A big question on everyone’s mind as we wrap up the school year is, “What class will my child be in next year? How do I know when it’s time for her to move up a level?”
I want to be clear that for these purposes, I am talking about BALLET classes only. Our tumbling, tap, and contemporary programs are just getting started, so for them, it’s less about levels and more about grouping together students with similar abilities.
Our ballet program has been going for over 20 years now, so we have lots of students at every level. It’s really important for a student to work at the best level for her abilities, strength, age, and experience. For the younger students, it mainly comes down to age, though sometimes I make a special call for a particular student. Sometimes I will move a particularly strong student up to a level even if they’re not quite the minimum age yet. Sometimes I will keep a student in a level if she needs more time to work on her focus in the shorter class. But generally, I look at birthdays, and if your child is going to be the minimum age by October of the new school year, that shows me which class is right for them. I am breaking down my littles classes even more this year, so it will look more like this:
Mommy and Me: Ages 2-3, with adult helper
Pre-Ballet 1: Ages 2-3
Pre-Ballet 2: Ages 3-4 (with previous experience)
Primary 1: Ages 5-6
Primary 2: Ages 6-7 (with previous experience)
Beginning 1: By placement, 7+. New Students 8+.
Starting in Beginning 2, I use skill cards. Skill cards help me to keep track of what I’ve taught in a class, and how far along the students are in learning and being confident in these skills.
You can see on the left side of the skill card is a list of actual steps for Barre work, center, and allegro (jumps). These are different for each level. On the right side of the skill card is a list of the different facets that make up a whole dancer. I believe it’s important to balance the mind, body, and spirit in dance. Each student has their own strengths, but the weaker spots shouldn’t be ignored. These are mostly the SAME for each level, however, the level of expectation goes up with each level. Mainly I look at: can they maintain these skills for the duration of their class, doing the steps and choreography they are given in their class?
You will also see that on the left side of the skill card, the skills are marked off with 1-3 +’s. If the line is blank, it means the student has not yet been introduced to that skill. A single + means the skill has been introduced, but the student is not yet proficient. A ++ means the student grasps the basic concept and is working on strengthening the skill. A +++ means the student performs it consistently and with proper technique. Each + is worth one point.
The right side of the list is marked with a simple check. Either the student performs these satisfactorily for the level, or…not. :)
In order to pass the level, the student must have at least a ++ on every skill AND the minimum number of points (means about half of the skills have +++), and everything on the right side of the card must be checked off.
The majority of students will move up at the end of the school year, but if a student improves quickly and passes in the winter, I will go ahead and promote them to the next level, as long as we haven’t gotten too deep into recital work yet. This ensures that I don’t move students up too soon, and that students don’t get discouraged thinking they have to wait another entire year.
There are many reasons why I use skill cards.
It gives the student awareness of where they are in the level. I’ve noticed they have a lot more peace about it if they know, whether that means they know they are pretty far away from passing, or whether they know they are close to passing. I used to get kids asking me all the time, “How many more months until I can move up?” or “What do I need to work on most?” This way, it’s all right there on the card.
It gives the students specific things to practice. I have noticed a HUGE increase in students practicing at home since I implemented these. They look at their cards, they realize they need to practice their turns, and so they do!
It helps me stay on task. Because I teach all of the different levels, sometimes I have a hard time keeping track of where I am with a class. Have I introduced tour jete yet? If so, have we done it once or twice? Um, so how did it go? Because I am tracking the skills in my own notebook, I can see at a glance what has or hasn’t ben introduced, and what most of the students need more practice with. Anything that helps me be able to plan a class on the spot is super helpful.
Students are FAR more ready for their new levels when they get there, because I know I didn’t miss anything. In ballet, we are always building on the skills we learn, and this doesn’t work if some of the building blocks are missing!
One really important thing to remember is that these are not grades. Students will spend anywhere from 1-3 or even 4 years in the same level. And it will vary. They might be in the same level for 3 years before moving up, and then move out of the new level in a year. It all depends on where the students are developmentally and in their growth as dancers. No one is ever “held back”. There will always be a group of students moving up and a group of students staying put. Each student is working exactly where they should be.