By: Olivia Mode-Cater
A few weeks ago, a really awesome dance teacher named Jamie reached out to me asking for advice:
Hi! I find your page and your posts a big source of helpful resources when it comes to dance education. I'm curious if you have any thoughts on the middle-school aged dancer, especially since you have taught in a studio and teach in a school setting. I've found that in the last 5 years especially, it's getting harder and harder to hold their attention, help instill motivation and self-drive in them, and honestly get them to exhibit respect for me, their peers, and the class setting in general.
My biggest hurdle right now is how to get them to stop talking, especially while I'm talking. I want to avoid the straight up punishments, but it's getting to that point. I understand that kids have smaller attention spans, decreased creativity, and more anxiety thanks to social media, but I'm exhausting my class management techniques with this age group.
Has anything worked for you or do you have any nuggets of wisdom to share with the dance world? I want to meet them where they are and get them to WANT to take class in a respectful manner, but I refuse to yell at them and I'm out of positive reinforcement ideas.
First off, I love that Jamie is so committed to finding a solution to this issue and wanting it to be a positive learning experience. Learning HOW to take a class is a crucial life skill and is one that can be learned through dance. Before I gave Jamie some ideas, I wanted to know what she had already tried. She explained:
-So far, we talked about expectations and why to follow them. Things like: Respect, no talking, hard work, kind words to each other, etc. You learn by doing AND watching, you wouldn't talk over your math teacher, you need to be able to hear the instructions, be prepared for what's next- your turn, the next instruction, etc.- it keeps you safe if your focused. All that) So they know it, then I kindly remind them of it when it’s happening.
-Then, I will call specific names if it continues.
-We have a call and response, but they are getting a bit old for it.
-Once they were so unfocused that I turned off the music and told them to just do the exercise because I knew over half of them didn't hear the instructions. When it wasn't a successful attempt I used that to point out how important it is to focus and hear what I'm saying. We've talked about how it's in their best interest if they want to reach their goals. (Trying to help them learn self-discipline.)
-I keep class really moving too! There's not a lot of standing still, so it's not even like they do it when they are bored. They'll go across the floor and then turn and immediately start talking to the person next to them. And then a group is doing it and when I turn the music off it doesn't cue them to stop and listen.
-I've stopped class and just waited at the front, staring at them, until the noise dies down.
-I've pointed out the positive behavior that their neighbor is exhibiting.
Does this situation sound familiar? It definitely does to me. I’ve had many classes where I’ve had the same struggles.
What I first pointed out to Jamie was that she is doing all of the right things! All of the things she has tried are good classroom management strategies –ones that I would’ve recommended if she hadn’t tried them already.
However, there are 2 other strategies that I’ve used before for extra talkative classes.
For one class, I used a suction cup with a clip (see picture) and would place it on the mirror in the middle of the room. When the dancers weren’t allowed to talk, I would put a red polyspot in the clip so they could all see it. When they interrupted me or talked out of turn, I would point to it to remind them. When they could talk because they were reviewing material with a friend or choreographing with a partner, I would switch the polyspot to a green one. That was really effective because it was a very visual reminder of what behavior was allowed.
My absolute LAST resort is to tape a piece of paper on the mirror and keep a marker handy throughout class. Every time a student interrupted my teaching, I would put a tally down. At the end of the class we would look at how many tallies were on the sheet and we would pick a strength or endurance exercise such as, pushups, jumping jacks, sit ups, etc. For every tally mark the group would have to do 5 of the exercise. Therefore, if there were 5 tallies, they owed me 25 jumping jacks or sit ups. I would say to the students “if you’re going to talk, at least you’re going to be strong!” Very quickly the students realized they would much prefer to be quiet while I taught, instead of doing the strength exercises at the end of class. This resulted in them modifying their own behavior and trying to motivate their peers to do the same. This is something I do only when I have exhausted every other strategy and they have been ineffective.
Finding a strategy that works for you and your students is super important. Having procedures in place for good classroom management will help you maximize your time with your students so that you can actually teach dance! If you have other strategies you want to share, email me or comment onsocial media!
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