This is the 5th post in my “Thoughts on Teaching” Series.
I just completed a two-week residency with a group of 4th graders at a public elementary school in my town. This was a large (28) and diverse group. There were a lot of concentration problems. Some were ‘too cool for school’ and their self-consciousness distracted them. Here were a few issues that came up.
Issue 1: “I don’t want to work with my partner”
A former college student of mine shadowed me on the residency. One of her questions was, “what do you do when kids don’t want to work together?”
Boy, does this one come up in every day life!
It can be very frustrating when one of two children (paired by their classroom teacher rather than self-selected) digs in and says, “he won’t do anything” about his partner.
For us, patience is a virtue. Try several points of entry, and remember that tomorrow is a new day.
1) “Show me what you’ve got.” I just ask them to show me anything and use it as a catalyst to build.
2) “What’s your idea?” Hear from both parties, and model pulling different ideas together. This is a good solution to the problem of: “my partner won’t do anything I say.”
3) “Take a break.” One person may be unable to work that day. Let her sit out, while the compliant student creates. The next day, they may be able to work together and there will be material to start from.
Issue 2: Listening
What’s the point of teaching if you cover the material but the material does not cover the child?
Some quick solutions:
1) “If you can hear me, put your hands on your __________” (head, shoulders, etc.) A quick scan around the room tells you who was tuned out.
2) Have them show (or tell) you. SHOW – When you review what you’ve just presented, have the group raise their hands when they hear the cue (or whatever the content is you are trying to impress upon them). TELL – If you call on the students who know, you’ll still have the space cadets floating out there. So ask the space cadets instead. Sometimes I will tell specific students that I will be calling on them immediately after I give the instruction, and they will have to repeat the key point.
3) Break it into chunks. Smaller bits are easier to digest.
Issue 2: Owning It
When students create and then perform their dances with no energy, apathetically, with small and cramped movements, and a sense of embarrassment, they need coaching.
1) Show 2 ways – Demonstrate the self-conscious, boring way and the energized, committed way.
Have students show, with their fingers indicating #1 or #2, which way was more interesting to watch. (They always pick the committed way). Then talk about why. “The audience doesn’t want to see your attitude about the thing you are doing. They want to see the content. Be committed to what you are doing. Let the audience see it.”
2) Make it bigger! Dances often ‘shrink’ in energy and size. Get everyone on his or her feet and have the students experience a big kinesphere of space, reaching in all directions. This gets the blood flowing and serves as a ‘reset’ too. Then, when they return to their dances, use the kinesphere image for overall size and energy.
3) It’s yours. Remind students that these are their creations. Own it!
This week I worked with several challenging 1st grade groups in the music room. Not a big room, and at least 4 students had poor impulse control.
However, I wanted to do The Stick Together Game (from Step on the Beat) as a follow up to teaching Body Shape Jam (from AlphaBeat) for a lesson on Body Parts. This would involve traveling, stopping, connecting parts, then traveling again with parts connected.
Here’s how I set them up for traveling. First, we did a call and response of “General Space, Go!” with voice and gesture, clapping the syllables of ‘general space,’ and pointing across for ‘go.’
Next, I demonstrated traveling, with words recited rhythmically, while playing the pulse on my hand-held drum:
Move into the empty space/ bodies moves-mouths don’t/ listen for the stopping sound/ stop on your spot//
Each short phrase was 4 beats long, so the demonstration was 2 8’s long, which is a good duration for general space traveling practice. The last 4 counts included shaking the drum to indicate the stop was coming and playing a strong double beat to indicate stop.
I kept my key words to address body control, spatial awareness, and listening skills, which are crucial to success.
Then, we did it as a group, with my words and drum. A third practice was ‘drum talk’ only.
Happy to say that, when we did the group activity in general space, it was a success.
I might add that my locomotor choice for this activity started with walking on the pulse. We could graduate to gallop or skip if students demonstrated the crucial success skills. But not the ‘r’-sounding one (let the children figure that out themselves!)
I’ve talked about Apples and Oranges in other blog posts, as well as in “What to do with…”
(If you don’t already have it, you can purchase Step on the Beat through my website, katekuper.com, or from West Music.)
Today I worked with a challenging group of 1st graders with poor body control, and poor interactive and listening skills.
Thought I’d do Apples and Oranges as a partner dance.
We started with slap and clap, building up from one slap/clap each to two each.
For the ‘circle round’ part –I would typically do as a right and left elbow swing – I had them ‘gypsy’ around = circle around a shared axis with only eye contact, not touching. Next, I attempted the elbow swings.
Not gratified by the outcome, I switched strategies.
We formed a circle, still standing next to partners. Each partner committed to being either an Apple or an Orange, and I checked for understanding with raise of hands.
I explained the ground rules for traveling – skip, gallop or side slide – and demonstrated the duration by modeling.
Then each group practiced.
I had to stop the activity to remind NO RUNNING. (In fact, I had to interrupt individual dancers during the activity for the same infraction…. but no injuries occurred and cooperation was restored!)
Next, we did slap, clap and turn around on our spots, as I have adapted for 4 & 5 year olds.
In the repetition of the dance, I had them turn to their partners for slap and clap. This gave the dance just enough social interaction/cooperative skill building to be satisfying to the age group.
The positive outcome reminded me that we educators can blend strategies from different developmentally appropriate categories to get just the right balance, instead of staying away from the activity all together.
Our lab program meets Saturday mornings. We run two rooms simultaneously. There are generally 12 children in a class, who have chosen to take this class (self-selected). After our first day with the children (ages 4-5, 6-7, 8-10) here were some remarks I made in response to my college students’ comments.
Building Trust and Emotional Safety
- Get on your students’ level, physically (particularly important with younger children). Go ahead, squat down!
- Give them something to do right away (we always have interesting props set out on yoga squares so everyone can go to a spot and find something as they come in the door)
- Be enthusiastic and supportive
- Be honest and caring
- Show interest
- Be loving
- Never be afraid of your students. You are the Alpha dog in the pack!
- Give freedom within structure, which conveys permission to be expressive
- Consider the “V” of freedom. Start narrow and gradually open out. (As with good parenting).
- Plan activities that help kids get comfortable with community (like sharing yoga squares with more than one person) and a get-together, welcome, name song
- Be flexible with the shy kids; the transition may be harder on them. But expect that by 3 days into the semester, they will have adjusted. (although our class rule is no parents in the room, I make an exception for the separation of that one child on that first day).
- Make sure all voices are heard (call on others besides the raised hands)
- “No” is a ‘wall’…..look for ‘window’ options instead. “No” is reserved for safety and boundaries (such as it’s not okay to hurt yourself or other people in class)
- Learn and use students’ names frequently. We take pictures of every child wearing a name tag the first day, then never have to use name tags again.
- On Day #1, the room should be creative, but structured enough not to be overwhelming. Otherwise, with too much freedom, issues would arise.
- Set boundaries and expectations the first day, and have an easier time thereafter. Example: Always give instructions while students are seated.
- Establish audio cues the first day that indicate “clean up, time to warm up”. My go-to instrument for the start of class is a recorder (block flute) upon which I play a series of 3 simple motifs based around the notes B-A-G. Each motif guides students to pick up, put away, find a spot for warm up.
With early childhood, in the school setting, when the children come to me, I use Down By the Station (from Songs for Dancing) as the transition to entering the gross motor space and forming a circle.
It sets the stage for imaginative play, reminds children that they have not come to ride the bikes or play on the climbing structure, and ends us in a desirable spatial formation.
From there, we either sit or stand for a welcome activity, followed by our warm up.
After doing this song/activity every week for many weeks, the children were no longer ‘transformed.’ Spirited children were getting into other people’s personal space, etc. It has become one more single file line, and we know there are already plenty of those in the school setting!
I DO know that children like to MOVE, and, once the newness wears off, walking on the beat just won’t cut it.
SO…I told the children we were going to do a special kind of train. First it was a JUMPING train. Then, after we’d pointed out all the different animals and plants we saw on our train trip and returned to the song, we were a HOPPING train.
This changed it up just enough to add interest, it was aerobic and exciting, and accomplished the activity objective (get into the space, end in a circle, sing, move, imagine).
Look for different locomotor movements (stomping, turning, tipping side to side), energy qualities (shaky, sharp), or levels (high and low) to spice things up in your own train….or when leading ANY SINGLE FILE LINE.
Think outside the box (car)!
I first met Karen in the 1990s. She has hugely influenced my understanding of applied arts learning and teaching in all dimensions. If you teach drama, you should know about Karen and her materials.
About the Artist
Karen L. Erickson, professional artist and Executive Director of Creative Directions, provides training in playwriting, directing, drama education, and arts integration nationally and internationally. Erickson is a Workshop Leader for the Kennedy Center’s professional development programs, including Partners in Education.
Erickson is a certified teacher of theater, language arts, and speech communications. Author of seven drama education books, she co-authored the Illinois Learning Standards for Fine Arts, Chicago Arts Standards, and the Integrated Curriculum Arts Project (ICAP). Erickson served as Artistic Director of Trinity Square Ensemble Theater in Evanston and worked at the Goodman Theatre as Assistant to Tennessee Williams. Erickson continues her work as a playwright and stage director having written fifteen plays for youth and adults produced by theater companies across the United States.
You can subscribe to her monthly newsletter and find out more about
Creative Directions by contacting email@example.com
Question: I would want to know how one would go about planning a lesson plan for children with physical or behavioral disabilities. Would it have more “easy” activities?
Physical disabilities and behavior disorder are two different issues.
Physical disabilities require modification based on the disability. First of all, don’t be afraid. Treat the child as a member of the group. Be matter of fact. Be empathetic without being sympathetic.
Hearing – Position the child close to you so they can read your expression. Use a microphone (head set is best). Some schools provide you with a clip on microphone that goes directly to the child’s hearing device.
Sight – Use touch. Sing. Emphasize rhythm. Use imaginative play.
Mobility – Use touch. Encourage children to move the parts that are mobile. Engage with facial expression. Put a child with lower body mobility issues where they can participate as fully as possible, rather than off to the side.
Children act out for different reasons. Some children are ‘low’ (low intelligence). Some have focus issues. Some don’t like to be touched. Some have boundary issues, where they will invade your space. Some want attention at any cost. Some are insecure. (This is by no means the whole gamut of reasons!)
Some are very intelligent and disengage when there isn’t enough stimulation. These are children who will likely be among your best students because they want to move and learn simultaneously.
The teaching skill is to honor this variety within a group and address their differing needs. Sometimes you just can’t win. I once had a student who deliberately did the opposite of everything I was teaching, and talked aloud at the same time. Challenging!
Strategies that work
- Teach 2 of the Four Tools right away (Concentration, Body Control). Add imagination and memory, so they don’t think you are only there to discipline them, but to honor their creativity and intelligence as well.
- Remember that The Sequence (Braindance) helps wire the brain for concentration and focus. Do it regularly!
Exercise released ‘feel- good’ chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin which indirectly influences self-efficacy.
Studies suggest that student behavioral problems may be reduced when non-competitve, nonaggressive physical activities are introduced in school curriculum. (pp. 78 -80, Learning with the Body in Mind, Eric Jensen)
Low intelligence – Applaud and compliment what the child CAN do. Make the rules of the activity for that child simpler. Partner with that child to guide, or have another adult partner. In a room where there is a one-on-one aide with the child, actively engage the help of the aide; don’t let him/her just stand next to the child or stand and speak to the child but not move with him/her. (This can be hard, but you have to take the lead on that.) Pair low children together to do a simplified and modified version of the activity. Pair a low child with a compassionate child of typical intelligence, but don’t make that child be the partner all the time. Not fair to him/her. Stand near the low child to offer guidance.
Focus issues – Teach ‘concentration’ and ‘body control’ and ask for it by name. Create a special signal with the child that means ‘eyes on me.’ Call the child by name, and pause to use the special signal. Compliment the child frequently for using the tools. “Catch them being good.” Do a ‘shake your sillies’ out activity after a challenging one, to help with reset. Use Mountain Breathing. Use Resting in the lesson, but expect to keep it shorter, as that child may wiggle. Adjust that child towards the beginning of resting, then remind them to respect the group by being quiet and still for a few more moments so that you can give other children an adjustment.
Good prompts during Resting:
“Do two things that begin with R: rest and relax.”
“Remember the two S’s: stillness and silence.”
“Remember the three Ps: be patient, peaceful and polite.”
Doesn’t like touch – Ask “may I touch you?” Smile at the child and say something nice…..allow them to come to YOU.
Space invaders – Establish a class rule. “You may stand next to me, but not ON me.” “When you push me I feel hurt because that’s not respecting my body.”
If you must stop a child and sit him/her out, preface that with: “If you can not keep your hands and feet to yourself, I invite you to watch this next activity.” Return to the child after they’ve had time to watch the activity with: “Did you see how the children used their hands and feet? …….. You may come back in to the group and use your hands and feet appropriately …… Good job! Etc.”
Bright but ADHD – Brisk pace. Compliment good choices. Don’t be afraid to stop the activity to ask how they can do something better behaviorally. Have them define the problem “Oops, we have a problem! What is it? Talking? Running? Right! What can we do better? Not run? Good idea! Let’s do it again.”
Use the body shapes for learning frequently (sit ready position, etc.), even during an activity as a reset.
Autism Spectrum – Transitions are hard for these children. Let them in on the lesson flow so they know what’s coming next. Make a private plan with this child. Ex: Agree on ‘reset’ cues: a shoulder squeeze or subtle visual signal that indicates ‘time to watch and listen.’ Be aware that touch, loud sounds and bright light may be an irritant. Be patient, kind and flexible.
For more good ideas….. see work by Eve Kodiak who had developed movement exercises that help children with mind-body integration.
I suggest “Rappin’ on the Reflexes” from her work – a CD/book combination. Read more about it on her website and order the material.