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THREE TIPS TO OPTIMIZE STUDENT LEARNING

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Sometimes if we’ve been teaching long enough it is inevitable that we go on autopilot from time to time. Like our students, we can sometimes coast, phase out, be distracted and ride out the already known. We’re human. But, our ultimate responsibility is to model teaching so that learning is exciting and ignites a passion to progress.

We want our dancers prepared with a comprehensive understanding of their craft; both kinesthetically and mentally. Sometimes, we just need to shake things up in dance class both for ourselves and our dancers so that we stay present and alert, not to mention challenged. We also need to recognize that learning technique is a long process, sometimes with a spurt of growth but usually with small developments over time with good training.

Below are some simple strategies to be mindful of to help both you the teacher and your dance students. Making subtle adjustments to the way you teach will have a direct impact on the way they learn. The more they learn, the more they retain and the more they retain the more they will progress!

Your stance: Standing in front of the class is traditional positioning. But, where you place yourself in the room is important for a number of reasons. A teacher should always be moving as well. Walking around the class, standing in the back, then over to the part of the studio nobody ever stands in, back to center, then to the other side, etc. will keep the energy flowing and allow you to observe ALL of your dancers, not just the ones who are always in the front. It allows you different vantage points to correct and give feedback. It also wakes up the dancers that always hide in the back because the teacher never goes back there and helps you look at anatomical things going on from different views. Sitting in a chair in the front of the room is fine too from time to time, but keep changing it up. Keep yourself constantly engaged and it your dancers will be too.

 

Their Stance: Where your dancers stand and face in class is also important. I’m sure you have dancers that take the same place in class every time, whether it be at the barre or in center or even going across the floor. Have them change it up. This is where we get in our comfort zones and need to shake it up a bit for them as well. Again, those dancers always accustomed to hiding out in the back need the encouragement to stand somewhere else in class and lead for a change. Alternatively, when teaching a center warm-up, take things out of the mirror. Make sure not every exercise faces front. Have dancers face away from the mirror, or in any direction they choose and not have to rely on their own knowledge and technique vs. who they might be following in the mirror. It might feel scary for some at first, but this is a positive strategy to utilize so that in the long run, they are confident they are actually owning their own technique and know what they are doing.

Acknowledge different learning styles: Everybody learns differently. Some are visual learners. Some need tactile correction to understand. Some learn best through auditory cues. As a teacher, we must take this into account. We need to provide each student with a chance to grasp material by utilizing all these different teaching styles and applying them in class. Think about your own teaching style. Is there one way of delivering content you usually rely on? Try and change it up and make a conscious effort to see if you notice any improvement in some of your students. I guarantee you will!

Good luck!

See you in the dance studio,

Jessie

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Author

Jessica Rizzo Stafford

Jessica Rizzo Stafford

Jessica Rizzo Stafford is a native New Yorker and graduate of NYU Steinhardt's Dance Education Master’s Program; with a PK-12 New York State Teaching Certification. Her double-concentration Master’s Degree includes PK-12 pedagogy and dance education within the higher-education discipline. She also holds a BFA in dance performance from the UMASS Amherst 5 College Dance Program where she was a Chancellor's Talent Award recipient. Jess now works extensively with children, adolescents and professionals as choreographer and teacher and conducts national and international master-classes specializing in the genres of modern, contemporary, musical theatre and choreography-composition. Jess’ national and international performance career includes works such as: The National Tour of Guys & Dolls, The European Tour of Grease, West Side Story, Cabaret, Sweet Charity, Salute to Dudley Moore at Carnegie Hall, guest-dancer with the World Famous Pontani Sisters and IMPULSE Modern Dance Company. Jess has been a faculty member for the Perichild Program & Peridance Youth Ensemble & taught contemporary and jazz at the historic New Dance Group and 92nd Street Y in NYC. She was Company Director at the historic Steffi Nossen School of Dance/Dance in Education Fund and in 2008 traveled to Uganda where she taught creative-movement to misplaced children. The experience culminated with Jess being selected as a featured instructor at the Queen's Kampala Ballet & Modern Dance School. She has conducted workshops for the cast of LA REVE at the Wynn, Las Vegas and recently taught at the 2011 IDS International Dance Teacher Conference at The Royal Ballet in London, UK. She is also on faculty for the annual Dance Teacher Web Conferences in Las Vegas, NV. Currently, Jess is a faculty member at the D'Valda & Sirico Dance & Music Centre and master teacher & adjudicator for various national and international dance competitions. Recently, she has finished her NYU Master’s thesis research on the choreographic process of technically advanced adolescent dancers and is the creator of “PROJECT C;” a choreography-composition curriculum for the private studio sector. Jess is also faculty member, contributing writer and presenter in the choreography and “how to” teaching segments on the celebrated danceteacherweb.com. For more info, visit her website at www.jrizzo.net.

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