Using formative assessment in the dance classroom plays an important role for both students and teachers alike. It is crucial for transparency in teacher expectations and for students to be able to gauge their own progress.
Self-reflective tasks and feedback opportunities from either teacher or peers are part of planning a dance project. Just as it is impossible to separate the processes of choreographing, performing and responding to dance, this is part of understanding the dance creative processes.
Self-reflection and feedback in the classroom
The self-reflective nature of formative assessment mirrors the creative process of many practicing artists, not just in a dance context. Choreographers design reflective processes and opportunities for external feedback as a part of their project plans.
As with any assessment task students need to see its relevancy to ‘real world’ contexts. The connection to the professional dance choreographic process is an important one to make with students.
Works in progress showings are common in the dance profession. These are informal showings often without lighting or production. Choreographers can step back and view their creation from another perspective and revise or further develop the choreography.
These showings enable choreographers to show their work in the early stages and get feedback from audiences. The audiences are often made up of the general public as well as peers.
Designing formative assessment rubrics that support peer feedback in the classroom, need to mirror the kinds of feedback that practicing dance artists may ask for after a work in progress showing. At the same time, it must provide clear measurable ways for the student choreographer to use the feedback as a way to reflect on their work.
For the younger students using a I like…, I wish…, I would suggest…, structure for the feedback can help support useful, constructive dialogue between students. Negotiating success criteria as a class, based on choreographic devices and the use of the Elements of Dance may be useful to promote student investment in giving evidence-based feedback.
It is important to use the action of feedback to promote the collaborative notions of knowledge creation. This in turn promotes a strong development of a creative community of practice in your classroom.
Dance reviews are a part of professional practice and they serve a purpose of promoting dance works and emphasising further thought and discussion about aesthetic matters. It is important to portray dance scholarship as a part of the profession of dance.
The dance review or critique requires thought, discussion and analysis, which is why it is a good form for both teacher and older students to use for feedback.
Informal writing exercises, as a part of classroom creative process are essential. It demonstrates practical ways that writing is used as a part of arts practice.
For the teacher demonstrating writing in your feedback to students is particularly critical. It is an opportunity to model responses and to promote further discussion with your students. When giving feedback try to link to the project criteria while modelling description, interpretation and evaluation as a part of your writing.
For the students, writing a review of their peer’s work requires them to describe the movements they have seen and interpret what they are seeing. Using strong and varied action verbs, interesting adjectives and colourful adverbs while avoiding hyperbole is the basis for good review writing.
For the student choreographer being written about, it helps to build the understanding of the abstract nature of dance and the multiple interpretations possible. Children are delighted when their peers see something much more than they had intended and it encourages a deeper approach to choreography in the future.
Artists journals are also self-reflective by nature, with choreographers keeping records choreographic stimulus and ideas for a dance work or the reflections on the exploration, devising and rehearsal phases that are part of the making process.
Throughout these phases the choreographer will make many decisions that are based on this self-reflective process, selecting, rejecting and reordering movement to find solutions to choreographic dilemmas.
Structuring these journals for the primary classroom can take many forms, however they encourage the students to write their thoughts, ideas and images for their dances. This will look different at various age levels and whether the reflection is about their personal progress or about the actual choreographic process. Here are a couple of examples for journal starting points.
For the younger student:
What am I feeling right now, and why?
What did I do well today?
What did I find difficult today and why?
What can I do in the next class that will help with difficulties I had today?
For the older student:
I am making a dance by…
This shows the choreographic processes they are planning to use.
I am making a dance in which…
Here students imagine what the dance will look like. They visualise how they are going to make the dance look.
I am making a dance that…
Students remind themselves of the outcomes they are being asked to achieve by the choreographic task.
I am making a dance about…
This encourages writing about the themes, ideas and subject matter of the work.
Benefits of Formative Assessment for dance teachers
Formative assessment also mirrors the action research cycles used by many researchers in education settings. It is this way that the quality feedback and information gained from students is most useful to teachers of dance.
By including a ange of formative assessment, the students have opportunities to articulate what they understand, where they are up to in their creative development and what they need to learn to progress further. This invaluable information allows teachers, through cycles of adapting and changing how and what information they deliver to their students, to create a living unit plan rather than a static document.
Embedding formative assessment as a part of the dance lesson is another way of modelling the profession of dance as an art form. Showing the complexities of how artists think, plan and create demonstrates realistic processes and outcomes for dance.
There are many ways to link formative assessment to professional dance practice, these are only a few examples. For even more creative dance ideas to use in your home or classroom look at the readymade lesson plans and teaching resources available on Dance Teaching Ideas.