The most rewarding arts integration projects, as you all know, balance arts learning with other study. But how can you honor each alone and together? I believe it’s a matter of celebrating the common threads of art and content in other subjects through meaningful experience and interaction.
When I first choreographed and before I ever worked in education, I looked for connections between dance and other forms because my interests are broad. I asked myself what the equivalent would be in my genre, and played with translating one medium to another.
Initially when working in schools, I chose as my point of departure the action, expression, shape, and motion inherent in any subject matter. Then, since time is a key element of my art, I would look for ways to organize and sequence the ideas to reflect the content. Science is a natural fit with dance because they both involve processes over time. Dance links to social studies because they share emotion, expression, story, and culture. Dance connects to language because of eloquence; that which is done can be named and remembered. Pattern, design, structure, and organization are big ideas where dance and math intersect.
The choreographic projects that evolved out of this process were creative and exciting, but the point of departure was too general. I needed a more refined organizational system than the action, expression, shape, and motion model if students and teachers were to be able to learn and remember the dance concepts.
After studying a concept-based technique with Anne Green Gilbert in Seattle, I changed from teaching dance activities as a means of understanding other content areas to presenting the dance concept first and then teaching the companion subject through the dance concept. This change has allowed me to honor both areas in a balanced way and be able to backtrack with the students to the conceptual threads of each.
Now when I research other content to teach through dance, I look for the simplest, clearest, and most direct conceptual path between my art and content comprehension. If I can distill it, I can translate it clearly and efficiently for the children. If they are clear, they can remember. The art and the content in other subjects are in flow, each keeping its own integrity while supporting the other. Throughout the entire process I am vigilant about interaction so that social and emotional intelligence gets a workout too.
It’s my ABCs of learning:
A – Arts Content
B – Behavior Skill
C – Curricular Content
Now when I teach an integrated lesson, I make sure I am covering all three of my ABCs. As a result, students come away from the experience having related to one another, learned an important arts-based concept, and learned content from another curricular area.
I like to reinforce the learning with reflective journal writing based on prompts that guide thinking, drawing, and analysis. While writing, students extend themselves outside their comfort zone to try to express what they experienced in the movement lesson. They reach for new vocabulary, which is very exciting to see. This further integration makes the lesson holistic; three areas are touched: arts, literacy, and other curricular content.
Front-loading means, “to concentrate maximum effort on (an activity) at the outset.” (Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Copyright © 1997, by Random House, Inc.)
Front-loading reveals the activity road map, helping children confidently assume ownership of their movement experience. It clears up misunderstandings and helps minimize the need to backtrack.
Front-load to clarify movements, interactions, and transitions within an activity.
Select the fewest, best points.
Then, layer on additional details as children move and dance.
Front-load musically. When a song and dance go together, I often sing the melody with my own instructing words. This helps children experience the structure of the activity and anticipate the transitions before they even hear the music.
I’ve been thinking about front-loading a great deal lately, because it is so key to success. It doesn’t have to be boring. It can be fun and engaging to the students as you deliver the content with enthusiasm as well as clarity. When done succinctly, you can get on to the activity quickly and smoothly.
I’ve also been thinking about our verbal “um”s that don’t deliver content, such as “Now we’re gonna” and “Okay, so now” and the ubiquitous “Okay?” How to get minimize those?
First, monitor yourself. Notice your habits.
Next, take a breath and allow for silence in those spaces. It’s alright.
Frame the experience to begin. You can say “This activity is called….”
You don’t need the extras: “Okay so now we’re gonna do an activity called…..”
Reveal the big picture: sequence, common sticking points, including social interaction (changing partners, holding hands, hooking elbows). Demonstrate the right way with a student helper and point out why it is the preferred choice. Stop the activity when students do it the “wrong” way and have them model for the group. They’ll self correct under scrutiny!
Use visual supports. Lately I’m aware of Universal Design for Learning and the use of sequential picture language for students who learn better visually. I recently taught a simple circle dance with visual supports for 4 – 5 year olds: brown arrows to show “go in,” green up and down arrows to show “jump in place,” orange arrows to show “go around, ” and blue arrows to show “go out.” Anything that repeated, of course, was identical. Children could easily see and remember the sequence, and we could talk about it during reflection based on color and directional arrows.
What are your front-loading tips?