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Teachers: Want to shape your students’ motivation?

Here’s one for all you dance teachers out there!

Dance teachers love teaching motivated students.

You know the ones:

They come up to you after class for tips on how to improve this or that step and then practice it at the end of every class for the rest of the week to see their improvement. In performance psychology terms, these students are known as being “task-oriented”. They are motivated by the challenge of learning and mastering new steps and skills… and they are a pleasure to teach.

On the other hand, have you ever had a student who is very talented, but hardly tries?! They only work hard when your eye is on them, or when the director is looking through the window. They pull out their best for competitions, but you know they have the potential to be a much better dancer if they put consistent effort in.

Students like this are driven by an “ego-orientation”, focused on being the best and out-performing others. Because they are motivated by comparing themselves with others, they can also fall in a hole if they don’t think they match up against the competition. They won’t want to try or practice much to avoid failing.

It can be hard as a teacher to know how to harness the potential of such a student. What they need is help in developing some internal motivation of their own.

The best way to help ego-oriented students (in fact, all of your students!) is to create a class environment that is task-oriented.

This will not only help your ego-oriented students to develop intrinsic motivation to buffer them in competitive situations (and give them a reason to work hard without competition!), it will also give all your students more satisfaction and enjoyment from their dancing.

So how do you create a task-oriented vibe in your dance class?

  • Give praise for the effort that students put in, rather than their inherent ability
  • Get students involved in setting their own goals and checking their improvement over time (remember to keep following up on them!)
  • Encourage the class to cheer each other on in reaching their own goals, rather than competing against one another
  • Mix it up – try new combinations of steps and give ability-appropriate challenges to help keep students eager to learn more
  • Avoid punishing students for making mistakes
  • Give every student attention, not only the super-talented ones  (this helps keep the talented ones task-focused as much as it helps the others being corrected!)

It can also help to become aware of your own goal-orientation and notice how it affects your teaching style. What sort of feedback do you tend toward? How can you share from your own experiences to help motivate your students?

By the way- it is possible to be both task and ego oriented – in fact most high achieving dancers are strong in both!

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

 Photo credit: KCBalletMedia

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