Create a class for students with special needs in your area. Below is our basic class structure and outline for you to customize. For more specific information and access to lesson plans, please contact us.
- Focus exercise in circle
- Warm-up in circle
- Barre training
- Across the floor
- Center skills
- Freeze or dance party
- Giving Instructions
- Correcting Student Behavior
Focus Exercise in a Circle:
Begin the class by asking the students a questions and reciting of the class rules. Students may not answer with an appropriate response the first several times. Be patient and continue to push the student for an appropriate and/or response. Guiding students with a suggested answer is a good idea for those students needing more assistance. With each class, students will become slightly more proficient at remembering the rules. Consistent review of the rules at the start of each class provides a way for students to bypass the challenge of short term memory retention. Therefore they will still be able to retain and recall the thought, essentially making the rules a new habit. Rules and sentences should be direct and consistent.
Beginner levels should begin in a circle because there are less distractions. Once your students no longer have a problem keeping their focus in a circle, begin to have them face a blank wall and turn towards your students. After the students can hold focus facing a blank wall, transition them to facing the mirror. The mirror may cause some distraction but remind students to stay focused and on task. Continually challenge them by introducing new elements that may pull their focus. This skill will be very useful for them during a performance, especially in a non-traditional venue.
Warm-up begins with rhythmic exercises to train the ear to hear the beat and quicken transition time of the students. Some examples of rhythmic exercises are: 8 marches and 8 claps, 4 marches and 4 claps. These students have difficulty with timing because they must integrate information on speed and distance. Repetitive rhythmic exercise allows the students to practice this type of integration that will also carry over to their sense of timing with other dance steps.
Progress to basic jazz moves including ball change, grapevine, kicks, and jumps. Start with a half tempo rhythm and then quicken the pace. Remember that students must master the skill first before they can focus on the timing of the skill. Basic ballet exercises (relevés, pliés, tendus, passés) develop strength in the legs and improve overall balance. These exercises can be tailored to the level of the class by extending/shortening the balance time and extending/shortening the time for weight change.
After the ballet section is complete, transition to floor work. While sitting on the floor, focus mostly on strengthening exercises and less on flexibility exercises. Any flexibility exercises that are done should first involve sitting up and maintaining a position. People with Down syndrome generally have increased flexibility due to their low muscle tone and do not need to hold stretches to increase it. Sitting up on the floor and maintaining different body shapes requires core strength. This translates into improved alignment for dancing and overall better posture while sitting or standing. Great movements to strengthen the core are: lank (top of a push-up position), leg lowers (laying on back lowering one leg towards the floor and then bring it back up to the ceiling), and superman (lay on stomach and lift both arms and legs off the ground). Remember to avoid any movements that put their neck into a compromised or strained position.
Barre training works on basic balance skills at the barre to build strength in the legs. Students face the barre and perform relevés (1 or 2 feet), assemblés (parallel passé land with 2 feet together), and hops. Hops can progress into skips forward and/or backwards with 1 hand on the barre when students are ready. Gallops to the side can be taught initially facing the barre, ask the students to step with feet apart, slide the second foot towards the other foot, and then jump together with two feet. The movement can then progress to landing two feet separately and eventually become continuing side gallops.
Across the Floor: Continue the progression of skills from barre training to across the floor movements (i.e. skips, hops, leaps). Teach dancers to go across and line up behind the leaders. Be sure to remind them each time they finish going across the floor to line up again. To increase the challenge of the skill, add one of the following:
- Focus on performing the skill at the correct timing (i.e. skips on the beat).
- Coordinating with a partner (i.e. gallop or skip holding a partner’s hand).
- Add an agility ladder, leap pads, or hurdles to work on the accuracy of their jumps or hops.
- Perform the skill in a different spatial pattern (i.e. gallops in a circle or walk around a partner).
The above suggestions are merely a starting place for your lesson plans. Add only one new challenge each time and only after completion of the prior skill, to ensure success for the students. For example, if students were able to skip holding hands with a partner, you could then ask them to repeat the same thing in a circle formation. Be careful not to move forward too quickly as students may start to display challenging behaviors. Students are most motivated by skills that are just slightly more difficult than their current level of competence. Intersperse challenging skills with easier skills in order to keep students motivated and avoid disruptive behaviors.
Practice basic jazz skills such as kick ball change, pivot turn, jazz square, chassé ball change (lindy step), or pirouettes (for advanced students). Students’ attention span shortens when they are tired so limit the time spent in this section. Practice new skills and rehearse recital dances before the across the floor section. The dancers can get physically tired in the across the floor section, making it even more difficult to retain new information or perform skills accurately. I generally do not build in rest periods for the students because they have small breaks as they wait for other students to go across the floor. It is the goal of my class to push my students and tire them out physically so I expect that they will start to lose focus towards the end of class.
Freeze Dance/Dance Party:
Finish the class with improvisation–everyone loves to move! In general, I use free dance as a time for the students to let loose and make a choice on how they want to move. Guided improvisations that use a lot of imagery are generally ineffective for beginner and intermediate students. It requires multiple cognitive processes and a lot of problem solving skills to participate in guided improvisation. Action words (flick, slash, press, punch) could be used to direct the movement further if the instructor prefers. Typically, I let the students enjoy the music and move as they choose for a short period of time (two minutes maximum). Free dance that is unstructured and lasts for a longer period of time does not hold the attention of these students.
When you need to practice recital dances or performances, I suggest putting this before across the floor. The dancers can get too tired as the class progresses and that makes it even more difficult to retain new information. If learning multiple dances, make sure the opening is different. Give each dance a name so the dancers can identify which dance they are doing. It is recommended to start with one dance at a time. For more advanced groups, you can add a second dance but make sure it is a totally different style or theme from the first dance. After accomplishing this goal, other dances can be incrementally added. The students will need to practice on the stage or in the performance space before the time of the show. Also make sure the students have ample time to get ready and prepare backstage before coming on.
Giving Instructions on Movements to Students:
Students with Down syndrome have various levels of functioning so it is necessary to meet the student he or she is. Explanations should follow this structure: Show the skill, verbally explain the skill, show the skill again. Students learn best visually so only explaining the movement is very difficult for them to process. Many students do not like to be touched in the classroom so it is important to ask their permission before proceeding.
Imagery is a higher processing concept and sometimes confuses the students. It should be reserved for more advanced students. Students with Down syndrome are very literal so ideas of imagery must be presented as pretend and not as fact. For example, if you tell them that their plié should be smooth like water, this will not make sense. Imagery that involves animal movements such as, flamingo passé, work well with these students because they can picture the animal and corresponding movement. Since they are visual learners, an actual photograph or visual representation of the animal is even more effective.
- When lining up students, give them a number (“You are 1. You are 2.”) instead of using the words “behind” or “in front of.” If you want to teach the students what behind and in front of means, I recommend using it in combination with the numbers.
- Remove other distractions when you are communicating directions. If there are other things to pay attention to, their focus will be draw to that. Such as turning off/pausing the music.
- Communicate corrections in terms of stories and give a visual example.
- Give students who lose focus something to hold (stress ball, etc.) in order to hold their focus for longer periods of time.
- Communicate the rules at the start of each class and be sure to stay consistent with them.
- Know that students with Down syndrome learn inconsistently–what they can do wonderful today, they may not be able to do tomorrow. With consistent lesson plans and learning, they can embody the movements and perform them consistently.
Correcting Student Behavior:
Students with Down syndrome can be easily distracted and may act out for attention. When students feel overwhelmed by a skill, they may exhibit challenging behavior to escape the demands of the classroom. This can include refusing to attempt the skills, discussing anything except the skill, or aggression towards classmates. Students with Down Syndrome seek attention regardless of whether it is positive or negative. Instructors may accidentally reinforce these inappropriate behaviors by allowing students to grab their attention and avoid the classroom demands. Attention towards the student should only be used to reinforce positive behaviors. Keep your focus on the students doing the exercises correctly and try to ignore those who have lost focus. Having 1 or 2 assistants in class, can encourage those students who lose focus to get back on track. If the teacher focuses on those who lost focus, the class will soon have all lost focus and not make any progress.
I implement my “Club of Awesome.” Only students who follow my 5 rules can be in my club. The club is fluid so members drop out and come back to my club throughout class. I tell the class I am happy when everyone is part of my club. The club works particularly well for the 8-12 year old group as behavior can decline for this age group.
If a student hits another student or teacher, they are required to leave class for a short period of time for a time-out. Time-out in the classroom does not work as the students are happy to have a chance to sit down and are still visually stimulated by watching. I also use time-out if the student is unfocused and we cannot get them to participate again in class. Usually the short break and a time to talk with parents gives students a chance to do what they need to, then re-enter the classroom, and be successful.
Remember that your goal of the program is to help each student progress at their own level. No two students are alike so a classroom will usually present a lot of challenges for the teacher. Make sure you remain calm and the parents understand that your disciplinary actions are not punitive, but instead they are necessary for that student to be successful.