March-April 2017 | Collective Wisdom

Collective Wisdom: Ideas and advice from our readers

Classroom Connection: The Power of Questions

Last fall I was preparing to teach a class of 3- to 6-year-olds, an age group I hadn’t taught in 19 years. I asked Megan Edwards, a public school kindergarten and studio dance teacher, if I could observe one of her classes. As I watched her skillfully guide 15 young dancers through age-appropriate activities such as freeze dance, puddle jumping, and “all my dancers fell asleep,” I discovered a simple and effective teaching method: I call it The Power of Questions.

When Edwards instructed her students to pick up their placement dots from the floor and give them to her in preparation for the next exercise, several dancers began playing with the props. Rather than telling the dancers to behave, Edwards asked, “Do we fold the dot like a taco, dancers?” The dancers all chirped happily, “No!” and the folding stopped. During freeze dance, Edwards asked in a cheerful voice, “Is there running in freeze dance?” All running stopped.

I realized that by questioning rather than chastising, Edwards maintained control of the classroom. I was impressed by how the dancers listened. Answering questions also increased their level of engagement. The dancers enjoyed shouting out the answers and laughing at the questions. Correcting their own behavior was adding to the fun. Was this magic? I had to try it!

The next day when my 7- to 10-year-old students started talking, I smiled broadly and asked, “Is there talking in dance class?” as if talking was the silliest thing ever. “No!” they all shouted, smiling, happy to have the right answer.

I found I could apply this teaching method to technical corrections as well. While demonstrating a passé correctly, I asked, “Dancers, is the foot pointed like this in a passé?” then, flexing my foot, “or flexed like this?” Laughing at my dramatically flexed foot, they shouted, “Pointed!”

Later that week when I taught my new class of 3- to 6-year-olds, I used this method. Do you think it worked? Yes!

—Holly Derville-Teer

Reality Check: Sensitivity and Caring

Q. I have a talented dancer who lost an arm in an accident. She came back to ballet class and is doing amazingly well, but I don’t want to pretend that this is not going to affect her balance or her dancing. How do I navigate this situation with sensitivity and caring? —Mary Beth Loewen

A. She will need to experiment, along with her teachers, to see what works—a perfect example of how everyone learns differently. —Lisa Abbascia

A. Instead of “Left (or right) hand on the barre,” say, “Left (or right) side to the barre.” I have a student who’s blind in one eye, and I do my best to substitute “Look at me” instead of my usual “Eyes on me.” If I slip up I just press on rather than call attention to it. —Nicole Erin Vanderwall

A. A little girl born without her right arm came to my class at age 3. Her mom asked me to treat her like any other child. I did worry about misspeaking and tried to avoid certain phrases, but mainly I did nothing differently. When she was a teen I asked her if it bothered her when I said things like, “Girls, you have to dance with both arms.” She laughed and said no—she just tried harder to feel like she was dancing with both arms. In her senior year she performed as Aurora in our production of Sleeping Beauty, and she now dances in a small ballet company. —Roberta Humphrey

A. Have a chat with her and her family. Be honest that this is a new learning situation for both of you. Rely on her input about what works, what doesn’t, and what needs to be modified. Lean on each other—you’re a team. —Tricia Gomez

A. What amazing parents to teach her that nothing can stop her. This is a beautiful gift for everyone at your studio. —Teri Mangiaratti