Getting children to participate in a classroom discussion can be like pulling teeth! The level of boredom rises in the classroom atmosphere immediately and no amount of open-ended questions are going to get them started.
There are always the delightfully extroverted students who will talk about anything however too many quiet and thoughtful children hold back from participating in classroom discussion.
Talking about dance is often not easy as many children will not have experienced watching performances and therefore have not heard other people talking about what they have seen. Children learn through observing others. Often hearing the teacher talk about a dance work or commenting on a piece of student choreography, will help them to use the language of dance to describe, interpret and analyse what they have seen.
Of course, it’s obvious that the more interesting the dance piece is to the students, the richer the discussion will be. When choosing dance works to watch, try to offer a range of options.
Not surprisingly what adults find fascinating may be very different from what really engages your students. High levels of technical difficulty may not be as interesting as something that gives them something to think about or to interpret.
High levels of athleticism are good for that wow factor but can be difficult to use for a detailed discussion that requires students to use the language and skills you have been teaching them about. This is an example from Bangarra Dance Theatre that younger primary students may love.
Things to keep in mind when planning a dance discussion
What is the aim of the discussion?
What specific language/terminology do you want students to use?
How does the discussion support the next phase of learning in the progression of the lesson?
Having a range of strategies at your disposal to get the students talking about dance is one of a teacher’s best dance resources.
Whether your discussing their own or someone else’s choreography, these strategies have been tried and successful in a range of classrooms. Some are more appropriate for an older age group, but most can be used in any primary classroom.
- After watching the dance, take a survey about how it made them feel, put the results on the board in a table and then talk about it
- Have the children come up with questions about a dance you have just watched. Make a chart that includes all the questions. You may have to explain that there may not be time to answer all the questions so pick three to answer or think through either as a class or in small groups.
- You might also get them to come up with questions for the choreographer that could include the interpretation of a section of the choreography.
- “With older students, if only some are prepared to tackle issues in a discussion, write a controversial position sentence on the board and see who agrees or disagrees. If they are reluctant to take a position, ask them to go and stand by the position (yes or no) by which they are most persuaded, understanding that as the class discusses it, they can change their position”. Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning by Peter H. Johnston, 2004.
- Set up chat stations where you may have some stimulus items like still photos from the dance work that have a single question pertaining to the focus of the lesson.
For example, if you are teaching about shape you might ask: How is the shape that the dancers are making different from the expressions on their faces? You can also use sound eg. A section of music from the dance work. How does this music make you feel? Did the dance show that same emotion?
- With older students you can give them a written example of someone else talking about the piece. This could be a critic, a reviewer or the choreographer themselves. This gives them an example of how to talk about dance. Follow with a discussion that is about how they may have different opinions. This is good for the extroverted students but may not be so good for the non-talkers in your classroom and may need a Think, Pair, Share strategy to support really good discussion.
- Snowball or Pyramid discussion, where pairs share a discussion question and then join with another pair, and then with another group until you have a whole class discussion, allows children to have time to think and absorb language that is relevant to the question. In a dance context you might get them to not only talk about the question but to come up with a movement for their answers and as they join groups together, they keep their movement and join it to one another’s movement.
This can end up being fun! Just ensure that they have a chance to explain the movement as it relates to the question.
Dance classroom discussions can be fun and are an important part of your students learning to use and understand the language of dance. This is not a complete list of strategies, but more examples of how to use discussion in the dance classroom will be included in upcoming dance resources for Primary teachers.