In today’s ever changing world, teachers and students need to be able to adapt and change how they give and receive learning. The pandemic has shown us more than ever before that dance teachers in Primary schools are able to exhibit great agility in how they respond to this changing learning environment.
The shift to online learning necessitated quick changes and open minds about what dance education may look like in the current pandemic world but also gave a vision of the future.
In part, our job as educators will always be to prepare our students for employment and life in a modern world. How well does our current approach to education cater for this? How dynamic are our teaching and learning approaches?
Dance education for the future
The Arts as an industry, has a history of being able to pivot, twist and pirouette as well as any prima ballerina. It is this flexibility that is needed in today’s Primary dance classrooms, as we encourage our students to learn with an open and inquiring mind that welcomes change and the unknown.
But how do we make our dance classrooms a place that nurtures learners who have the power to learn in their own hands? The dance classroom, from a historic view, has been a place for a strongly instructional approach to learning, with the teacher as the expert and the student as the ‘vessel’ for their knowledge. This is a classroom where the primary purpose is the transfer and acquisition of knowledge.
Moving away from the traditional dance teacher centric models towards a more inspirational view could provide part of the answer. This dance environment is one where the teacher is not the expert but rather an observer of student artistic inquiry. Artistic practice is shared.
There are lessons to be learned from distance education in how we give back the power to the student. Distance learning offers opportunities for students to engage with curriculum in a more flexible way. It develops self drive, motivation and discipline, through independent learning.
Characteristics of the lifelong learner dance classroom
Learning is seen as a continuous process. Students learn how to deal with complex nature of the workplace by being able to learn and adapt throughout their lives (Moore, 2020). It can be compared to artistic practice where there is never an end to the answering of questions that keep arising. Artistic practice involves finding answers only to be met with deeper and more complex questions.
Artists question their own thinking, values and beliefs and make changes and shifts as they dive deeper. In the dance classroom the practice is collaborative by nature, between the students and the teacher, each with their own set of skills and queries.
Dance activities that ask students to investigate a dance problem from a range of perspectives will help to develop the skills to identify and embrace complexity. Choreograph a dance from someone else’s viewpoint and then write a diary entry from that viewpoint. This is an example of layering an alternate point of view and the mediums they use to express these ideas.
Students are thinking creatively to solve problems in an artist (student) centred approach. The closer the problems are to real world scenarios the more the students value the knowledge they gain. These are some examples for formative dance assessment tasks that link to the ‘real world’.
The students find sources of information, learned more and then applied it in a practical sense. Going through these processes enables children to decide what information is important and what is just more information. In this information heavy environment, this skill is highly transferable throughout their lives.
This focus on learner agency is particularly pertinent for the upper Primary students as they prepare for even more autonomy in their High school education environments.
Multiple learning preferences are privileged in the classroom, not one size fits all. Dance education that caters for diverse learners acknowledges that success in dance is not a one-dimensional outcome. It provides a view of dance in a professional sense that frames the breadth of possibilities for creative thinking and reflective practice.
Flexible completion times for activities. Being bound by time is the enemy of student-centred learning. Students need time to process their learning and to master and apply a new skill.
But where will their inquiry lead them and how does the teacher curate when it is time to stop exploring? Creating dance is a bit like renovating a house, each element of the room that you replace shows up the deficit in another part of the room. When do you stop?
Self-paced dance projects with deadlines and assessment outcomes, that are decided on by the students and the teacher as a part of the planning phase, allow older students to control their learning once they have gained the basic skills necessary to succeed. Learner autonomy is at its greatest as they focus on deliverables.
Students have high levels of intrinsic motivation as they explore their preferences for how they learn best. Children who are confident with their own capabilities to deliver self-determined creative outcomes often show mature self-reflective skills. This enables them to seek out further opportunities to learn in a way that is of greatest benefit to them as individuals.
From a broader teaching and learning perspective, greater intrinsic motivation may result in dance students developing creative skills that are transferable across a range of other learning areas.
Teachers and students together as lifelong learners
Setting up a classroom to support lifelong learners, nurtures better relationships between teacher and students, as you are guiding them rather than imposing your ideas on them.
As a collaborator, you learn alongside your students as they lead their own dance explorations. Their individual discoveries that come as a part of exploring dance making and performing may be your light bulb moments that impact your teaching and artistic practice.
Dance teaching practice has evolved as a result of our changing world and will need to have the functionality to evolve even further in the future. Exploring ever expanding technologies and the contexts in which they may be used ensures dance teaching will continue to be an exciting and dynamic part of the education landscape.
Dance Teaching Ideas will continue to support Primary dance teachers, generalist teachers and homeschooling parents in offering practical, time saving and engaging dance learning activities.
Robert l. Moore, 2020, Developing lifelong learning with heutagogy: Contexts, critiques and challenges, Distance Education, 41.3, 381, DOI: 10.1080/01587919.2020.1766999