawing the pathway - now it’s time to perform the pathway. So in your learner’s circle maybe you have everyone stand up - follow the teacher and you’ll practice marching in a straight pathway. Then move on to the zig zag and circular pathways. 

2. Choreographed Rule Circle. Kinesthetic learners are going to like experiencing the rules and expectations. So a choreographed rule circle where you assign movement to each rule or expectation is going to appeal to them more than a visual aid. If one of your rules is to avoid running in class. Maybe you give everyone 30 seconds before sitting in the rule circle to dance all their sillies out. Play a quick song. Dance out the silly’s then bang a drum to freeze and then demonstrate how to sit in the learner’s circle. 3. Avoid Downtime. The best way to keep your kinesthetic learners busy and engaged through out class is to avoid downtime as much as possible. If you are setting up an obstacle course and it may cause the dancers to wait for a few minutes - maybe play a game of Simon Says where you shout out dance moves and everyone must demonstrate the dance move while you work to get the obstacle course ready. Plan activities where multiple dancers can dance and move at one time rather than having each dancer go one at a time. The longer the kinesthetic learners are expected to sit still and wait their turn the harder it will be for them to stay focused on learning and they will have more opportunities to act out or misbehave. 

© Copyright Dance to Learn® 2020

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