This moment in history seems to have changed everyone’s favourite word from ‘journey’ to ‘unprecedented’. But for many Primary school dance teachers it has been an unprecedented journey!
Teachers are by nature reflective, and with compulsory home learning nearing its end, many are considering their personal learnings from this experience. This is interesting from two perspectives. Firstly, what will it mean to how we teach primary dance in the future, and secondly, how could students learn differently?
I asked three Primary school dance teaching specialists, Meka Ingram, Leah Wordon and Nicole Grant, about their experiences of teaching remotely and how they think it may influence their teaching into the future. They provided some useful ideas around new technologies and how to use old ones more effectively.
These teachers’ reflections demonstrate how important it is to have time, as a teacher, to pause and explore further how we teach.
Technologies are valuable in the dance classroom
The use of technology has been an important part of how we teach for many years, but for many teachers, this experience of remote learning has required a pivot reminiscent of a prima ballerina! This goes way beyond watching a video of a performance in class or filming your own performance. Primary dance teachers have been using technology to structure lessons, give efficient feedback, provide demonstrations and to communicate with their students.
Abode Spark and Flipgrid
Leah Wordon, who teaches Years 1 to 6 dance at Springfield Anglican College, sees it as an opportunity for to learn more about technology and how to use it in different ways.
“… I usually use PowerPoint and we use images and talk in response to that and then participate. I found that, providing a PowerPoint, even with my voice and a video, seemed so dry. I wanted to be a bit more creative, and I discovered a program called Adobe Express…it is a fantastic program where you can drag images and videos. It’s very easy to click a button and record your voice over the top and have soft background music which makes it look really professional.”
Leah found this allowed her greater flexibility in designing the lessons using simple text, cool images, short video and clips with her narration.
Leah sees herself using this when the students are back in the classroom as the level of professional presentation is much higher than her usual Powerpoint and encourages a high level of student engagement. This technology gave her the tools to create compelling images that got the ideas out quickly. This ability will always be important as dance needs to compete with many other curriculum areas for attention in the classroom.
Dance can be an amazing tool for supporting other curriculum areas and teachers are always looking for new ways that students can demonstrate their broader knowledge. Technology can provide a vehicle for student stories to come to life and make the connections between dance and literacy, numeracy, and HASS as well as other art forms.
Flipgrid is another social learning tool that provides the ability for students to see how all the specialist teaching areas connect under one topic. It becomes a meeting place for your classroom.
Leah found this was a way for students to interact with her after learning a movement from the video. “… it’s a very easy way for students to click a button and record themselves doing a movement that you have taught them… it gets sent to it through to you, you can adjust the settings so they can’t see each other if you don’t want them to.”
“It’s a really quick and easy way of looking at student work and giving quick feedback.” She found it useful for the Year 3s doing choreographic work where she could give them ongoing feedback as they developed their work. This supports student confidence in dance as they are encouraged in their artistic choices.
This tool could be used in a variety of ways in the Primary dance classroom. The obvious way would be to receive feedback on ongoing projects and student progression in the class.
OneNote and PowerPoint
Meka Ingram, who teaches 800 Primary students from Year 1 -6, has been using a combination of OneNote and PowerPoint with her dance students. She has also used a lot of audio with PowerPoint to enhance student engagement.
“You can write on to the OneNote page and that automatically shows up on their OneNote box… so hopefully they see it within the same day. I can write comments, give stickers, correct their answers, tell them where they need to improve and all those kind of feedback cues for them.”
Meka saw this as a unique experience but had envisaged learning online as her teaching through a platform that allowed her to see the students.
“It’s been a really interesting experience to try and still capture the lesson and capture me and put me into the lesson or a PowerPoint.” Meka
This idea of the personalization of technology is important in a teaching environment. Students need to be able to engage with the material but also with the teacher.
iMovie and ShowMe
Like Meka, Nicole Grant, from Eatons Hill State School, used technology she was already familiar with, making an iMovie for each year level.
“What we did each week was we created a short demonstration video that would go through a warmup and then it would go into learning a dance online”.
Nicole’s unit was a performance and response assessment task which had been pre-planned previously. She thought this would be the most easily adapted to the technology and the situation.
“Our Preps were different because they had only been at school for a few weeks. We continued what we’ve been doing in Term one, looking at a lot of text and use movement based around books. So we continued with that idea using ‘Olga the Brolga’.”
The school also has an extension Dance Team, which is performance based. To cater for these Primary students they used a platform called ShowMe. Setting up the ShowMe platform enabled Nicole to upload videos and information that the students could access at home as well as at school for those still attending.
It has been interesting for her when supervising classes for essential services children in the school to observe how the students interact with the videos. Nicole had to adapt to teaching via screens but she said for her students, they just embraced it and engaged with the learning more than she had anticipated.
“That’s probably the biggest changes I’ll be making in my Primary senior program in future is to utilize that platform because the kids are so good at it and it’s fun. I can talk to them immediately, particularly as a specialist, when I only have them for maybe 24 minutes a week.”
“It takes away a lot of the peer pressure, particularly for Year 6, when they become very self-conscious…working online, they’re in their own moments of privacy. I get amazing videos back and I get great feedback and their more comfortable to talk and be honest and upfront then they would be in a classroom setting”.
Overcoming the challenges of returning to the dance classroom
Some students will have been fully engaging in the online delivery of material. Many will not, whether due to lack of connectivity, computer access or motivation. For many parents working full time from home getting all the work done with their children is challenging. The dance teachers commented that some parents prioritized the learning down to what they considered essential, primarily Literacy and Numeracy.
Meka anticipates some issues with the freedom of the home learning environment and children readjusting to the routine of the whole school day.
“I think it will be difficult to get the students back into the routines, and maybe back into realizing that yes, I do have to participate and not just maybe opt out, or it’s the afternoon so they can chill out because maybe that’s what they’ve been doing when they’re made at home.”
This means that, not unlike the beginning of the school year, each teacher will have to orientate the class to find where each child is up to in their learning. Leah thinks that using Flipgrid, as a part of the face to face classroom, will enable each child to individually present work so the teacher can accumulate evidence at that stage and give necessary individual feedback.
Nicole also identified this as a challenge in her school as she had no data concerning how many children had actually accessed her lessons. She has planned to use the video resources already developed as a kind of review for the first week, to identify where each of her students is in terms of learning stage.
Surprisingly, many of the teachers who have started back with Prep and Year 1 have reported how resilient their students have been and how they have picked up where they left off quite easily. The students seem to enjoy being back to their routine and having opportunities to learn in a classroom environment again.
Dance is an important part of Primary education.
Many of the parents across the schools observed their children being excited to do dance. For the younger students, the parents where more engaged with the lessons and in many cases participated with their children. This aspect of health and wellbeing was a positive aspect for both parents and children.
Some parents enjoyed that they could put on the video and go and have a cup of tea!
“I found that the students have been really excited to be involved in their dance lessons and I think it’s probably because they’re getting through a lot of numeracy and literacy in their day. And they’re not outside playing with their friends and they don’t have that social interaction, so it’s exciting to be a bit creative”. Leah
Meka observed that her students usually enjoy the different ways that they can engage with specialist subject like dance as they are creative, practical and interactive.
Even though her students are not interacting via video they used “…photos and written work or drawings or a lot of emails. Some of the students who are learning with home learning packs, as they don’t have access to a computer, might get a written copy or a drawing that was part of the lesson.”
When you have more time, you can become a more effective teacher
Meka noted that, “It’s great to have the time to create resources that I will definitely use, even just the PowerPoints. I’ve always used PowerPoints and I always create them, but having that extra time and ability to go and put in audio overtop of a PowerPoint, I never thought that would be so useful, particularly with, the lower years.”
She reflected that the method of delivery had allowed more time to observe her own teaching and to make changes. Putting the instructions on Powerpoint made her more aware of being concise with what she was saying and then she was able to observe how her students interpreted that. She intends to bring that new efficiency in use of language into the classroom.
The time to reflect and develop resources that will support their teaching into the future has included more written activities. Meka sees it as an opportunity to articulate what she sees as important in her lessons.
“At the end of the lesson students reflect on the lesson with either a picture that what they created if they’re in the lower years or getting them to write down the four key production elements that we looked at. It’s not that I haven’t been doing that but it’s a reminder to do it more frequently.”
Nicole too really valued the time to reflect and actually sit back and watch the interaction and responses from the students in her classes. While supervising the students still at school, she had the opportunity to observe, in real time, what she was doing on the screen and when she lost student engagement. “At what point do those eyes come off the screen?”
It made her confront many hard questions about her role as a teacher and how to engage this new generation of students. But the process answered questions about how she would fit into this future learning as a schoolteacher.
“Am I important as a face to face teacher? In making these videos and posting them online we make ourselves very accountable because there’s a tangible product there. It has made me come up to date with how kids learn…they are digital learners and I am part of that process”. Nicole
In dance the product is ephemeral and as teachers we often see ourselves a being central to the distribution of the skills of the art form. This experience has made Primary dance teachers question that and review where we sit in the learning continuum. It has confirmed what we know about the intersection of digital technology and making dance and taken it even more to the forefront of Primary dance teaching pedagogies.
These technologies, that have been a part of this massive teaching experiment on this ‘unprecedented journey’, have forced us to question how we interact with the online world and take positive steps towards future learning. We need time to continue reflecting and reimagining our teaching, finding more ways to enable students to reveal their knowledge. More ways to be creative within our art form and how we learn from it. More ways to support good dance teaching and each other.
Many thanks to Meka Ingram, Leah Wordon and Nicole Grant for their valuable insights into their teaching practice. Any Primary/Elementary school teacher who would like to contribute to this discussion further, please contact Dance Teaching Ideas.