Teaching Tips

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


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.

Teachers Trending
Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

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Studio Owners
Courtesy Tonawanda Dance Arts

If you're considering starting a summer program this year, you're likely not alone. Summer camp and class options are a tried-and-true method for paying your overhead costs past June—and, done well, could be a vehicle for making up for lost 2020 profits.

Plus, they might take on extra appeal for your studio families this year. Those struggling financially due to the pandemic will be in search of an affordable local programming option rather than an expensive, out-of-town intensive. And with summer travel still likely in question this spring as July and August plans are being made, your studio's local summer training option remains a safe bet.

The keys to profitable summer programming? Figuring out what type of structure will appeal most to your studio clientele, keeping start-up costs low—and, ideally, converting new summer students into new year-round students.

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Dancer Diary
Claire McAdams, courtesy Houston Ballet

Former Houston Ballet dancer Chun Wai Chan has always been destined for New York City Ballet.

While competing at Prix de Lausanne in 2010, he was offered summer program scholarships at both the School of American Ballet and Houston Ballet. However, because two of the competition's winners that year were Houston Ballet's Aaron Sharratt and Liao Xiang, dancers Chan idolized, he turned down SAB. He joined Houston Ballet II in 2010, the main company's corps de ballet in 2012, and was promoted to principal in 2017. Oozing confidence and technical prowess, Chan was a Houston favorite, and even landed himself a spot on Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch."

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