Dance Classroom Management: Plan for Error

Hi there! I’m back with another awesome behavior management technique to help you have better student behavior and more engaging lessons in your dance classroom!

It is my hope that these weekly tips will act as a quick refresher for experienced dance educators and provide new insight for early career dance educators who are teaching in schools or at dance studios. When I was becoming a classroom teacher–in addition to lesson planning, backward mapping, passing our state-required teacher credentialing exams, using a constructvist approach to teaching, modeling appropriate behavior, etc.-behavior management was the skill we focused on the most. Managing student behavior is typically the most difficult skill for a new dance teacher to master. I hope these weekly tips will be useful!

Today’s behavior management technique is called Plan for Error. This is Technique #7 in Doug Lemov’s book, Teach Like A Champion 2.0. Essentially, Plan for Error works to “increase the likelihood that you’ll recognize and respond to errors by planning for common mistakes in advance” (p. 60).

In a dance classroom, planning for errors might include thinking about both procedural errors and movement errors, for example:

  • Entering/exiting routines (e.g., Should students sit quietly at the side of the room or stretch when they enter?)
  • Restroom/break procedures
  • Talking during class
  • Common technique errors such as attempting to “turn out” from the knee or ankle, not using the floor to brush into a tendu, “sucking in” the stomach instead of pushing down the ribs
  • “Hamburger hands” in ballet class

There are a couple of different ways that we can plan for error. First, we can plan for specific errors. The text says, “In fact, just writing out the two or three things you think students are likely to struggle with is beneficial to your teaching, whether or not the students actually make the expected errors” (p. 63). We can jot down important questions to ask, possible incorrect responses, and how we will respond to the incorrect answers. Another way to plan for error is to incorporate reteaching time (or differentiation time) into your lesson plan. This means that you may sometimes need to allow time to go back and correct errors and sometimes you will need to allow time to give students a challenge or an enrichment activity if they’re having a really focused day and are catching on to new concepts very quickly.

As I like to say, you should always have a large variety of tools in your “bag of tricks” as an educator, whether you’re teaching at a school, at a summer camp, or at a dance studio!

Making Space for Creativity in Your Dance Class

It’s okay to sometimes be a little uncomfortable when you’re teaching. This might sound surprising to some, but it is a fact that I’ve found to be true. I have found this sentiment to be most true when I am working to allow space for creativity in my dance class. Now that I’ve said that, let me give you a little background.

As an elementary teacher for 6 years now, I have spent several years working to find my teacher voice, establish my authority in the classroom, develop my warm/strict mechanisms, and to really just own the idea that I am the “expert in the room” (a validating phrase that I heard frequently at one organization where I taught for two years). But with all of that, sometimes we forget about allowing kids to create. We forget about all of the detailed lessons based in the theory of constructivism that we developed while training to become educators. We forget to make space for our students to experiment, take calculated risks, and to build in their own learning environment.

Also, besides forgetting, sometimes we just get comfortable. We get into a groove, our students enjoy it, we get positive feedback and no complaints (classroom teaching heaven, am I right?), and we decide to not fix what isn’t broken. The problem with that is: stagnation. I believe I heard recently on one of the podcasts that I listen to: “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.” Call us dramatic if you want to, but I’d bet that for most of us creatives, not moving or making causes us to feel like there’s a piece of us that isn’t really living. (#createordie)

Since we artists, educators, and creators have the intention to always be growing, learning, and making, we have to allow our students to do the same. We have to let them discover the joy that comes from ideating, making, and re-making.

So, let’s get uncomfortable. Sometimes, this can be as simple as adding a song to your class that fits within your lesson plan, theme, or unit, but that might not give you the desire to move in a way that is comfortable for you. It could be as simple as slowing down or speeding up the tempo to a piece, changing the direction of a movement, or releasing some control during a portion of class and passing the ownership of the learning completely to your students.

When you allow yourself to be uncomfortable and force yourself to create in an unfamiliar space, you are modeling successfully working through unfamiliar experiences to your students. You are encouraging problem-solving. You are demonstrating new ways to compose dance using various movement elements. You might even simultaneously challenge and empower your students to trust their skills, in movement and in life, even when the unexpected occurs. And, in the process, you might remind yourself that you have the power to do the same.

Cheers to the discomfort! Let’s keep creating.

How Do You Reinforce Dance?

Hard candy

Last week, we had our last class at one of the schools where Dance Daze hip hop is taught. All of the children were very excited about what I had gotten them as gifts for their last class of the semester.

When one of my 6-year-old students asked me, “Did you get us candy?” I responded, “Nope! I don’t believe in that!”

My student looked up at me, as we walked to the gym, and said, “How come? Is it because you don’t want us to have so much sugar before class and then go crazy?”

“No,” I said.  “It’s because I don’t believe in using sweets as a positive reinforcer for physical activity.”

I realized when I said it that this truly is one of my fundamental beliefs as a dance educator. Although I’m admittedly not a big sweets fan (milk chocolate, two types of ice cream, and plain cake are pretty much it for me!), I’ve never thought it was good to pair candy with dance or any physical education. (If you remember, I was even hesitant about giving out candy on Halloween!) I’m not quite sure when I developed this belief or when it became so strong, but I know that as a young dance student, my classmates and I always only received stamps and stickers for behaving well in class–never candy.

What’s your policy? Do you ever give out candy at the end of your classes or at your studio? Do you think it’s a big deal either way? Why or why not?