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  • Brandon Lee Sears

Teach Empowerment in the Performing Arts Classroom


THE ABC’S OF CREATING BOTH HIGH QUALITY AND HIGH QUANTITY OF MOTIVATION

Young people enter the performing arts classroom for a number of reasons including fitness and health benefits, enjoyment, escapism, connection/community, creativity, growth, and other emotional and psychological benefits. However, some research shows that many learners find the training stressful and dread making a mistake in performance. Other performers have diminished feelings of low self-worth as they compare themselves to others and believe that being the best rather than doing their best is what matters.


What is the motivational climate in your classroom? In other words, what are you doing or saying, and does it follow a philosophy, vision, trajectory that helps keep your training and social environment clear to everyone? Creating an empowering climate in the classroom will encourage the following:


1. Confidence and self-esteem

2. Appreciation of and for the arts

3. Ability to work as, and enjoy being a part of a team

4. Respect for others

5. A higher level of cognitive functioning important in problem-solving


This blog provides some information on how performing arts teachers can effectively optimize the climate and enhance the quality of young performers’ motivation in order to promote a healthier learning experience in the classroom. As a teacher, it is important that we are effective as we set out or follow a vision and inspire the importance of that vision within our students. Through communication, motivation, and guidance we can empower our students in performing arts success.


Motivation


The quantity and the quality of motivation are important in helping maintain a mind-set around the learning experience that inspires and empowers students. Differences in motivation are reflected by how learners behave, think, and feel in the performing arts classroom.


Quantity


If the learner seems to perform well and seems engaged we might think that this learner has HIGH Motivation based on our observation. However, this is only the ‘tip of the iceberg’. High-performance levels right now cannot inform us if performing is truly beneficial to the learners’ sense of “self-worth” and overall well-being. Therefore, we must also consider the quality of motivation of the learner.


Quality


Intrinsic motivation is when the learner is participating because they themselves enjoy performing. But if they are being compelled by outside forces, then this is extrinsic motivation. With extrinsic motivation, even if the student is a high-performing student, there is still the possibility that they may have low self-esteem. In this case, the learner may be in high-performance, because the student feels guilty for not participating.


The A,B,C's of CREATING BOTH HIGH QUALITY AND HIGH QUANTITY OF MOTIVATION


A = Autonomy


You can give learners a voice and a choice in the performing arts classroom. For example, most of my classes include a creative collaboration element where learners are given tasks work out with other dancers in the classroom. Also, you can ask learners to pick between exercises so they feel they have some choice and say in certain aspects of their training.


B = Belonging


No one likes to feel alone and isolate, and connection helps to give a sense of meaning and safety so that young performers feel safe enough to allow their special qualities to bloom and flourish. It is important that no matter the learners’ ability, they believe they matter. Intrinsic motivation is more likely when we have a sense of belonging, and if we feel we are part of a team that works well together our sense of self-worth will improve as a person regardless of our performance in the classroom.


C = Competence

Competence refers to the ability of the performer to meet the demands of a task, skill, or performance situation.


Two Ways to think of Competence


1. Task Focus


Task focused learners are likely to try their best and feel good about performances whether they themselves feel confident or not. This is because in spite of obstacles or challenges, the focus is not on the external.

  • Self-referred

  • Success based on personal improvement and mastery

  • Trying hard is important ( remember growth-mindset? )

  • Trying hard is important for improving? How can I get better?


2. Superiority Focus/ Ego Focused


Superiority Focused dancers have high motivation extrinsically (externally), but they may be fragile and dependent upon outside circumstances. Thus their motivation has not much to do with themselves but how they are being judged.


  • Competence other-referenced - (focused on others)

  • Success entails out-doing others, showing superiority

  • Being the best is important

  • How are others doing? Am I good enough? How can I not look bad?


By using certain teaching strategies, you can ensure that young performing arts students will feel empowered. Learners will feel they have a choice if their voice is heard. Belongingness will be created if students feel they are respected and connected as a relevant member of a group. They will feel confident and competent when their effort is acknowledged and embraced without having to seek the approval of others. By maintaining open communicating between the learner, instructors, parents, and engaging in the community, we can help to enhance the quality of motivation in order to promote a healthier learning experience for all in the performing arts classroom.


Seven Strategies for Creating an Empowered Climate for Your Students


Cooperative Contribution


Learning emphasised


Intrinsic Focus


Mastery orientated


Authority with autonomy


Taking others’ perspective


Evaluation (of effort and improvement)

1. Cooperative contribution

  • Learners work together to help each other improve together

  • All learners believe they contribute.

WHAT DO TEACHERS DO?

  • BUILD TEAMWORK PRACTICES INTO THE CLASS

  • MAKE SURE PERFORMERS FEEL THAT THEY HAVE CONTRIBUTED

Teacher: “Hey, everyone, let’s get together and give feedback to one another so that we can help our teammates get better!”


Teacher: “What do we think we did well this rehearsal?


2. Learning emphasised

  • Learning and improvement are constantly emphasised even after success and failure

  • Teachers ask dancers – What went wrong and what could be better? – HOW

  • How can temporary setbacks be turned into positives for the future

WHAT DO TEACHERS DO?

  • REVIEW LEARNING POINTS

  • ENCOURAGE THE TRYING OUT OF NEW SKILLS AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE

Teacher: “Let’s review today’s lesson. What are two things that you remember about today’s lesson?


Teacher: “What went well for you? How do you think we can improve?”


3. Intrinsic Focus

  • Class activities can be challenging and fun and promote the innate ability for enjoyment

  • All students enjoy creativity, solving problems and humour

  • Use rewards sparingly

WHAT DO WE DO?

  • ASK THE PERFORMERS TO CONSIDER WHAT THEY CAN DO TO BE THEIR BEST.

4. Mastery orientated

  • All performers have the chance to feel successful when we support ‘doing our best’

  • Teachers can work with dancers to set individual improvement goals for specific classes.

WHAT DO WE DO?

  • BRING UP TOPICS ABOUT THE ENJOYMENT OF DANCE.

Teacher: “Did you have fun today? What did you enjoy?


5. Authority with autonomy

  • Dancers encouraged to make decisions and to have input

  • Dancers are provided with meaningful choices

  • Teachers provide a rationale (reasons) for their requests.

WHAT DO WE DO?

  • INVOLVE THE STUDENTS IN THE LEARNING.

  • CREATE ACTIVITIES FOR THIS, AND DON’T BE AFRAID OF OPEN DISCUSSION (One Dance UK, 2016).

Teacher: “We all know what we have to achieve by assessment time. What do you all think we could do today to progress us toward our goals?


Teacher: “Who can give me some ideas to make sure we all have some input today?”


6. Taking others’ perspective

  • Acknowledge students' feelings and views

  • Encourage young performers to see their classmates perspectives also

  • Recognise that the learners are not performing robots but humans with thoughts, feelings emotions

  • The performers' worth is not equated to class or stage performance (Duda & Quested, 2014).

WHAT DO TEACHERS DO?

  • HAVE CONVERSATIONS WITH STUDENTS THAT DOES NOT CENTER AROUND PERFORMANCE.

  • TAKE A MOMENT TO ENGAGE WITH THE PERSON INSTEAD OF THE STUDENT SINGER, DANCER, OR ACTOR. GET SOME PERSPECTIVE (Sanchez, 2017).

Teacher: “How do you think he/she felt when they made a mistake? What can we do to make them feel better or help them?”


Teacher: “I know the audition can be scary, and sometimes our performance doesn’t go as planned. What can I do to help you when this happens?

7. Evaluation (of effort and improvement)

  • Teachers’ feedback is primarily tied to “task-focused” goals an individual’s own effort

  • Encourager performers’ own self-evaluation of their own performance

WHAT WE COULD DO

  • ENCOURAGE SELF REFLECTION AND EVALUATION

Teachers: “How do you believe you have improved over the last few weeks? What do you really want to work in the next class that will help you improve from today?

The performing arts classroom should be a place where all ages shapes and sizes learn to dance, sing, and perform. And where courage, creativity, self-expression, and communication are encouraged. Remember, it is the teaching values, beliefs and standard of behaviours that guide our teaching practice. This climate develops you as a leader and impacts students’ motivation. By creating a more empowered climate in a class where intrinsic motivation is high, all levels and abilities of performances will improve. The talented performers in your class will have a greater chance of developing their own talent and continuing when training is complete to move to excellence. Those with less ability will be able to maximise on the skills they have and realise other healthy aspects and abilities they have gained from their performing arts training.


References for further reading:


Bates, B., 2016. Learning Theories Simplified...and how to apply them to teaching. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.


Cohn, D. P., 1996-2017. Self Esteem in the Performance Arts. [Online] Available at: http://www.selfgrowth.com/articles/Cohn1.html [Accessed 25 12 2018].


One Dance UK, 2016. Dance Teaching and Learning: Shaping Practice. 3rd ed. s.l.:One Dance UK.


Quested, E. & Duda, J. L. (2010). Exploring the Social-Environmental Determinants of Well-and-Ill-Being in Dancers A Test of Basic Needs Theory.


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