This is the 5th post in my “Thoughts on Teaching” Series.
I just completed a two-week residency with a group of 4th graders at a public elementary school in my town. This was a large (28) and diverse group. There were a lot of concentration problems. Some were ‘too cool for school’ and their self-consciousness distracted them. Here were a few issues that came up.
Issue 1: “I don’t want to work with my partner”
A former college student of mine shadowed me on the residency. One of her questions was, “what do you do when kids don’t want to work together?”
Boy, does this one come up in every day life!
It can be very frustrating when one of two children (paired by their classroom teacher rather than self-selected) digs in and says, “he won’t do anything” about his partner.
For us, patience is a virtue. Try several points of entry, and remember that tomorrow is a new day.
1) “Show me what you’ve got.” I just ask them to show me anything and use it as a catalyst to build.
2) “What’s your idea?” Hear from both parties, and model pulling different ideas together. This is a good solution to the problem of: “my partner won’t do anything I say.”
3) “Take a break.” One person may be unable to work that day. Let her sit out, while the compliant student creates. The next day, they may be able to work together and there will be material to start from.
Issue 2: Listening
What’s the point of teaching if you cover the material but the material does not cover the child?
Some quick solutions:
1) “If you can hear me, put your hands on your __________” (head, shoulders, etc.) A quick scan around the room tells you who was tuned out.
2) Have them show (or tell) you. SHOW – When you review what you’ve just presented, have the group raise their hands when they hear the cue (or whatever the content is you are trying to impress upon them). TELL – If you call on the students who know, you’ll still have the space cadets floating out there. So ask the space cadets instead. Sometimes I will tell specific students that I will be calling on them immediately after I give the instruction, and they will have to repeat the key point.
3) Break it into chunks. Smaller bits are easier to digest.
Issue 2: Owning It
When students create and then perform their dances with no energy, apathetically, with small and cramped movements, and a sense of embarrassment, they need coaching.
1) Show 2 ways – Demonstrate the self-conscious, boring way and the energized, committed way.
Have students show, with their fingers indicating #1 or #2, which way was more interesting to watch. (They always pick the committed way). Then talk about why. “The audience doesn’t want to see your attitude about the thing you are doing. They want to see the content. Be committed to what you are doing. Let the audience see it.”
2) Make it bigger! Dances often ‘shrink’ in energy and size. Get everyone on his or her feet and have the students experience a big kinesphere of space, reaching in all directions. This gets the blood flowing and serves as a ‘reset’ too. Then, when they return to their dances, use the kinesphere image for overall size and energy.
3) It’s yours. Remind students that these are their creations. Own it!
I’m so excited to share the news that my dance and science integrated curriculum book has just been published. Fantastic Forces is a book, CD and DVD combination, designed like Songs for Dancing and Step on the Beat. It’s based on an evolving unit of study I first experimented with in 2000 and have revised and improved over many dance residencies, primarily with 3rd grade classes.
I created songs and rhythmic speech music, with long-time collaborators Neal Robinson and Rocky Maffit, and documented demonstration teaching with long-time video collaborator Bill Yauch.
To give teachers a nice broad plank of science understanding, I also collaborated with Troy Vogel, a science professor at the University of Illinois. He kept my ‘magical thinking’ at bay, and his explanations appear throughout the book as “science corners” to enhance understanding.
The material is a big unit of study, integrating music, movement, and all the integration strategies I use so that students can gain understanding through multiple points of entry – seeing, hearing, saying and doing.
There are many opportunities for students to problem solve in pairs, adding the collaboration component to critical thinking.
My hope is that music, classroom and physical education, and dance/drama teachers can even work together to implement the material.
I’m also available for professional development workshops to help ignite and launch teachers in implementing the curriculum.
I was just reading an article about drama in the classroom versus theater for the stage. The author, quoting from a work she’d co-authored, described drama as focused on “the process of the experience for students and teachers, not on a product produced for others.” The co-authors described theater as “a disciplined artistic experience in which artists work and re-work the same material with the goal of performing it perfectly for an audience.” (A Dramatic Approach to Reading Comprehension, Kelner and Flynn, Heinemann, 2006)
These descriptions were a light bulb moment for me in thinking about creative dance compared to studio techniques, and the way we explain them to others.
The objective in most studio training, as in the description of theater above, is to polish and perfect in order to perform. Many hours of training go into “working and re-working the same material with the goal of performing it perfectly for an audience.” Striving for technical excellence sometimes obscures the reason that many of us were drawn to dance in the first place, namely for the feeling of freedom and joy that we get from moving.
Whenever we are called upon to stand up for the value of creative dance in a studio setting, it is worth remembering – and helping studio parents and administrators to understand – the ‘process’ nature of creative dance and its importance in a well-rounded dance education.
Creative dance provides a lab, an incubator, for improvisation, problem solving, invention, collaboration and critical thinking. Through it we learn the language of dance, dance making, and dance appreciation. While we may choose to polish and share what we create, ‘process’ is at the top of the list.
Ultimately, we can bring the versatile skills of creative dance to the study of ALL techniques to help us become better choreographers and more expressive dancers.