In my Creative Dance for Children mentoring program a few weeks ago, we got to talking about the steps for guiding Creating activities in class. This pertains to ages 4-10.
When guiding students, you have to assume a leadership role at many points along the line.
First, you lay out the structure for creating as clearly and simply as possible. Visual aids, such as mapping or vocabulary, may help a great deal. If you are working from a poem or a picture, you have it posted.
Next, you divide the group into sub-groups if you have enough assistants in the room (for younger) or if the children have self control and concentration to function successfully in small groups. When first empowering students to work independently, duets are good. Generally 5 is a large group. Before you send groups off to work, have a sound signal ready that will mean ‘freeze, sit, look and listen’ so you can get everyone’s attention once they are spread out in the space. This could be a drum or hand clap pattern.
Make sure to have a nice distribution of ‘chiefs and indians’ in the group so the leadership is balanced. Also balance out off-task and on-task folks.
Instruct groups to first plan, then get up and test their ideas.
Next, they need to refine their ideas, ‘set’ (that means remember so you can do it again) and practice.
After that, they can re-evaluate their choices, refine again and practice.
Give the groups a short amount of time to work (5 minutes), and check for progress, allowing for another minute to wrap up before showing.
Move among groups during the working process. Ask them: ‘show me what you’ve got’ if they appear stuck or have completed the assignment. They can refine if they are done, and get back on track if they are stuck.
If you see one off-task child in a group, you can join them for a while to calm that child and help with focus.
When it’s time to perform, select your order of performance. Stronger groups should perform later in the line-up, since they know what they are doing and will remember it. This is also so as not to intimidate weaker groups who may feel less successful once they’ve seen the stronger groups. Put anxious groups early in the line-up, too.
Review or teach audience and performer skills. Audiences watch with a purpose, don’t practice their own dances, are still, silent, respectful and facing towards performers. You can check what the purpose is they are watching for (usually the concept or structure of the dance). Performers are still at the beginning and end (a big breath helps), do their best, and don’t get flustered if they make a ‘mistake’ (since the audience doesn’t know the rules of their dance anyway!). Even though these are only ‘studies’ that performers are show, audiences can still applaud at the end to show appreciation.
Reflect on the dances. Decide on how to approach this. Will everyone have an opportunity to volunteer an observation, or one group comments upon another, with that rotated around? A spokesperson from each group? Lots of possible ways to do this.
What are good reflection questions? You can guide the group to recall elements from the purpose of the dance, memorable moments they saw, sequences, etc. Groups can themselves talk about the process of making the dance: what was the leadership dynamic? If there was one thing you could change about your dance, what would it be? Again, lots of internal reflection possibilities.
In our program, we find this process takes about 20-25 minutes, from start to finish in a group with approx. 12 children and a maximum of 5 groups.
- Frontload the assignment.
- Divide groups, teach the sound signal for getting their attention.
- Give a time limit, and a wrap-up time limit.
- Move among the groups to check for understanding.
- Decide on the order groups will show.
- Review Audience/Performer expectations
- Be ready with meaningful reflection questions and a strategy for how reflection will be conducted.
And, of course, have a pleasant look on your face and a smile in your heart as you work, oops, I mean ‘play.’ Creating is challenging fun!
The first lesson I teach in the studio at the start of a new semester is a lesson on place. See the attached plan for a detailed sample 45-minute lesson.
The word ‘place’ comes from Laban’s vocabulary. In Laban notation, where we start indicates place.
In our studio, class size is limited to 12 children. There is always a lead teacher and at least one assisting teacher. Children take their shoes off outside the door, with a parent’s help, and enter the room to play with the prop of the day (scarves, pop toobs, stretchy bands, etc) before I play a few notes on the recorder indicating ‘time to clean up and make a circle for the warm up.’
When I teach in an early childhood setting, as a teaching artist, I am limited to 20-30 minutes and move more slowly through the material. I may only do the “Welcome Song” (in great detail) and the warm up. The next time, I will add Apples and Oranges. In an early childhood or Head Start setting, I begin and end with “Down By the Station” to model traveling in a moving line to form a circle, and using that moving line from the circle to return to the door.
I also account for time to take off shoes at the beginning, leaving the shoes in “shoe-ville” with socks inside shoes (‘put your socks inside your shoes, then your socks you will not lose.’ ‘The toes of your shoes ‘kiss’ the wall.’) At the end, the ‘train’ returns to shoe-ville and everyone finds their ‘house’ (pair of shoes).
See Songs for Dancing for detailed modeling of Down by the Station and Welcome Song.
Enjoy this lesson plan! Let me know how it works for you.1 Place for Ages 4-5
Coming Soon: Lesson on Size and Level
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.