Dance Educator

GCU today photo with SemajPublic School
 Dance Programs

My intended audience here includes teachers of every discipline, yet I will primarily address the novice dance educator and those considering a career in dance education.  If you have already been teaching dance in K-12 public schools, I would love to hear your stories and responses.

Students: The Reason We Are Here

I know many of you chose teaching because of the kids. We believe that all kids have a right to be nurtured and valued, and that they deserve to be in an environment where they can thrive. Teachers have different approaches and teach through different mediums, but we all want our students to learn. We hope to see them do more than succeed on a test or earn an “A.” We want them to experience a spark of recognition that life is bigger than the tip of a pencil. We want to see them draw connections between the subjects we teach and the infinite number of paths one can explore in life.

Dance Education: A Synopsis

“Through Dance, our movement, feeling, and intellect are integrated. Dance connects the body, mind and spirit.” from the Introduction and Rationale for Dance in Education, Arizona Dance Standards, 2006 revision. Every child deserves dance education.  Here in the U.S., course offerings in dance should be expanded within K-12 school systems to include students in all cross-sections of society.

At the collegiate level, dance education has its origins in the halls of physical education departments, but over the past 30 years, dance has made a transition to the fine and performing arts. Keeping in tandem with this trend, programs in K-12 schools have rapidly expanded as well. According to the National Dance Education Organization (NDEO) database, there are currently about 6,000 K-12 schools in the U.S. that offer dance in the curriculum. While fine arts and music programs are established in most public and private K-12 schools throughout the country, the number of dance programs varies greatly from state to state.

All students can benefit from dance education. A short list of advantages that participants experience includes improved health and literacy, critical thinking skills, and engagement in the creative process. There are many sources that provide statistics about the effects that dance education has upon student achievement, including standardized tests.  To focus upon goals for advocacy, please take a look at the legislative recommendations to Strengthen Arts Education in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, written in September 2007.  Another great place to start is the NDEO Advocacy Action Center, with information on the economic impact of the arts, dance education statistics, and arts education links.

Standards Addressed

When you write your lesson plans and curriculum units, you will be expected to address “the standards.” There are state and national standards for dance education. If you are based in a larger school district, there may be district standards as well.

Whether you are teaching primary or secondary grades, through an arts-for arts-sake or an arts-integration model, you will be asked to support student achievement at your school in a general sense.  This means you will need to consider the mission of your school as well as the school’s annual improvement goals by addressing reading and math standards.  The Common Core State Standards have recently been adopted for mathematics and language arts in most states, an initiative led by two agencies, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSO) and the National Governors Association (NGA).  These standards were developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and experts and their purpose is to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare children for college and the workforce. By 2016, teacher evaluation will be tied to students’ performance on standardized tests, which will be aligned with the Common Core State Standards. Stay tuned for more information on Common Core State Arts Standards as well.

You are responsible for familiarizing yourself with core academic standards, including dance standards.  Yet, let’s return to our main concern: How do educational standards benefit the dance educator? There are at least three ways:

  1. By easing our planning process and helping to establish dance curricula
  2. By helping make connections to learning in other subjects
  3. By explaining the value of dance education, and possibly justifying our programs’ existence when external forces threaten them.

Where do the standards fit in your planning process? You can begin with them or use them as a reference point somewhere in the middle. If you wait until the end, you will still find that they are generalized enough to be helpful. For me, they have proven to be an excellent place to start when I have an idea about what I’d like students to learn, but I’m not sure how to build connections to learning in their academic classrooms.

You can, of course, look at the standards for other subject areas such as language arts, but the national and state standards for dance education offer many opportunities to examine such connections. As you glance through the standards, imagine how they could tie into concepts from geometry, literary arts, the scientific process, and other subjects.

Educational standards will assist you to learn about age-appropriate development in dance, create authentic assessment tools that measure whether students are capturing the lessons you teach, and even inspire ideas for choreography. Look at this performance objective from the national standards, for instance, and imagine what kind of project might manifest:

  • Dance Strand 2: Relate
  • Concept 1: Relating Dance Forms/History
  • Performance Objective 1: History and Development of Dance Forms: Examine and identify the influence historical events have on the development of dance forms.

Our minds might turn to Isadora Duncan and the onset of American modern dance.  What was happening in her day?  How did she respond to the world?  How did the world respond to her?
A fascinating lesson could be based on this standard.

As we know through our experiences with the choreographic process, creating limits or structure, can actually be a liberating force that drives creativity in our curriculum. The standards allow for freedom within structure. You, the dance educator, can adopt the standards for your curriculum in any sequence you choose, with an emphasis that reflects your individual values and the values of your school community.

Standards Links

Lesson Plans

Soon-to-be-teachers, after you become certified, you will not simply be able to write out your lesson plans as they would make sense to you. If your medium is dance, your administrators and instructional coaches may not even understand your specialized language. There are a number of ways that you may be told to write your lessons and this is because the emphasis on certain trends in education will change throughout your teaching career.

Educational research, legislative policy, and district or administration preferences will all enter into the picture. The frequency with which you will be asked to provide you lesson plans will change as well, depending on such factors as the rate of achievement of students in your school, administrators’ preferences, and your own level of teaching expertise.

In every type of lesson design I have encountered, the alignment of the standards and the objectives is paramount. It would be advisable to list your objectives as specifically as possible when writing a lesson. Even if your lesson really addresses 10 different performance objectives, choose the top two or three. Yes, you should use your administrator’s preferred lesson plan format, but don’t go overboard every time.

A single-page lesson plan should suffice each day. Many educators teach multiple subjects, and must write multiple lesson plans per day. Lesson plans have a way of changing mid-stream anyhow, considering the numerous factors that affect the classroom, from students being called up to the office, to the concentration level of students on any particular day. I have developed a practice of recording what actually happens during lessons by writing it down in a daily planner.  (If your school issues planners to students every year, you might use one of those.) I answer questions such as how far have students progressed in the lesson procedures and what opportunities they need for repetition and reflection.

Lesson Design Models

One popular lesson design model was created by a dancer and scholar named Madeline Hunter.   When Hunter was a student at UCLA, she gave up a tour with Ballet Russes in favor of continuing her studies in psychology and pre-medicine. Eventually, she landed in the field of educational psychology and focused on how teachers could offer students Her model has been utilized by school districts nation-wide as an inclusive system for lesson design. In practice, these elements were compiled by others as the “Seven Step Lesson Plan,” taught through teacher in-services, and used as a checklist of items that must be contained in each lesson.  This was not Dr. Hunter’s intention. Rather, she suggested the following elements that might be considered in planning for effective instruction.

  1. objectives
  2. standards
  3. anticipatory set
  4. teaching (input, modeling, check for understanding)
  5. guided practice/monitoring
  6. closure
  7. independent practice

Used as Dr. Hunter intended, the steps make a useful structure for the development of many lesson plans including non-behavioral ones.  An important note: All the elements do not belong in every lesson, but they will occur in a typical unit plan composed of several lessons.

Also see an article on direct instruction for information on Madeline Hunter’s methods.

Additional elements that are commonly used in lesson plans are language objectives, real-life purposes, essential questions, 21st century skills, life skills, extensions (strategies for students who have mastered content standards), accommodations (strategies for students who fall far below mastery of standards or who have exceptional needs), unit plans, and materials.

One curriculum planning model I would enthusiastically recommend to new teachers is the Backward Design Model. It is comprised of three stages: identifying desired results, determining acceptable evidence, and planning learning experiences and instruction. Understanding by Design, written by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe in 2001, lays out the Backward Design Model, stating an in-depth case as to why teachers need to plan with the end in mind. The focus on desired results, or student outcomes, is highly favored in most educational communities today as a tenet of student-centered learning. Performance tasks and authentic assessment in the classroom have the potential of bringing about enduring memories for students.  Students learn to value concepts when they connect with them.  Backward design theory helps clear the learning pathway of stumbling blocks, by paring it down to essential questions and hand-selected tasks that involve students with their own learning, therefore balancing out the importance of the learning process with students’ learning outcomes.  Keeping it is important that students build an awareness of strategies that help them learn most efficiently.  In the secondary school setting, this goal helps prepare college-bound students.

Addressing Behavior in the Classroom:  The ABCs

Welcome to the 2010-2011 school year.  Your classroom is beautifully arranged.  You have plans set for the entire first quarter.  On the first day, everyone in your Beginning Dance class is well-behaved.  Your first week with new students is quite calm, then things start to show signs of changing.  If you give ’em an inch, they’ll take a mile.  Get that stopwatch out for changing time in the locker rooms or the interval will quickly expand from 3 minutes to 6 minutes.  Establish and rehearse procedures, or written work will be everywhere except the designated assignment trays; they will be scattered in kids’ backpacks, inside their journals, and on the floor. This is not what you are used to confronting in a private dance studio where most kids are convinced that learning dance is a great idea.  In a public school dance program, you must create such a learning environment from its foundation.

Discipline problems can get infinitely worse or remarkably better depending on how you handle each situation.  The beginning of the year is the most effective time to establish protocol.  It may not be part of your personality to be bossy and domineering.  Get past that idea as fast as you can.  Your invitation to be nice comes after you lay down the law.  Remember, you are outnumbered.  Competition with your students will lead to distressing days and sleepless nights.  That wooden apple on your desk you earned from one sweet student won’t deter students from reverting back to Lord-of-the-Flies-type mob behavior.  Kids will cope however they have learned to cope, and many of them love to copy each other.  We must meet our students on their path wherever they may happen to be in their lives.  They have learned many strategies from their parents, siblings, peers, or even other teachers.  These strategies may include arguing until they get the last word or showing off to peers by demonstrating outright disrespect.  Their own innate guidance systems have not yet matured.  Whichever grade level you teach, the personality types and affective profiles of your students will be extremely diverse.  It would behoove new teachers, novice or just new to a certain school, to plan accordingly.

Not only should you have rules and consequences posted on the walls and on your course syllabus, you should also have individual behavior contracts, multiple incentive systems, and alternative assignments ready to go.  The absolute last resort is to write an administrative referral for a student and send her to the office.  Principals appreciate teachers who can handle situations at the classroom level.  They would really rather honor students for special contributions such as winning the county spelling bee.  Besides, they have enough trouble dealing with students’ behavior outside of class, such as the bus, the cafeteria, and hallways during the passing period.  In one week, they may be contacting the police to deal with an adolescent firestarter, enlisting facilities staff to remove graffitti, or attending long-term suspension hearings.  Not that teachers’ jobs are  a walk in the park, but administrators need to monitor the entire student body and everything that takes place on campus.

If acute discipline situations must be addressed through an administrative referral, make sure you have documented any and all measures you have taken to support the offending student in making better choices.  Also, make sure you understand how to  fill out forms.  If possible, contact parents and guardians before things reach this stage.  I like to catch students being good in the beginning of the term and call home with something positive to say.  When you need to call home about misbehavior, enlist the parent’s help and ask for their insight.  Give students a fresh start each day you see them.  Build empathy by getting acquainted with them as individuals.  Misunderstandings often arise simply because teens and adults process information differently.

In addition to brain-compatible learning strategies, which address students’ various strengths and preferences, there are brain-compatible discipline strategies.  These strategies are based on biological factors rather than power dynamics between teachers and students.  Employing them helps teachers to make discipline measures that are preventative rather than corrective.  Before a student makes a major mistake, he learns to monitor himself and recognizes potential rewards for making better choices.  This conception of learning and teaching is based on what modern scientists have learned about the brain.  It is now deemed educational neuroscience.  Here are some helpful, web-based resources to learn more.

Classroom Management article by Gene Van Tassell
Introduction to Brain Compatible Learning
by Eric Jensen
Teach Like A Champion:  The 49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College by Doug Lemov
Frontline : Inside the Teenage Brain

Coming Soon…

  • Performance Assessment
  • Brain Compatible Learning
  • The Arts Integration Model
  • Teacher Protocol
  • Creative Problem Solving Through Dance
  • National Policies and Initiatives
  • State Policies and Initiatives