Learning and Memory

What is learning and memory?

Learning and memory describe the ability to take in, process, store, and recall information. This may be information that we have heard (e.g., spoken instructions) or seen (e.g., being shown the location of items). Learning and remembering information rely on many different skills. First, we need to take in the new information. This relies on sensory processes (e.g., hearing, seeing, touching) and cognitive processes (e.g., paying attention, concentrating, processing information quickly, and storing information in an organised way). Once information is learned, we also need to be able to get that knowledge from memory stores.

Learning can also be for movements or actions, like learning how to do a dance movement. Learning new motor skills (‘procedural learning’) is thought to be developed through experience, with the process of learning controlled by different parts of the brain compared to when we learn new information about things we see or hear. This means that kids who have challenges learning new verbal information may not have any additional challenges learning motor skills. Some kids with motor conditions (e.g., challenges controlling or planning body movements, knowing where their body is in space, and/or being able to monitor and change body movements) may find learning motor skills more challenging, meaning they may need more practice or the activity modified.

Who has challenges with learning and memory?

It is common for kids to differ in the way they learn information. Some kids are very good at learning verbal information, which means that may only need to be told something once for them to recall it. Other kids may be better at learning and recalling things they have seen.

There are many things that can impact learning and memory. Some children with disabilities or developmental disabilities find learning and memory challenging. Kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can find it challenging to pay attention and concentrate for a long time. This makes it hard for them to take in and process information, making learning more challenging.

Kids with intellectual disability often require information to be simplified and repeated to support their learning as much as possible.

Children with other developmental challenges like autism spectrum disorder may have strengths in their visual learning skills but challenges with their verbal learning. This means that using visual aids (e.g. pictures) and hands-on tasks are likely to make learning easier.

Kids with acquired brain injury (e.g. stroke, head injury) and cerebral palsy can have learning and memory challenges, depending on how the brain has been affected.

When a kid is anxious or worried, learning is also more challenging, as their thinking is focused on the thing that is concerning them rather than the information they are meant to be learning.

What might be some challenges in the dance class?

  • Kids with learning and memory challenges may take longer to learn new information.
  • If a child is having difficulties learning new information, it may look like they are not following instructions, when in fact they are unsure what has been asked of them.

Develop routines and use visual aids

  • Have a consistent routine: Provide predictability by having a consistent routine at each dance class. Students often feel more secure and less anxious when they know what to expect.
  • Use a visual schedule: Use a visual schedule that kids can see at all times so they know what’s coming up and can easily transition from one activity to the next.
  • Make sure students can see and hear the teacher at all times: Encourage the child to stand where they can see and hear at all times. Make sure they have a clear view of the movements being demonstrated. If you’re unsure about the best location in class, ask the student what works for them.

Think about how you communicate and teach new skills

  • Reduce background noise when giving instructions: Minimise background noise while giving instructions so all kids can hear.
  • Use different ways to teach new movements: Present new dance movements in different ways such as with verbal cues, showing pictures of dance actions, showing videos, demonstrating and assisting the child through touch.
  • Repeat and simplify instructions: Some kids might need instructions to be made simpler and to be repeated multiple times. You may need to limit the amount of information given at once, so that only to 1-2 steps are explained at a time.
  • Slow things down: Teach movements at a slower speed and in simple segments.
  • Use extra repetitions when learning skills: Some kids might need extra practice to learn dance skills. Allow them to do more repetitions than other kids to learn the step if needed.
  • Allow the students to correct you: When introducing a new movement, you can teach the movement correctly, then show the students the movement incorrectly and ask them to verbally tell you when it appears “correct”.
  • Use dance stories: A dance story might be needed to teach a new movement  skill or to encourage the child to participate.

Think about how the activity is structured

  • Use small groups or buddies: Some kids might find it easier to work in smaller groups or with a buddy. This can help them feel safe. Small groups can make it easier for kids to concentrate, which will help their learning.
  • Consolidate skills before adding more complex movements: Repeat each movement of a dance phrase before the next part of a routine is attempted.

Things to consider

To maximise a kid’s learning skills, it helps to think about what things may be contributing to the learning challenges. This might include considering whether the child can see and hear clearly, and/or whether they have cognitive challenges, language or communication challenges, attention challenges, or are anxious or worried.

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