What a great group of teachers I met in Winston-Salem, NC last week! Because we had a small group, I tried something new. At lunch, I’d shared that I was unable to dance at a 50th birthday party recently because I didn’t know the steps. My new friend, Joann, said it was probably the Electric Slide and said she’d show me. I asked if she’d teach it to our whole class during the afternoon break. Movement helps cement learning.
We found Electric Slide music via YouTube and Joann invited all who knew the dance to help her demonstrate for the rest of the class (kind of like a read-aloud). Many of us were reluctant to learn this new dance, so I insisted that they move close to the teacher so they could watch the model (just like having our students sit near us on the floor during read aloud).
Next, I asked Joann to explain the steps (using explicit language, like in a think-aloud). She told me she couldn’t explain it; she’d just dance and we could watch and do it, too. (This sometimes happens when we’re teaching in whole group. It’s hard to break down and explain explicitly how to do something.) The students who already know how to do that skill don’t mind. But those of us who couldn’t dance really needed the verbal explanation along with the demo.
Gingerly, I broke down the steps as I understood them. “Do a grapevine to the right. Watch my feet. Step right, left,
right, left.” We practiced a few times. Then I added a clap. The advanced folks were saying, “Tap and clap.” The strugglers were saying, “What do you mean, tap and clap?” I explained, “Just step with your foot and clap at the same time.” Ohhhh. We proceeded in this way with the rest of the dance steps.
Finally, we were ready to add the music. We readied ourselves, 1, 2, 3. What fun we had stepping together, while I called out the directions to the beat. Before you knew it, we were all giving it a try (just like shared reading where we all do it together with support).
At the end of the dance, we returned to our seats smiling, and I asked Joann if she could assess how the class did while we worked together. “Absolutely!” she said. “In fact, there were some people who need extra practice with pivots, like you, Deb. (Sounds like a need for small group to me.) “Some folks need to practice dips, and others need to work on their grapevines. And one group is ready to move on to the more advanced dance, the Cha Cha Slide.” (Sounds like we now have four differentiated small groups.) We talked about the need to have small group instruction with students who have similar needs so we wouldn’t frustrate kids who already have these skills.
One last lesson… if I were in a small group for pivots, we’d certainly practice pivots first in isolation. But then we’d put the pivots into the Electric Slide dance. If not, I’d never learn how to do the dance. I’d just know how to pivot (just like teaching skills in isolation in small group without direct application to trying to use that skill while reading). Fond memories and lessons learned in NC.