Playing to Type

Motivating all your diverse students can seem like a daunting task. But identifying the different “types” of students that make up every class can simplify the process: It allows you to use a few broader motivational techniques, rather than attempting to tailor your class to the needs of each individual. Here’s one junior high school teacher’s system for identifying students’ learning preferences. (Though C.M. Havens is not a dance teacher, he frequently uses dance to help his students learn academic concepts, and he’s become involved in the dance community.)

 

In my years as a junior high school teacher, I’ve learned that pinpointing a child’s inherent motivation is one of the best ways to keep her engaged and focused. But no one has time to take an entire class just to figure out what motivates a student. Based on my own experience, I’ve developed a way to identify the four different types of students—each of whom responds to specific kinds of motivation—that only takes about five minutes. Here’s what I’ve discovered, and how dance teachers can use it.

 

It all boils down to two questions. The first question is, “Who likes to play on teams?” Your “yeses” form your first group: those who like to work with others. The “no’s” are your second group: those who prefer to handle things solo. Now you can further delineate these two groups with the second question: “What’s more important, winning or just being involved?” Those more interested in winning are your competitive students, while those who just enjoy being involved are considered hobbyists.

 

Based on these questions, you can divide your students into four groups, each of which presents its own set of challenges. A hobbyist may not feel the need to push and prove herself the way a competitive student would. Conversely, the competitive student, if relegated to being just one more member of an anonymous group, may very well stop caring. A team-oriented student’s self-worth is tied up in the success of the group, and she often forgets to analyze her own performance, while solo students are sometimes so focused on themselves that they’re willing to let others suffer for their own success.

 

So how can you avoid the pitfalls and motivate these very different groups?

 

The competitive student will be better off if you reassure her and identify specific ways she can shine. If she’s a strong turner, for example, be sure to tell her so, and add that it’d be great if she could master her triples.

 

Similarly, the solo student needs goals, something to accomplish or overcome. Help her set benchmarks—i.e., being able to sit in a split by the end of the month—and track her progress.
A team-oriented student works best when she understands how her work is benefiting the group, so point out the reasons she’s important to the team. During rehearsal, emphasize that the routine doesn’t look right unless she nails her own part.

 

The hobbyist is a bit trickier. Hobbyists come to dance for a variety of personal reasons—including the dreaded “My parents make me.” You need to tap into whatever it is about dance that they like. When dealing with the “My parents make me” situation, you may have to start small, with a question like, “What about dance don’t you hate?” and slowly work from there until you find some personal reason for her to enjoy dance.

 

Ultimately, we all want to have classes filled with students who share our passion for dance. By tapping into each student’s personality and finding what motivates her, such a class is within every teacher’s reach. DT

C.M. Havens has taught social studies and science to junior high school students in New York City for the past 11 years.

 

Gardner's Theory

 

In his seminal work Frames of Mind, developmental psychologist Howard Gardner describes his theory of multiple intelligences, which identifies the different ways people learn. (Gardner updated his theory in Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons.) Here, C.M. Havens helps us understand the seven types of learners articulated by the theory and gives greater insight into how to motivate each.

 

Linguistic learners

* Learn best when: Something is described to them.

* How to identify them: They’re good listeners and often think out loud.

* Help them by: Allotting enough class time to discuss an activity before they attempt it.

 

Visual-spatial learners

* Learn best when: They can associate mental pictures with postures and movements.
* How to identify them: They’re often daydreamers, caught up in their own heads.
* Help them by: Developing imagery to accompany each step (i.e., describing a jeté as “jumping over a puddle”).

 

Bodily-kinesthetic learners

* Learn best when: Moving!

* How to identify them: They have a keen sense of body awareness and pick up on body language.

* Help them by: Having them learn a combination by following you as you dance it.

 

Interpersonal learners

* Learn best when: They can interact and empathize with others.

* How to identify them: They’re highly social, with many friends.

* Help them by: Balancing their desire to help others with their own personal development. They enjoy standing near their friends at the barre, but make sure they try new spots occasionally, so they’re not distracted.

 

Intrapersonal learners

* Learn best when: They’re allowed to work independently.

* How to identify them: They’re highly motivated but tend to shy away from others.

* Help them by: Giving them space to figure out steps or combinations on their own. But make sure you’re available if they have questions.

 

Musical learners

* Learn best when: Music is involved in some way. (Luckily, that’s not difficult in most dance classes!)

* How to identify them: They’re highly sensitive to rhythm and sound.

* Help them by: Giving them a CD of the music you use in class, so they can listen to it and practice on their own time.

 

Logical-mathematic learners

* Learn best when: They’re experimenting or solving puzzles.

* How to identify them: They think abstractly and are able to quickly identify and remember patterns.

* Help them by: Giving them “brain-teaser” exercises that involve tricky sequences of steps—a tendu combination that rapidly alternates feet, for example.   

 

—Margaret Fuhrer

 

For more information, go to howardgardner.com.

 

Illustration by Emily Giacalone

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