Do You Survey Your Students at the Start?

“Effective questioning brings insight, which fuels curiosity, which cultivates wisdom.” – Chip Bell on Socratic teaching

Do you survey your students? Yes or NoI always take some time at the beginning of a new year or new session to discuss my expectations and procedures for a class of dance students. That bit of talk is essential to a smooth start and a good time for all.

Equally essential is finding a way to get my students to open up about their own expectations, goals, and interests regarding the class.  Socrates believed that asking the right questions leads to truth and that listening and watching carefully to the meaning behind the answers is much more important than talking.

The right questions are usually open-ended.

These require the students to elaborate, rather than give a yes or no.

Many times I ask my questions informally but on occasion for my college and teen classes, I have them write down answers to hand in or to place in their journal.

I usually ask them:

  • Why are you taking dance (or this class)?
  • What are your goals for this year (or semester)?
  • Who are your favorite musicians (or what is your favorite type of music)?
  • In what other hobbies or activities are you involved?

These questions typically give me helpful information about my students. I use their answers to adapt my instruction or methods to better suit and motivate them.

However, I’ve been thinking about other possible questions that might prove interesting and informative. Here are a few that I’ve come up with:

  • How does dancing make you feel?
  • Where or how do you see yourself using what you learn in this class 5 years from now (or 10 or 20)?
  • Which dancer(s) do you most like to watch and why?
  • When are the times during dance classes (or other classes) that you typically notice your attention wandering to other things? How do you bring yourself back? (Or, what is usually the most boring part of your dance classes and why?)
  • What is one dance-related thing that you’d love to be able to do right now?
  • How do you usually react when you have to wait for something that you really, really want?

Most of these questions could work for almost any age-group if rephrased appropriately.

Written vs. Verbal

Sometimes I get more candid answers in a discussion during which everyone is ‘pooling’ their reasons. I’ve written verbal answers on a white board, for example, and taken a snapshot of it so that I can refer to it later.

The drawback to group discussion is that I may not always hear from the quieter or more inhibited class members.

Asking students to submit their answers in written form means I hear from each of them equally.

However, written answers in a survey can feel a little like a test for some students – the answers may be a bit stilted or seem like the students are telling you what they think you want to hear.

For this reason, assigning or even taking a few moments during class to have students pen a journal entry, has sometimes proven effective. This assignment can be presented as something ‘for them’ (and less of a survey ‘for me’), however students might be asked to share something of what they wrote with the group.

In my class of college students this semester, I’ve asked them to turn in a journal-style essay addressing some of the questions above and stressed that, while I expect it to be well-written, that the content can be personal or individual, even conversational.

Typically what I know about the students’ level of familiarity or comfort with one another has given me a hint about which way to go with my “survey”. But what works best for one teacher or class may not work best for another.

What about you?
If you survey your students, what has worked best for you?
What are some other questions a teacher might ask?
Nichelle (owner/editor)
Nichelle Suzanne is a writer specializing in dance and online content. She is also a dance instructor with over 20 years experience teaching in dance studios, community programs, and colleges. She began Dance Advantage in 2008, equipped with a passion for movement education and an intuitive sense that a blog could bring dancers together. As a Houston-based dance writer, Nichelle covers dance performance for Dance Source Houston, Arts+Culture Texas, and other publications. She is a leader in social media within the dance community and has presented on blogging for dance organizations, including Dance/USA. Nichelle provides web consulting and writing services for dancers, dance schools and studios, and those beyond the dance world.
Nichelle (owner/editor)
Nichelle (owner/editor)
Nichelle (owner/editor)
Nichelle (owner/editor)

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  1. This is a really interesting idea. As a classroom (middle school) teacher I do this at the beginning of every year, but I’ve never thought to try this with my dancers.

  2. From the introverted students perspective, instructors always get more from me in written form. There is too much pressure in a conversation pool. These ideas are great to reach your students and would be awesome if the different methods were somehow combined. Every personality type would then be reached.

    Kristina at Inertiatic

  3. I’m going to try this with my teens. Thanks for the idea and generously sharing your questions!

  4. Great reminder. I’ve done this in the past but not recently. Thank you for bringing the idea back into the forefront.

  5. Thanks, everyone! I’m happy to share and glad this helped you.

    Kristina, I’m right there with you. I would be less likely to join in a conversation pool…

    I like the idea of combining the methods. There are multiple ways of doing that: Pose certain questions during discussion and give others for a written assignment. Or perhaps offer the dancer’s choice. Or have them all write their answers, then have a discussion to share answers if they want, and then collect the written version. Or….?

  6. Paul Muiruri says:

    Hey Nichelle?thanks a bunch for sharing this important information,i appreciate your posts on your blog because i learn a lot, here in Kenya we don’t have bloggers who share on dance as a subject.Thanks again!

  7. In the past, I kept “dialogue journals” with my advanced class. I would give them a prompt, such as “Why do you dance?”, “What makes you a dancer?”, “What is the role of dance in your everyday life?” etc. and have them freewrite for a set amount of time. I would collect the journals and respond to each individually. When we would begin a new project, I would tailor my prompt to whatever it was we were going to be working on. For example, I had them create solos about a moment or a person that had a profound impact on them. Prior to beginning the choreography, I asked them to write about it. As the year progressed my students became more and more comfortable opening up to me not only in the journals but through their movement as well. I frequently had kids that would write in the journals beyond what they were required to do and drop it off for me to respond to. I no longer teach the same age or ability level, but this article has inspired me to try to get back to that on a smaller scale with my current middle school students. Although it takes a lot of time, the connections and the growth I witnessed were definitely worth it!

  8. That is a nice one – I think not only for college students but also for younger dancers. They sometimes come to class with so many expectations and it would be great to find out about those. Also, “get to know the person before the dancer” as another article said, this is a great way to do so! In a children class, have you ever considered having them write down those things and make a poster with it? I like the idea, but I have never tried it. Might not be the most honest answers when they know the poster will be “public”, but it could build team spirit as well, I think.