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Creating a Positive Learning Atmosphere

This is an excerpt from Dance Teaching Methods and Curriculum Design 2nd Edition With HKPropel Access by Gayle Kassing & Danielle Jay-Kirschenbaum.

A positive learning atmosphere is conducive to learning and to effective teaching and management of the class. In the dance classroom, a positive learning atmosphere is one in which the teacher is the catalyst for learning while setting the level of freedom for the students. If you are a new teacher, expect the students to test you to see where you set your boundaries; know those boundaries and expectations before you enter the classroom. It is easier to set boundaries in advance than to try to incorporate or adjust them later. A firm set of guidelines will enable you to attend more to instruction than to management. After your first year of teaching dance, current students will communicate your expectations for classroom conduct to new students so that these students will know your expectations before beginning the course. After several years, your guidelines will become easier to implement in the classroom, and students will know the boundaries and the expectations you have set. Selecting classroom expectations that mirror expected professional dance conduct supports you as a practicing professional dance educator.

Positive approaches in behavior management strategies for dance inspire and challenge students and incite a positive atmosphere and actions in the studio. Behavior management involves systematically applying prevention and intervention techniques to enhance the probability that a person or group will develop socially accepted behaviors such as self-discipline, responsibility, self-direction, and character, contributing to an environment that is conducive to learning (Lavay, French, and Henderson 2016).

The following list of positive approaches is paraphrased from Positive Behavior Management in Physical Activity Settings (Lavay, French, and Henderson 2016). These approaches are applicable to the dance classroom environment:

  • Catch students being good. Focus on the appropriate actions; recognize successes, improvements, and accomplishments. These reinforcements of positive behavior make students feel good about themselves. Be truthful about these behaviors.
  • Expect dancers to follow instructions. Give the instructions once or twice; if you repeat them too many times, students will tend to depend on your instructions and not think for themselves.
  • Continually monitor whether students are on task. It does not make sense to give instructions and never check to see whether students are accomplishing them.
  • Keep your cool and address problems quickly. Control your own behavior as a teacher and act quickly when problems arise. Use positive methods to motivate the dancers. Often practicing a group ritual can dispel problems before they get out of hand.
  • Focus on the behavior that is to be corrected, not the person. Be specific with your corrections so that dancers know what they are not doing and what is expected of them.
  • Be consistent. Know what students expect from you and you expect from them. Make sure your “yes” means yes, and do not keep changing your mind about what you want. Make sure you respond in the same way every time. If you correct a person’s behavior one day, you need to repeat it in the same manner the next time. Also, do not respond differently to other people in the group; try to be fair.

Implement these constants into the dance class to ensure a smooth process so that you can spend time on teaching dance rather than managing the class.

Expectations for the Dance Classroom

The teacher implements similar expectations and management strategies to teach each age group. Classroom expectations are the ground rules for the learners’ behavior. The teacher clearly communicates these expectations at the first class meeting, and they are often posted in the dance classroom. The number and intensity of the expectations depends largely on the age group and teaching setting. Students who adhere to these ground rules develop discipline and motivation, which are necessary for acquiring a correct performance attitude. Another aspect that gives uniformity to the members of the class and supports discipline is wearing proper attire to class.

Classroom expectations are the ground rules for the learners’ behavior.


What do you wear in dance class? The dance form and setting generally determine the attire. For example, a teacher in a creative movement and dance class in elementary school wears a T-shirt and pants or similar attire that allows for moving freely. Your choice of dance attire and grooming habits speaks loudly of your commitment and regard for your profession. Be specific about the type of attire you want your students to wear to class. Your students become a reflection of you, your school, and the profession.


In the dance classroom, discipline is students’ self-control to meet the expectations of the teaching environment, the dance form, and the attitude and actions associated with the dance profession. Discipline in the class may be a result of the dance form or teacher’s management of the class, or the students may initiate their own self-control and discipline.


Motivation is the impetus to try a new thing and the drive to follow through and to achieve it. Motivation is either internal (initiated by the student’s goals for improvement) or external (the student’s desire to please the teacher or to pass the course). Students have many motives for taking a dance class, such as artistic development, personal fitness, enjoyment, passing a required course, greater technical ability, and preparation for a career. Self-motivation leads students to set their personal goals and self-check their progress toward their goals. The teacher’s attitude and demeanor in relationship with the student are central to the student’s continued motivation and success. The extent of a student’s motivation from the teacher hinges on the teacher’s observation, communication, feedback, and love of dance that are imparted through her management strategies.

Mobile Devices

Mobile devices are part of today’s classrooms and therefore the dance teacher’s management areas. The teacher should clearly communicate student expectations for use of mobile devices in the dance class. Establish classroom etiquette and protocols for use of cell phones or computers for the dance class. Explain the rationale that students are in this class to learn dance. Clearly discuss how and when mobile devices can be used in the class for projects. Select places and procedures for students to put their mobile devices during dance class.

Developing a Teaching Management Style

Teaching management style is your demeanor as a teacher. Your management style reflects how you relate to students. How do you speak to students? Do your volume and tone encourage or frighten students? Think before you speak. What you say and how you say it sets the tone in the class. Your teaching management style is reflected in your interactions with students, which create the atmosphere for learning. Are students able to ask questions? How do you deal with confrontations? Think about ways you would handle these and other situations before you enter the dance class.

Your teaching management style and intensity correspond to the level of the dance class, the age of the dancers, the dance form, and the setting. Becoming a successful class manager is sometimes a juggling act. After a class, analyze what you did in a specific situation, and mentally file your plan for the next time something similar happens. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. An excellent management style involves acquiring observation and communication skills.

Communication Skills

You have a prodigious job to communicate in a nonverbal, verbal, and symbolic language of dance, to students who may or may not know the language. The teacher must execute the exercises fluently and have the following traits:

  • A command of the dance form vocabulary
  • Knowledge of the dance form’s internal structure to explain its technical and artistic demands to students in such a way as to motivate them
  • The ability to provide feedback and guide students through positive and successful learning experiences

The movement–language connection provides an additional feature. After explaining concepts and principles of a movement, a teacher can synthesize it into a slogan or catchphrase (chunking; see also chapter 5). The teacher uses this slogan to check or apply the concept or principles of that movement. For example, in square dancing, the teacher says, “Square the set” as a phrase for everyone to get in the beginning formation to start the dance. In a concert dance form, the teacher says, “Check your beginning position” to tell the student to self-check for alignment, weight distribution, and correct foot and arm positions. In creative dance, the teacher says, “Do you have a movement sentence?” as a way to ask whether the movement sequence has a beginning, a middle, and an end. In social dance, the teacher says, “Who is leading whom?” as a way to ask whether the leader is leading and giving proper cues to the follower. In dance fitness, the teacher says, “Keep moving” to remind students to continue moving while the teacher demonstrates the new step.

The teacher notices everything, deals with the most important issues, and thinks of new ways to motivate students to be responsible and responsive dancers. When communicating with the dancer, the teacher uses several forms of feedback.

Three Types of Feedback

The dance class has three main types of feedback—verbal, nonverbal, and guided manipulation. In most situations, the teacher strives to provide positive verbal or nonverbal feedback to students. If negative feedback is necessary, it may be verbal or nonverbal in nature. The teacher’s choice of feedback sets the atmosphere of the class.

Verbal Feedback

Verbal feedback has three types of positive feedback: acknowledgment, prescriptive, and corrective. The teacher’s statements and vocal inflections to the student constitute verbal feedback. For the most part, verbal feedback is positive and motivates and engages students in the learning process. Verbal feedback provides a dancer with constructive criticism and praise for performance efforts. Pinpointing gives specific instruction. Hold back on using negative feedback until it is absolutely necessary.

  • Acknowledgment refers to giving the dancer information about performance in a positive way. For example, “You did two clean pirouettes without losing balance. Are you ready to try three clean pirouettes?” Acknowledgment can be in the form of verbal or nonverbal communication with the student.
  • Prescriptive feedback directs the dancer to perform correctly. For example, “Remember to keep your shoulders and hips squared at the beginning of a pirouette.”
  • Corrective feedback indicates the error that the student made and presents a solution to correct it. For example, “When you perform a pirouette, your shoulders and hips are not square, and your body weight is shifted back during the relevé.”
  • Pinpointing clarifies the trouble zones that students encounter. After explaining and showing the movement sequence, the teacher observes how well the students understand the specific components and requirements to successfully perform the movement.
    An effective example of pinpointing is to choose two or more students to demonstrate the correct execution of the movement and then point out their correct positions or transitions. This method calls attention to the expectations of the step. Select students who are neither the most nor least experienced in the class. This feedback gives them positive reinforcement on their performance of this particular aspect of the step (Graham 1992).
  • Negative feedback points out the student’s attitude or action that must be changed. This type of feedback should be used sparingly and only as a last resort. If negative feedback is necessary, say it to the class in general or to the person privately after class. Lavay, French, and Henderson (2016) recommend that teachers track the number of times they provide positive and negative feedback in a class). The number of times giving positive feedback should be a 5 to 1 ratio to the number of times the teacher gives negative feedback.

What you say may influence the dancer’s attitude and self-confidence. Dancers are often their own harshest critics.

Nonverbal Feedback

Nonverbal feedback is a facial expression or gesture such as a smile, nod, quizzical look, touch, or eye contact with the student as well as the physical distance to the student. This type of feedback engages students, acknowledges their work as verbal feedback does, and may inspire and motivate students to move, improve, and strive for excellence.

You should be aware of your facial expression during the class so that you do not communicate something that you do not want the students to see. Students should not be able to read your thoughts as you read their movement and form your feedback. Therefore, maintain a pleasant but neutral facial expression so that the nonverbal feedback you give has an effect by itself or reinforces your verbal comments.

To implement methods for younger students to become aware of and use their emotional intelligence, post a paper stoplight—circles of red, yellow, and green paper aligned vertically—as a visual reminder. When student behavior requires intervention, use the stoplight system. Stop (red) the interaction. Ask students to think (yellow) of their options for resolving the situation. If necessary, count to 10. If that strategy doesn’t work, count to 20! Go (green) with the decision you think is best, and learn from its consequences (Goleman 1998).

Guided Manipulation

Although primarily nonverbal, guided manipulation is reinforced with vocal cues. The dance teacher uses guided manipulation as a means of communicating posture or movement changes to students.

Guided manipulation is the teacher’s physical positioning or moving of a student’s body or body parts. The teacher may guide the student through the parts of an exercise or anatomical positioning of a body part. Guided manipulation is an approach of tactile feedback so that a student can become aware of or acquire kinesthetic sense of a correct position or movement sequence of an exercise or step.

Before engaging in guided manipulation with a student, quietly ask permission before touching the student or moving a body part. Always tell the student what you will be doing before you actually do it to avoid any surprises.

Guided manipulation is most effective in one-on-one feedback sessions. Often the teacher can explain how to place or move a body part, then the student can try to make this change without the teacher’s physical help. Dance is physical in nature, so guided manipulation to achieve and feel the correct movement is a type of feedback specific to the dance classroom. However, this type of feedback is not appropriate for use in the regular educational environment.

Effective feedback is part of the set of strategies the teacher uses in presenting the class content. Each type of feedback pertains to the entire class as well as to individual students. Everyone deserves some type of feedback in each dance class. All communication (verbal and nonverbal) must be clear, concise, consistent, fair, positive, and constructive. Teachers help students develop lifelong skills. Success in the dance class gives a person physical, mental, social, and emotional confidence for a feeling of self-worth, which emanates from the person’s responsible and motivated behavior. You must understand your personality and management abilities as a teacher in the dance class. These attributes will largely determine your interactions with students and their behavior in the class.

More Excerpts From Dance Teaching Methods and Curriculum Design 2nd Edition With HKPropel Access