If you’ve been looking for dance lessons for primary students online, you will have found many fantastic examples of highly skilled dance practitioners creating wonderful pieces of choreography for your students. For lots of young aspiring dancers learning dance online duplicates what they will do in their spare time anyway.
But for many students, for whom dance in the classroom maybe a new or unknown phenomenon, copying someone in their lounge room may be an experienced not of joy but filled with dread. These children will not only miss out on a fabulous opportunity to try creating their own style of movement in the privacy of their own homes but, more importantly, can be put off dance for life.
Many schools are not allowing students to access YouTube due to safety concerns and with limited capacity some schools are not permitting teachers to video themselves.
Teaching dance under these circumstances may seem like an impossibility, but here are some ideas to help you create a supportive and creative environment that will promote health and wellbeing.
Where to start with teaching dance online
Pippa Petersen, a specialist dance teacher from Corinda State School in Queensland, Australia, says that the answer is to try to keep things as simple and manageable as possible. Like many specialist teachers she was asked to provide online lessons that would be suitable for students from Prep through to Year 6.
In fact, seasoned home schoolers will often do lessons that can be adapted across a number year levels to cater for having more than one learner at home. It makes supervision much easier for the parents.
Designing a dance lesson that is flexible enough to teach across grades, adds another layer of complexity for teachers. Pippa found that by putting lesson instructions in a Word document with pictures of herself to give the students ideas, that she could make it simple enough for the children and parents to grasp quickly.
“The parents were feeling really overwhelmed. So, we wanted to give them something really simple”.
Here what she did to orientate students and parents to this first day of remote dance learning.
• Create your ABCs with your body and perform in sequence.
• Can you spell your name? First Middle and Last name.
• As an optional activity they could perform it with a partner. (family member)
Pippa then supported the activity by including a series of photos of her making the ABC shapes. This enables the students to see someone familiar and to connect with them even through a photograph.
What was beautiful was that the kids actually emailed me videos and stop motion pictures and photos…I actually cried.
Pippa describes the parents as being actively engaged in the children’s learning and this leads to the children wanting to go above a beyond what is asked of them.
“One student emailed me and asked if she could spell ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’. It showed that such a simple task was open ended enough to allow for further creative options”.
This simple beginning then allowed the students and parents to gain confidence to try new things. Pippa was then able to move on to a more challenging lesson that asked them to develop characters using Alison Lester’s Magic Beach as a stimulus.
This activity used props from around the home, like beach towels, as they developed their own narrative dance sequences. This was supported by an example of a story written by the teacher. The students were encouraged to write the story based on the ideas from the dance and then perform it. Pippa emphasised that in this activity “there are clear links to literacy and drama”.
She plans to move onto a finger tutting activity that can be filmed or photographed to create a stop motion film as many students have access to an iPad at home; this then embraces media arts as well.
She hopes to have the opportunity to develop some site-specific practice which is perfect for the home environment. Once again Pippa plans to support her students’ work with lots of still photos of herself modelling the shapes and interactions with furniture.
“I will stress the safety aspects of this activity and talk about being safe and smart and asking their parent’s permission.”
Practicing safe dance when learning online
Which raises the question of safe dance practice in a space where the teacher can’t see what the children are doing?
Many schools have specific language about safety and behaviour guidelines, and it is a good idea to continue with this in your lessons. To a large extent you are relying on the parents to supervise and consider safety during physical activities just as they do if the children are playing outdoors.
There are some things you need to make obvious to both children and parents:
1. Consider how you use the space. Move any furniture that maybe unsafe and remove trip hazards such as rugs and mats. Remove computer or television cords. Move any glass ornaments that may be in the way.
2. Adjust to moving in a smaller space. Just as the children avoid other people in the dance space, they need to do the same with sharp edges and large pieces of furniture.
3. Avoid jumping if on concrete or tiles. The floor surfaces may not be ideal, and you will have to adjust your movements to cater for this.
4. Try to wear comfortable clothing and appropriate footwear for your floor surface. This maybe bare feet but if you’re on the concrete outside you may have to wear shoes to protect your feet.
5. Try to remove pets and small children if they are going to be a hazard.
6. Always have a parent or guardian present.
Structuring Learning in online classrooms
Amy Kirwan, Director of Dance Cart, a Brisbane based dance education provider, has adapted their normally 10 week face to face program to a 5 week format online, with the hope that the second five weeks will be able to be delivered face to face. This enables a development of the structure of lessons to become more challenging across the whole program.
Like most teachers this online component had to be developed quickly and interacting with the children has been a real challenge. Amy has been able to prerecord lessons, but this does not allow for any adaption during the lesson.
“When I’m able to have the interaction with the children I can gauge their skill level, or how they’re reacting to the games and content and their understanding. It does make it very difficult when you’re talking to a camera.”
Amy decided to focus the first 5 lessons on the Elements of Dance as this is essential learning but also able to be done more easily via video. The focus is on finding what is the basis of curriculum learning and using this time to concrete the learning.
She wanted to incorporate dance games but once again this was a challenge given that it may only be one child and a parent.
“The way we got around that was we had two presenters, one was speaking, explaining the game and other one was demonstrating. We played a game called Frog, Flamingo, Freeze, were we play music, and when it stopped, we called out one of these. A ‘frog’ is a really low pose, ‘flamingo’ high level and ‘freeze’ they had to create their own pose in the middle.”
With any lesson structure in this situation so much depends on the willingness of the parent to engage with the material as well. Amy says that she has had a positive response from the school and as a further support for the school community has put weekly ‘fun dances’ on You Tube for the school to access. Once again, the feedback from parents and teachers has been positive.
The kids have been absolutely loving it…there is some evidence of parents and siblings joining in.
Whether you are teaching structured or unstructured classes, curriculum or your own devised learning progression this is a time when students can benefit from the joy that dance activities bring.
Supporting your students’ learning
In a regular classroom the dance teacher is the resource in that they are responding in the moment to what is happening, giving praise, making suggestions, and moving the activity along. In the remote learning environment this may not be possible, and students can lose confidence when they don’t have access to immediate feedback.
It is very difficult to adapt or respond quickly in the online space and teachers will be challenged to know how successful they are. Reflective teaching is such an important part of supporting students in the primary classroom.
Amy Kirwan says, “The real test of success will be in 6 weeks time when the teachers get back into the classroom and we see how much knowledge they have retained.”
In the meantime, teachers are giving encouragement to work they can’t see and trying to sound authentic. This is where the role of parents is crucial.
Parents should be cautioned about what ‘dance’ may look like and encourage the children to explore creatively rather than just celebrating what may be a duplicate what they have seen before. Encourage them to draw from what they already know whether that’s popular dance styles or Fortnight but challenge them to extend these ideas further.
In this situation its going to be the parents that get them involved and motivated in learning no matter what the subject matter.
How you can build inclusive dance in the online classroom
So as primary teachers how can you support all your students to enjoy dance activities that link to the Australian Curriculum, hopefully link to another learning area, are inclusive and fun to do? Here are some ideas that may be helpful and can be adapted later to use when everyone is together again in the classroom.
1. Find dance styles and music that they are interested in.
2. Try to make them central to the design of the activity.
3. Ensure they are in control of the activity and its outcomes.
4. Give the class opportunities to improve after seeing some other classmates work or receiving feedback from the teacher.
5. Give them positive feedback that is specific.
6. Let them know what fun you had sharing this with them.
Pippa Petersen is excited about the response from the parents and the children so far, “Actually the parents have been contacting us for more challenging work”. However, Pippa is careful to be mindful of her diverse school cohort and caters for students from non-English speaking background and special needs students who may need more support.
Throughout this crisis teachers have stepped up to design and implement engaging education experiences for their students. They have designed them, not for an average classroom, but with this new learning environment in mind, using thoughtful education strategies to sustain children’s health and wellbeing.
Dance is a part of this strategy and by bringing it into your online learning you can nurture your students’ creativity now and into the future.
Many thanks to Pippa Petersen and Amy Kirwan (Dance Cart) for their willingness to share their practice and support other teachers during these challenging times.