I was digging through some old emails this week and I had found an email exchange between a colleague and I. At the time, I was working in a charter high school where I had to teach all the students in the school. This meant that all 250 students had to take dance with me every year. This was a great challenge in many ways, but the main difficulty was motivating students who didn’t have a prior interest in dance. This created a classroom dynamic which is very different than that from an elective dance class, where students choose to take dance. So, during my 3 years at that school I learned a lot about how to motivate lots of different students to try and be compliant. My colleague had emailed me asking about some strategies that I used. Here is what I answered her:
1. Find out ASAP what your students’ passions are, whether its drawing, sports, or music. Anything works really, as long as you know it's meaningful for them. From the very beginning make as many connections as you can to those things. In this way, you're making dance connect to something in their life, not some isolated thing that they can't relate to. Here are some examples of things I ask them in class:
- When have you done a similar move to this? What sport? How? Why did you do this move?
- What does this dance shape remind you of? Does it remind you of anything you've drawn?
- Does this creative process remind you of when you're creating music or visual art?
2. If they are really persistent about not dancing make them involved in any way possible. Have them be the music person. They can cue the music and pause it when you need it. Most kids do really great with this because they like to touch technology and be in charge of the sound. It's also SUPER helpful to you teaching because you don't have to run back and forth.
3. Create a unit on partner dancing. I did one on the ChaCha and all the students wanted to have a partner and impress them, so this was probably the unit I had the most success with full class participation. Also, usually there is one partner that is more motivated and they don't want to be embarrassed by dancing with a peer that has two left feet and vice versa. Therefore, you really see this student to student coaching happening, which is really effective and awesome to watch.
4. If I'm really desperate and nothing is working I work out a deal with the students. For instance, if you participate fully in class I will give you the last 10 minutes to play basketball, elbow tag, or whatever is a good enough incentive for them. When you do this, you must absolutely stick to it. If they don't stick to their end, don't give them the 10 minutes. If they do stick with it, really give them 10 minutes - not 5 minutes and not 7 minutes. This will establish you as a fair individual and someone they can trust. This tactic worked wonders with my freshman and we've actually created a really respectful relationship because they know I stick to my word if they stick to theirs.
5. Play contemporary music they like. If they don't like to dance at least they know they'll hear songs they like in class.
Those are the main things I do. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don't. Sometimes a kid has a bad day and they just need a class to sit there. If it's a consistent thing I pull the kid after class and talk to them sincerely. I ask them why they don't like the class and how we can work together to make it better. Also, remind them you're not looking for them to be perfect. You're looking for effort and your rubrics and grading systems should reflect that. I hope some of these strategies work for you!