Mirror or not?

I was thinking about when to use the mirror and when to pull the curtain when teaching.  For my 4/5 and 6/7 classes, I don’t use the mirror at all.
We want to encourage a healthy self-image, sensory experience, and awareness of others.
We want students to have 360 degree awareness, not a “flat front” awareness.
When my co-teachers work with the 8-10s, they leave the curtain open.
As the children choreograph, they check their shapes in the mirror.  When they go across the floor, they occasionally check their line.

When to say ‘yes’ to the mirror, and when to leave it out?  What are your thoughts on that?

November 22, 2011. Studio Teaching. 1 comment.

Informance versus Recital

With our Fall semester closure coming up on Saturday, we’ve been talking about the difference between an informance and a recital (based on Anne Green Gilbert’s description in her book Creative Dance for All Ages (pp. 53 -55).  Here’s what my college students observed:

Why choose an informance over a recital?

1) An informance allows all the students to always be participating and to learn and watch each other. It is also a way to share information and all that the children have learned throughout the semester to the parents and guests attending. It is a chance to educate the community about the program and the benefits of creative dance. At a recital there is a lot of down time and emphasis on the performance instead of constant engagement and learning together.

2) In an informance we are able to explain concepts and interact with parents. They are able to see and experience the learning process as it occurs in the classroom versus just watching as in a recital. It is at this time that we are also able to explain the value of and benefits of creative dance.

3) An informance allows for the children to show and tell and their family can take part in the activities as well. A recital is all show and it is easy for the children to get nervous and shy. So the informance adds more value to the performance and everyone can experience what each other has learned.

4) An informance is much less pressure on the kids, allowing them to show what they’ve learned in a supportive and welcoming atmosphere. Informances are also more productive than recitals for the kids because the learning involved for a recital is very static (kids perfect the teacher’s choreography for many weeks), whereas when preparing for an informance, kids explore all dance concepts, practice movement combinations, collaborate with others, and create dances themselves. This is a much more enriching process.

5) With a recital you’re pushed to spend your class time “rehearsing” to prepare for it. Where as in an informance you’re still having the students explore even as they’re showing off to the audience. This way you’re sharing your progress and development with the viewer, instead of having them dress up and show off something that was laid out for them.

6)  I love the duality of an informance: informational and informal. What a great way to capture two aspects of this class and it’s purpose! Choosing an informance makes sense because it’s really showcasing the active involvement of the creative process. It isn’t just performing, it’s allowing for understanding and processing of why the dancers are doing what they are doing, and why the teachers are assigning the ‘assignments’ they assign. It allows for an opportunity to explain the benefits of creative dance and provides an opportunity to educate not only your students, but the community as well.

November 17, 2011. Tags: , , , , . Kate Kuper on Teaching Creative Dance, Recitals. Leave a comment.

Reflection Questions and Closure

Looking back on a lesson Weight (Strong and Light) with students ages 4/5, 6/7 and 8-10 in the studio classes,  I asked my college students to respond to questions about how I and my co-teachers in the other room conducted reflection questions and closure.

How did they conduct reflection? Closure? What seemed most effective in each of these areas? Least?

1) In the 4-5’s class reflection was done in a circle and in the 8-10’s it was usually done wherever the kids were standing or sitting at the time. Closure for 4-5’s was done in the same way. We discussed favorites and went over the concept one last time. For 8-10’s we usually do not discuss favorites, but rather reflect more on our last activity. In reflection I think it is best to ask branching questions, especially in 4-5’s. In the 8-10’s they are more capable of comprehending the concept and can come up with ideas more so on their own. For closure it is important to make sure the concept was received well. It is least effective to let everyone re-discuss every activity, but more effective to briefly describe why it was their favorite activity.

2) I really liked Kate’s method of reflection in the 4/5s after the explore activity where we imagined being in all these different places. She asked each child a question that piggy backed off the one previous. For example, she asked the first kid where we went? Then the next kid, what did we do there? Then, was that strong or light weight? I thought this was a nice way to provide connections and a relationship between the children. Other times reflection was in a circle and asked broader questions that both had the kids think about the previous activity and allowed the teacher to check for clarity among the kids.

Kate says: When an activity lends itself to a method of “unpacking,” use that method next time you do that activity, and document that successful approach in your notes.   Sequential activities lend themselves to this. (It could also be a way to work with Developing Skills reflection about a phrase or combination).

3) Reflection was always done after an activity, in an organized manner. Usually, the kids were asked to sit ready position and then answer the questions that were posed. It seemed effective when the kids were asked to demonstrate something from the activity, such as when they had ‘active’ or ‘passive’ weight. Children described better when they were able to identify it with their bodies first.  With the 4/5s, the kids are asked to tell their favorite activities from class that day, which serves as a nice review, and I think the kids have become rather attached to that routine of expressing their favorite things.

4) I sometimes get anxious during reflection. When you have each child say something, you get a lot of dead air space and wasted time.  I’m not sure how to best go about reflecting at the end of class. I guess that’s the “closure”. Be autonomous? Ask everyone? Ask the hands raised the highest? Call on the kids not talking? I honestly don’t know what I think is most effective. I like “if you liked doing this…walk to the door” but that doesn’t provide discussion or reflection responses from the teacher. So I am open to suggestions on this one for sure!

Kate says: Maybe calling on different children different weeks, and letting them know ahead of time would give everyone a chance to be heard during the semester.  You can keep the class roster handy, or have children’s names on strips of paper and call from those.

5) Most often the students are kept sitting during the reflection and kids are called out to answer one at a time. I thought it was nice once when the students were allowed to turn to their neighbor and share their answers with them. I thought this was nice, because then everyone was able to share their thoughts and nobody was  put on the spot. I think a great extension to this (especially with older children) would be to have them then share with the rest of the group what their partner had to say. Closure recaps everything, reminding the kids of what they’d covered during class. I think it’s weird when we run out of time for closure, because I feel like the kids go home without having synthesized anything done in class.
Kate says: Good point.  My friend Karen says if you don’t do closure, you may as well not do the lesson at all.

November 14, 2011. Tags: , , . Reflection and Closure. Leave a comment.

Why does developing skills present a challenge?

In our lessons, the Developing Skills component is the time to practice specific skills that the teacher models for the children. This teacher-directed segment is about hard-wiring; getting the steps and doing them correctly.   It stands out as a time of concentration rather than creative freedom.

I got to thinking why creative dance succeeds with young children and certain older children where technique classes fail.  Imagine a class only based on developing skills, and you get some idea as to why ballet for children doesn’t always go over so well!

Sometimes it is hard for both teachers and students to change gears in a creative class to address skills.  So what’s the solution?

For across-the-floor activities:

1) Layer. Build from simple to complex to promote success.  Chasse or side slide, then layer on arms.  Layer on changes of direction and focus.  If the chunks are appropriately bite-sized, more students are willing to reach up to their “zone of proximal development.”

2) Chain. Take the smaller pieces and string them together into interesting longer phrases.  I know this is obvious, but worth mentioning.  I like to add a special surprise or twist to some part of the material for interest and to complete the idea.

3) Think musically.  Teaching breath and phrasing brings the movement to life and helps students see the arc of the phrase.  Use vocables and other vocal strategies to convey the phrasing.

4) Choose music that excites and energizes. For big energy movements, I look for dynamic music to get students psyched.  I’m “old school.”  I like Earth, Wind and Fire,  for example.  I also like world beat.  My feeling is that I want to use music my students don’t usually hear so that they can get a jolt of “cultural literacy” too.

5) “Zipper” in creative choice. Alternate between the skill and a creative moment, such as “4 counts of your own thing” or “freeze in a shape.”   Perhaps it relates to a concept of the day.

6) Give meaningful feedback. A well-timed insight helps students grow.

7) Include relating. Have the phrases “comb” through one another, or have two sides meet in the middle for part of the phrase. Work in partners to side slide.

What are some solutions you have for making skill-building engaging for your students?

November 3, 2011. Tags: , , . Developing Skills. 2 comments.