Learning through contrast: interleaving of practice

The more I read of Make It Stick, the more I am changing how I teach. What I find most interesting, is that I will plan a class and then read a chapter of the book, which tells me to do what I just planned to do. After almost 30 years of teaching, I'm starting to do it right!

Peter C. Brown el al. write,

"In interleaving, you don't move from a complete practice set of one topic to go to another. You switch before each practice is complete. . . . It's more effective to distribute practice across these different skills than polish each one in turn. The athlete gets frustrated because the learning's not proceeding quickly, but the next week he will be better at all aspects [of the different parts of the movement] than if he'd dedicated each session to polishing one skill." (p. 81).

How are we working on this in tango this week? We always do this in Body Dynamics class, as we build on skills week after week, doing 5-10 minutes on several different themes each time the class meets.

In advanced class this week, we are looking at several very similar ideas in the dance, that all have slight differences in spacing, the marca (lead), and how the follower moves to complete the pattern.

For example, we've been working on the sentada and a leg drag that comes out of a parada. The sentada and parada are similar moves, but in the parada, the follower's weight is mostly on the back foot, but s/he is stopped with the feet apart. In the sentada, the follower's weight is 100% on the back leg, but in a flexed, springlike way, with the leg crossed in front. This again is only a tiny bit different than getting the follower to do a reverse cross and actually change weight at that moment. When you add the idea of the sacada led through the follower's back step; or a single-axis turn from the same place, then you begin to see that TEENY differences in setting up a step create different responses from the follower.

So why should be work on these at the same time? Isn't this just too confusing?

Here is my question to you: how many times have you led a move, only to have it not go quite perfectly? Perhaps you misjudged the space. Perhaps the follower jumped to conclusions and did a different move. For whatever reason, you are now forced to pull other information out of your memory and immediately apply it.

What if that piece of information was already grouped with the movement that you had tried to do? Wouldn't it be more likely that you could adjust to the reality of the moment successfully? I know this works for me, and that's why I'm teaching this to the advanced dancers.

As a follower, why would this be useful? For me, the more important aspect of working like this is to encourage the follower to be a better follower. Instead of picking a move out of what I call "the index box" from memory, and executing it, the follower MUST wait for the leader to lead the move, precisely because it is not 100% clear which move is being done, until the lead has happened (and if it has not been led, then....that's not the follower's issue). Many followers stay on the intermediate level for years and years, because they are not willing to through the index box of moves away and simply follow. To me, that is the difference between an intermediate and advanced follower, no matter how many years s/he has followed.

So, tomorrow, be prepared for crazy mayhem--for really learning these cool moves!