Teaching Tips

Ask the Experts: What's Your Advice for Dividing Students Into Groups?

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Q: Do you have any advice for dividing students into groups?


A: Despite working as a teacher for more than a quarter of a century (and having a degree in psychology), making groups is still a challenge for me. Sometimes I let my students form their own groups, but it always ends up with someone being left out and having their feelings hurt. In the end I find the best solution is to do it randomly. Interestingly, when I use an app to make a decision, the students immediately defer to it as an authority that cannot be argued with. Luckily for us, there is no shortage of random decision-making apps on the market.

For example, one of the most popular teaching apps on the market, ClassDojo, includes a randomization function. You can input your roster into the app, and it will instantly generate groups of any size. It also has a randomized student-generator when you need to call on a volunteer.

When pairing up students for partner dancing in my middle school classes, I use an app called Pretty
Random. I split the room into two sides and give one side a number, and then I let the other side press the button on the app to pick their partner. For some reason this makes students feel like they have had some say in the decision. You might also consider Team Shake, a 99-cent app, that has the bonus feature of allowing you to balance your groups based on skill or gender.

Teaching Tips
A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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Teaching Tips
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After months of lockdowns and virtual learning, many studios across the country are opening their doors and returning to in-person classes. Teachers and students alike have likely been chomping at the bit in anticipation of the return of dance-class normalcy that doesn't require a reliable internet connection or converting your living room into a dance space.

But along with the back-to-school excitement, dancers might be feeling rusty from being away from the studio for so long. A loss of flexibility, strength and stamina is to be expected, not to mention emotional fatigue from all of the uncertainty and reacclimating to social activities.

So as much as everyone wants to get back to normal—teachers and studio owners included—erring on the side of caution with your dancers' training will be the most beneficial approach in the long run.

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