Using affective language in Primary dance teaching

Primary dance classroomTeaching dance in Primary school classrooms can seem a bit like being an activity director on a cruise ship.  We design the activities that we think will engage our students. Dance games, lots of movement, bright coloured stimulus, and positive language to keep everyone smiling.

However, when learning and creating are the primary goals, not just entertainment, we need to plan for children to make sense of what they are experiencing.  The dance teacher’s role is to mediate children’s activity and experience, not necessarily direct it.

This is where the language teachers use becomes central to children’s learning.  It is an opportunity to practice how we respectfully work out our problems together.

The dance classroom can sometimes be focused on the ‘doing’ part of dance, striving for that exact unison or ‘getting the steps right’.  But of equal importance is a dance environment that is caring, secure and literate.  Dance literacy is concerned with being thoughtful, bringing together mind and body, not just technical competencies.

As Primary dance teachers, we love to nurture caring, problem solvers who are capable of successfully collaborating and creating.

Dance dialogues in the Primary dance classroom

Peter Johnston in his book Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning, identifies five categories of classroom discourse.  These categories provide a powerful starting point for thinking about how we talk to students in our dance classroom.

The five categories are Noticing and Naming, Identity, Agency and Becoming Strategic, Flexibility and Transfer, and Knowing.

Did you notice…

Dance activities are useful in allowing children to observe and identify patterns.  This skill is particularly important in developing skills in literacy and mathematics.

Using language that enables children to make sense of what they are observing when watching, creating, or performing dance, helps children to gain skills in naming, sorting, and identifying repeating patterns.

Examples of dance dialogue

Did you notice anything surprising here?

What kind of dance is this?

Have you seen anything like this before?

Have we seen a dance with this theme before?

These questions help children to classify and sort movement and dance and observe more closely in the future.  They begin to point out these phenomena, without the teacher questioning, as they recognise patterns and expand their attention.

Primary dance classroom

As a dancer how would you…

Part of the process of children becoming literate is being able to see themselves in different roles.  When a dancer performs a role, they are drawing on their ideas about how that person may feel, act, move, or think.

At the same time, they are developing their personal and social identities. They are exploring how they see themselves often by ‘trying on’ different identities.

The dance teacher’s comments can affect how they see their unique role or position in the class.

Examples of dance dialogue

I wonder if, as a choreographer, you’re ready for this.

I bet you’re proud of yourself.

What have you learned most recently as a performer?

What work have you done as dance artist today?

How did you…

Children need to see themselves as successful and as able to fulfill their own goals.  As important as accomplishing tasks is recognising what they have done to be successful.

Even as teachers we can lose sight of the successes that we have on the road to fulfilling a particular goal.  By having children explain and describe their processes and thoughts we can influence children’s sense of agency.

Examples of dance dialogue

How did you figure that out?

How are you planning to do the next section of the dance?

Which part are you sure about and which bit is still uncertain?

Why would your character move in that way?

Isn’t that like…

Some children can easily generalize the information they are learning, transferring it from one situation to another.  But for many children this is not so straight forward.

They need an invitation to stretch the boundaries of their ideas about similarities and applications of learning.  This may be about how skills learned through dance can be applied to other learning areas. Alternatively, they can use prior knowledge to create works of art that communication meaning.

Examples of dance dialogue

How else could you…

Suppose you did…

Imagine if you…

What if…

Primary dance classroom

Let’s see if I’ve got this right…

Knowledge isn’t just about teachers having facts where there are right and wrong answers.  Use different language keeps the tone conversational rather than ‘teaching’.

This in turn makes the learning environment social resulting in collaborations and the sharing of ideas.  It supports children’s natural curiosity instead of providing answers.

Sometimes this is about what teachers don’t say.  Leaving time for students to work it out for themselves.  Not always being explicit in our teaching but observing what each individual child may need to learn for themselves.

Examples of dance dialogue

Thanks for helping me to understand…

That’s a really interesting way of creating…

How could we check…

Now you’ve given me something to think about.

Talking dance

We often refer to spending quality time with the family, doing things that are important and memorable for all members.  The dance classroom is very similar in that the best time is the time we spend working on a project side by side, not with the teacher out the front.

Good collaborative practice is based on our ability to have respectful conversations, to listen to others and to really hear each other’s ideas.  By reflecting on how we talk with children, we can improve our own ability to collaborate and model high functioning group work for our students.

Being conscious of how we use language to support our students is a part of our teaching planning. These dance dialogues can impact students by helping them to gain confidence, forming a positive self-image and to develop the skills to be truly creative.

Through being genuine and interested in our students and making this obvious through our choice of words we empower children. Make these examples a part of your dance teaching tool kit.



Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning by Peter H. Johnston. Copyright © 2004. Stenhouse Publishers