For dance teachers, it's natural to want to treat students equally. But that doesn't always honor their varying backgrounds, abilities and strengths. To address this, some instructors implement differentiated instruction in their classes, a teaching method that provides students with customized material based on their individual abilities instead of holding them to a single, inflexible standard.
In the dance studio, differentiated instruction could mean teaching for students with multiple learning styles by calling out terms the first time a combination is demonstrated, repeating it with counts, and demonstrating a third time singing the lyrics. Or, it could mean giving different turns to students depending on their prior studies, so that everyone is dancing together but in personally beneficial ways.
The author (far right) teaching at Central New Mexico Community College
Nicole Ortega, Courtesy Bridgit Lujan
1. Remove Value Judgements<p>As long as students feel like they have to be in the top group to gain an instructor's attention or praise, they will not accurately self-evaluate.<strong> </strong>"Removing the need for students to compare and compete is key," says Amber Sorgato, owner of Studio 34 Dance Academy in Las Vegas. For example, dancers have to experience that both simple and more advanced jumps, or single and multiple turns, have value. In order to get this across, she says, "I give each student equal time and equal enthusiasm when evaluating their work."</p>
2. Nurture Peer Recognition<p>Naomi Elizabeth Montoya, head of dance at Public Academy for Performing Arts, a public charter school in Albuquerque, New Mexico, recommends finding ways to reinforce students' comfort with working at different levels among their peers. She suggests a "kudos circle" to close each class. For instance, says Montoya, "students volunteer to highlight the positive things that happened in class. A comment might sound like, 'Marisa, I know you've been working hard on mastering that triplet phrase on the left side, and today you really rocked it!'"</p><p>Positive recognition by a classmate, Montoya adds, is often more motivating than acknowledgment from an instructor. "This helps students to embrace their own level of study and motivate them to continue."</p>
Naomi Montoya with student Yesenia Garcia
Jake Pett, Courtesy Montoya