Teaching Artist Spotlight: Ms. Patricia

Creative Classroom Engagement

Ms. Patricia at Le Gore

At Conga Kids, we believe that an exceptional education starts with exceptional teachers. That’s why we’re so proud to introduce you to our stellar Teaching Artist staff! Throughout the year, we’ll be featuring them on our blog in what we’re calling the “Teaching Artist Spotlight.”

First up? Ms. Patricia, and her Creative Classroom Management techniques.

Ms. Patricia

Patricia was born in Arkansas and raised in San Diego, CA.  She began training in music at an early age, playing violin and viola, and studying musical theatre - quickly receiving awards and recognition for her talent as a dancer and actor. She trained with Dance Theatre of Harlem, which helped launch her career in the entertainment world with several different tours and performance contracts. The rigor of long rehearsal days and daily performances inspired her to become certified in fitness and nutrition, and her passion for the arts brought her to the world of youth arts education. In her second semester as a Conga Kids Teaching Artist, she constantly strives to share her love of dance, music, and health with the young people of Los Angeles.

How many Conga Kids classes are you teaching this semester?

I have 13 classes across four schools: Stoner Ave., Le Gore, Gidley School, and Thurgood Marshall Elementary.

What is it that initially drew you to the organization?

I was already teaching dance -- mostly ballet, so very very rigorous, structured dance.

I had taken some ballroom before, and I saw the opportunity and kinda jumped at the chance to loosen up a bit and learn a little more. You know, I always want to find different areas and different genres to spread my knowledge... I always think it’s a good idea to expand your horizon, even if you’re dedicated to one subject. So I just wanted to open it up and see what could happen!

You mentioned ballet -- could you tell us a little more about your dance background?

I was classically trained as a dancer. I still train today in ballet (which I’ve been dancing now for over 22 years). I’ve trained in New York, in Spain, in Germany, and in just about every major city in the United States. I’ve worked with several different companies and different ventures: commercials, small dance companies, larger dance companies, different things. I diverted from ballet a bit in 2011, and decided to do a little more commercial dance in Vegas, and that was fun. Just trying to get a little more variety.

There’s a lot of incredible stuff you do in your classes that is not part of the standard Conga Kids curriculum. Could you talk a bit about your creative classroom management practices?

Sure! There are three main components. The first are the rhythm sticks.

Rhythm Sticks at Stoner Ave

I like to use the rhythm sticks, because they allow you to slow down the rhythm with the kids. Especially having this many classes, there are going to be several children who have learning differences. If you just put on the music, you’re almost ignoring or brushing past the fact that they might not catch up. So I just want to give them the opportunity to learn the rhythm correctly, at whatever speed they need to go at, and then we can speed it up. And then if you’re playing with the rhythm sticks during the music, it’s also like a kind of muscle memory. “Oh, I have to keep up to the rhythm, because I know it’s going to be ‘Quick, Quick, Slow’ or something.” So, they’re a little more comfortable moving forward.

The next component is the tape on the floor.

Floor Tape at Stoner Ave

I have the pieces of electrical tape that kids are spread out on. That way, I don’t have to say “Alright, I need everybody to spread out” and then wait for them to do that, I can just say “Everyone get on a piece of electrical tape that somebody else isn’t on.” So it helps them get set up faster, but it allows helps us to work out the individual steps.

I like to do it in just about every dance, because it allows the students to clean up their footwork by themselves. You can start to see the students who are really trying, but sometimes, you know, they may get a partner or two in a row that isn’t helping them out the most. So at least this gives them an opportunity to work out the footwork individually, and then go back to partner dancing.

The final component is the Five-Star Program.

Five Star Program

Every class starts the semester with five stars, which they lose or gain based on in-class behavior. So with this class in particular, they have until October 30th to keep five stars, and if they do, then I bring them a little **school-approved** treat. If they lose a star, it’s incredibly difficult to gain one back -- they have to all be working together, correctly. Synergy.

I put the stars on the board with velcro on purpose, because I want them to hear the sound [she rips one off the board] of a star being ripped off. And it works! This class in particular, I think they were at three or four at one point, and I ripped it, and you could just see their faces drop -- they knew it meant serious business. I tell them, “only Five-Star classes get a treat. Four-Star classes get a ‘better-luck-next time.’”

Of course you want to make sure that they get there; you’re not trying to bully them into being a perfect class. You really wanna just encourage Five-Star behavior.

Where did you come up with these techniques?

I took the [Music Center] Symposium over the summer. There was one teaching artist in particular who used a drum, and she used it to get the kids to walk around and acknowledge each other. I felt safe, being in a room with people I didn’t know, and I was like “Wow”, this will probably help students get used to moving around and listening to instruction. So you train them to listen to instruction first, and then you can kinda get them to do whatever you want, you know? [She laughs.]

The Five-Star program was an idea I had based on a book I read, Nudge, by this economist named Richard Thayer.

There’s a chapter in there where they talk about how the feeling of loss is more powerful than the feeling of gain. I started trying to figure out a way to utilize that psychology in the classroom, and that’s where I came up with the five stars. So if I could give the students something when they started my class -- this is already theirs, the prize is already theirs, they’re getting it -- then they lose it because of bad behavior, it would be a more effective incentive. And from what I’ve seen so far, it’s been very effective. I’ve done it in six classes so far, and it’s worked with all of them.

Any last thoughts?

My students are wonderful. I’ve learned so much this semester. I even have some fourth-graders mixed into some of my classes. What I’m learning more and more is that there’s nothing they can’t do.

You have to raise them up and say “You can do this. I know you can do this. I can see it for you; can you see it for yourself?” You want to push them towards their goal.

Inspired by Ms. Patricia? CLICK HERE to apply for a Teaching Artist position with Conga Kids!

Zach Davidson