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Teacher article


Dance Teachers

Have you noticed that your students attention span is lacking nowadays?

I have spoken with many a dance educators from around the world who have expressed frustration to me about this issue which seems to be running rampant. Trying to get students to tune in and be more present is becoming a real challenge. We have also experienced this firsthand and it doesn’t look like it is going away anytime soon.

Are you finding that you can give the same correction 100 times only for it to fall on deaf ears? Well maybe 100 times is a bit of an exaggeration, but it sure feels like that sometimes. It seems to be even more prevalent now after the pandemic shutdown and the remote learning that has taken place. The truth of the matter is, that kids today are distracted in so many ways. If what you have to say does not engage them quickly you are probably going to lose them.

There are times in our studio lobby that I see students looking at cell phones, computer screens and the TV all at the same time! No wonder they have trouble tuning into one thing. There is so much noise but not just the sound kind. It also comes in the form of visual noise. Looking at something but not even remembering what they are seeing. We have all experienced this before. Have you ever driven your car somewhere only to find that when you arrived at your location you barely remember what route you had taken to get there? Part of that is our brain on autopilot. Sometimes students will dance on autopilot and have trouble fixing things. In some cases, they may even say to you “I didn’t do that” One of my all-time favorites!

So, what is going on?

In a recent study from Microsoft Corp, they found that the average attention span for the notoriously ill-focused goldfish is nine seconds, but according to this study people now generally lose concentration after eight seconds, highlighting the affects of an increasingly digitalized lifestyle on the brain.

Researchers in Canada surveyed 2,000 participants and studied the brain activity of 112 others using electroencephalograms (EEGs). Microsoft found that since the year 2000 (or about when the mobile revolution began) the average attention span dropped from 12 seconds to eight seconds.

Some may question how accurate these studies are, but I would say that I have seen this firsthand.

YIKES… So now what do we do?

As teachers, we need to embrace how the students learn in today’s environment or be left in the dust. I want to share some effective ways we have found to help our students stay tuned into their classes. Keep in mind that one size does not fit all. As you know each student is individualize and I suggest you try them all out over the course of a few weeks to see which ones resonate best.

Try out these simple but very effective tips…

Say my name!

The sweetest sound to any student is their name. Unless of course they are being reprimanded! But studies have shown that saying the students name at some point while you give them a correction it is 5 times more effective than when you don’t. Furthermore, we also have our students say “Thank You” for every correction we give them. It is a gift after all and should be accepted as one.

What did you say?

Be cautious about lengthy lectures with kids. I must admit I am guilty of this from time to time. You can start to see it in their faces when they are looking at you but not hearing a word you are saying. Students need to be kept involved with the material, so ask for responses regularly on the subject matter you are working on. This works well with technical steps or choreography. Even a simple question or asking for a raise of hands, can be what is necessary to keep students on task.

Remove visual distractions

When students are struggling with picking up or remembering choreography it may be that there are too many distractions. There are times when siblings, parents or other students not in the class get excited and want to watch to see what is going on. You may want to close the studio door, draw the shades down and have the other students in the building not be visible.

Break learning into smaller pieces

Can you break what you are teaching into smaller chunks? Have the student focus long enough to perform part of the task, then take a quick break, then come back to finish what was being taught. Children with attention struggles may perform the requested task faster with this strategy than if they simply tried to finish it all for too long.

Unplug at the studio

We have a place for cell phones to be stored when the students are in class. We do not allow them in the studio unless something is being videoed at the end of class to be watched at another time. We also encourage them to unplug from their phones and talk to each other while they are in between classes. We have found that this is an effective way for students to improve their communication skills, be more present and to take a timeout from gazing into their devices.  

Write it down

For years we have had our students bring in a notebook for corrections and make notes about choreography taught. We have found that when a student writes the correction down, they take more ownership of that correction. Writing is just the start as we need to continually remind them to review their notes quickly before each class. Now, more than ever, this is producing great results.

Make ‘em laugh!

I love it when I can get my students to laugh several times in a class. I have noticed that when I can get them to laugh, they are more tuned into what I have to say. Like they don’t want to miss something else I might say that is funny. This may seem like a silly suggestion, but many studies have shown that if you can get people to laugh, they are not only more in tune with what you have to say but also are more likely to want to hear what you have to say. Furthermore, they retain what you have said as well. If you can wrap a correction around something funny the results may improve dramatically!

So, there you have it!  Try out these simple tasks while teaching and see what kind of results they produce for you. The reality is that some students are going to struggle with attention more than others. As the teacher, you can take measures to help improve concentration for your students. All it takes is a little extra thought and work on your part to bring significant change for your students.

Good luck!

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Steve Sirico

Steve Sirico

Steve is co-founder of Dance Teacher Web the number one online resource for dance teachers and studio owners worldwide.He is Co-Director of the very successful D'Valda and Sirico Dance and Music Center in Fairfield, CT for the past thirty plus years. His students have gone on to very successful careers in dance, music and theater. Originally from Norwalk, Ct, Steve excelled in track and football. He attended the University of Tennessee at Martin on a sports scholarship. Deciding to switch and make his career in the world of dance, he studied initially with Mikki Williams and then in New York with Charles Kelley and Frank Hatchett. He has appeared in a number of theatre productions such as Damn Yankees, Guys and Dolls and Mame in New York and around the country and in industrials and television shows. He was contracted to appear as the lead dancer in the Valerie Peters Special a television show filmed in Tampa, Florida. After meeting Angela DValda during the filming they formed the Adagio act of DValda & Sirico appearing in theatres, clubs and on television shows such as David Letterman, Star Search and the Jerry Lewis Telethon. In 1982 they were contracted to Europe and appeared in a variety of shows in Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland and Italy before going to London, England where they appeared as Guest Artists for Wayne Sleep (formerly of the Royal Ballet) in his show Dash at the Dominium Theatre. Author of his Jazz Dance syllabus and co-author of a Partner syllabus both of which are used for teacher training by Dance Educators of America, He has also co-authored two books one for dance teachers and one for studio owners in the "It's Your Turn" Book series. He is available for master classes, private business consulting and teacher training development

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