Thinking of Your Dancers As Learners and Not Only As Movers

In my research for my doctoral dissertation, I’ve been looking into the teaching for understanding framework, with the intention of studying this instructional model as it relates to dance education.

Earlier today I was re-reading part of a book from my graduate studies: Integrating Differentiated Instruction and Understanding by Design: Connecting Content and Kids by by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Jay McTighe. Below are some of my favorite points from the first chapter of the book.

The text states, “In effective classrooms, teachers consistently attend to at least four elements: whom they teach (students), where they teach (learning environment), what they teach (content), and how they teach (instruction). If teachers lose sight of any one of the elements and cease investing effort in it, the whole fabric of their work is damaged and the quality of learning impaired.” (p. 2)

I appreciate this statement because I feel that often, dance educators are taught to focus on transmitting content–information about how to perform specific dance movements–and they are not ever taught to also be equally and as deeply focused on their students, the environment in which they are teaching, and they way they are making information accessible to students in the dance classroom. Later, we come to learn that the concept of “understanding by design” or “UbD” “emphasizes how we teach, particularly ways of teaching for student understanding . . . the ‘what’ and ‘how'” (p. 2).

Many dance educators will likely walk into a studio or a space where they will teach dance feeling entirely comfortable with the “what” that they will be teaching. Not focusing on the “how” of teaching, I believe, can make teaching dance to diverse populations of students or teaching dance in non-traditional environments (e.g., in an elementary school cafeteria, on a middle school blacktop, or in the extra classroom that is typically reserved for visual arts classes) particularly challenging for dance educators, especially those who are in the first few years of their dance education practice.

We learn in the first chapter of this book that Understanding by Design is essentially a curriculum design model and that Differentiated Instruction is an instructional design model, with a focus on “whom we teach, where we teach, and how we teach” (p. 3) and ensuring “effective learning for varied individuals” (p. 3).

There are 7 “axioms” and “corollaries” presented that show how the two concepts are related:

Axiom 1: “The primary goal of quality curriculum design is to develop and deepen student understanding” (p. 4).

  • Students will grow at different rates and each student requires a different kind of support in order to develop their understanding of concepts.

Axiom 2: “Evidence of student understanding is revealed when students apply (transfer) knowledge in authentic contexts” (p. 5).

  • “The most effective teachers use the evidence of variance in student proficiency to provide opportunities and support to ensure that each student continues to develop and deepen knowledge, understanding, and skill from his or her current point of proficiency, interests, and learning preferences” (p. 5).

Axiom 3: “Effective curriculum development following the principles of backward design . . . helps avoid the twin problem of textbook coverage and activity-oriented teaching in which no clear priorities and purposes are apparent” (p. 6).

  • This point, and the phrase “activity-oriented teaching in which no clear priorities and purposes are apparent” causes me to think of how many dance teachers out there approach dance classes for our youngest students, between the ages of 2 and 4 years. Often, I see dance classes for this age group that are focused on activity facilitation, more so than the classes are focused on purposeful learning objectives and creating intentional educational experiences for the students.

Axiom 4: “Regular reviews of curriculum and assessment designs, based on design standards, provide quality control and inform needed adjustments. Regular reviews of “results” should be followed by needed adjustments to curriculum instruction” (p. 7).

Axiom 5: “Teachers provide opportunities for students to explore, interpret, apply, shift perspectives, empathize, and self-assess. These six facets provide conceptual lenses through which student understanding is assessed” (p. 8).

Axiom 6: “Teachers, students, and districts benefit by ‘working smarter’ and using technology and other vehicles to collaboratively design, share, and critique units of study” (p. 9).

  • “A routine part of collaboration in academically diverse classrooms should occur between teachers and specialists who have expert knowledge about student needs and instructional approaches most likely to respond effectively to those needs” (p. 9)
  • I feel that in typical studio-based dance programs or recreational dance programs, there is an assumption that the dance teacher is the expert; though this is not always the case. Early career dance teachers often do not have a significant amount of teaching experience, if any, and it is rare that these early-career dance teachers–unless they have gone through a classroom-focused teacher training program–have been trained in differentiated instruction. However, I understand the challenge of having expert educational specialists on-hand as a studio owner or dance education entrepreneur. I believe that the best way to solve this problem is to ensure that more dance educators who are teaching dance to children have a background that includes an understanding of the art and science of education itself, including fundamental theories about teaching and learning.

Axiom 7: “UbD is a way of thinking, not a program. Educators adapt its tools and materials with the goal of promoting better student understanding” (p. 10).

  • “Differentiated instruction is a way of thinking, not a formula or recipe. Educators draw on, apply, and adapt its tools with the goal of maximizing knowledge, understanding, and sill for the full range of learners” (p. 10).
  • Effective differentiation guides educators in thinking effectively about whom they teach, where they teach, and how they teach in order to ensure that what they teach provides each student with maximum power as a learner” (p. 10).
  • The above statements explain what my primary goal is for dance educators who are teaching elementary-school aged children. I believe that it is essential that dance educators are viewing each of their students as learners and that the responsibility of educating and facilitating understanding for those learners holds significant weight when planning and preparing for dance classes.

Remember, to read more about the ideas presented in this blog about Understanding by Design and Differentiated Instruction, check out Integrating Differentiated Instruction and Understanding by Design: Connecting Content and Kids by by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Jay McTighe.

 

 

 

What Are Students Learning in a Dance Daze® Dance With Me Class?

Dance Daze® Dance With Me is one of the new classes that we are offering at Dance Daze, Inc. studio-based classes! This class is designed for our youngest dancers (ages 18 months to 3 years) who are seeking a fun, high-energy, music-filled introduction to dance and movement. The idea for Dance Daze® Dance With Me grew out of observing students in Dance Daze® Creative Movement who strongly wanted their parents or caregivers to explore their dance class with them and join in on the fun.

Parents who bring their children to Dance Daze® Dance With Me can expect to experience the elements of movement and dance composition in a fun class that is guided by upbeat, kid-friendly music.

We will glide, slide, twirl, bend, bounce, and groove using props such as plush flowers, stuffed animals, scarves, ribbons, balance beams, wands, wings, and so much more!

If you think your child would enjoy a Dance Daze® Dance With Me class, sign them up today at DanceDaze.org.

Time-Management Tips for Seriously Busy People

We are in the first few days of February 2020, and I haven’t blogged since November of 2019! But that doesn’t really surprise me. I know that I haven’t been writing simply because I haven’t been making the time for it, or committing to getting a blog out on the same day each way, or operating with a “done is better than perfect” mentality, and several other things. Now that the hustle and bustle of the holidays are over, the rush of joining a new board and board-related travel has slowed, and now that my students have completed the performance we began preparing for several months ago, I am ready to start focusing on creating again, which will require me to manage my time in a different way.

I’m writing this post in the wee hours of the morning, after awakening from a… power nap? I decided write this because I’m currently in a great position with work, business, and life, and I’m working hard to manage all the responsibilities that currently take up my time so that each day feels better and less overwhelming.

Here is a little background: I left my full-time job as a classroom teacher back in May of 2019. This was probably about 9 months later than I should have left teaching full-time, but I didn’t want to pass up my chance at finally being a kindergarten teacher. (Previously, I had only taught second grade.) And, for the record, I absolutely loved being a kindergarten teacher. Also for the record: I don’t love having a full-time job with no flexibility. Many people don’t understand this about me, and I’m not one to over-explain things to the masses (I leave my over-explaining to my students and loved ones). But I’ll say this: With every fiber of my being, I am a creative and an entrepreneur. My mind is buzzing with ways to create the things that I love dozens of times per day (I would say “hundreds of times,” but I have to leave room for all of the anxious thoughts that interrupt the creative thoughts….). I love doing things on my own terms. I’m highly motivated by a sense of responsibility. Little fulfills me more in life than generating income from original thoughts and ideas that I have put into the the universe–whether that’s a new business venture, curriculum for a dance program, a podcast, music playlists for dance studio owners, a social media marketing plan, or even a blog. With that said, again: loved teaching, but felt extremely stifled (see also: unhappy, confined, controlled, cranky, unfulfilled, like I was living the wrong life, etc.) by the 9:00 to 5:00 way of living.

Today, I am working as a full-time entrepreneur with many, many projects in the works. Those projects include running two dance education organizations (Dance Daze, Inc. and Dance Daze in Schools), managing a recently-born digital marketing agency (SociallySaumirah.com), hosting a podcast (The Happy Dance Podcast), and designing digital courses and printable resources for early-career dance educators and dance business owners on my platform DanceEdStartup.com. Additionally, I’m a brand new board member for a statewide dance education organization, a third-year doctoral student trying to hone in a research topic that combines dance educator preparation, the psychology of learning, and experiential learning theory, a committed dog mom (as in: my two rescue dogs have their own strollers, their own overnight bags, and about six dog beds between them), a partner, and a bonus mom. Oh, and I also have a couple of part-time gigs, to financially support the part of me that loves foreign cars and frequent travel.

What’s my point? My point is that I have very little time in my days and weeks. So I’m working on working smarter so that I can play harder.

Here are some of the tips I’m currently applying in my own life so that I can effectively manage my time and get everything (read: most things) on my to-do list done each day of the week and feel productive and successful:

TIP #1 – WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN: If I don’t write it down as you’re telling me something, I’m probably going to forget it. I have to put everything on both of my wall calendars (found in my kitchen and living room), in the Google Calendar on my iPhone, on my To-Do List in my iPhone Notes, and in my $3 daily planner from Target so that I don’t forget it. Additionally, I recently started re-using a free website and cell phone app called GetBusy.com specifically to help me manage projects at one of my part-time gigs. (I also use Buffer.com to manage my social media postings for my digital marketing agency; I use GroupMe to communicate with staff for one of my part-time jobs; and I use Slack to communicate with my doctoral cohort.)

TIP #2 – IF YOU FEEL THE URGE TO DO IT, DO IT: This might seem counter-intuitive to productivity. But let me explain. If we’re being completely honest, I don’t write everything down. (My mom says I should write down even the smallest things, but, what can I say? I’m still living on the edge in some ways.) For example: I don’t write down that I need to do the dishes or walk my dogs or take out the trash and recycling. For me, seeing dishes piling up or broken down boxes shoved in the corner is typically aversive enough for me to handle those situations so that they’re not just sitting there, unresolved, for more than a day or two. However, I have to give into the “urges” to take out my trash, or else I have this really annoying feeling in the back of my mind while trying to work on other things. So, in short: Clean when you feel like cleaning because it might relieve some stress and allow you to focus more on your actual work.

TIP #3: DO SPECIFIC WORK ON SPECIFIC DAYS: The idea of taking out the trash and recycling makes me think of how much clarity it gives me to know that I have to do certain things on certain days! Then they’re done! Probably since my days as a young graduate student at Pacific, when I was renting a room in a house in Stockton, CA, I believe I’ve always put out the trash bin on trash day–even if the bin wasn’t full. Even if there was only one bag in the bin, the trash went out. Even if there was almost no reason to put out the trash, I put out the trash bin because it ensured that it got done! It ensured that I didn’t have to take time out on another day to check all the waste bins inside of the house, fill up the large bin outside, possibly cause the outside bin to overflow, then have to re-think my entire trash-taking-out strategy. I’m still working this schedule of doing certain things on certain days out in my life (because, really, it is quite possible that I have too many things going on to only work on certain things on certain days… but if there’s a question, then there’s room for an experiment!). However, the idea of reserving certain tasks for certain days is one that I think might better help me manage my current schedule.

TIP #4: STOP WITH THE GUILT TRIPS, ALREADY: I’m actively working on not allowing myself to focus on the things that I’m not getting done each day or each week and to focus on being happy with what I have accomplished. I’m entirely aware of how easily people who live for feeling successful and productive and who run on high speed most of the time, like I do, can easily forget to acknowledge all that we have done and focus on what we have not done. This generally causes us to feel completely terrible internally, while the world wonders what our problem is. So, again, I’m working on re-framing my thoughts around my ideas of success and achievement so that I can focus more on what I have done and actively feel good about this. Which leads my to my final tip for this blog….

TIP #5: CELEBRATE EVERY WIN BECASE YOU EARNED IT, HONEY! I’m not sure what the exact formula is that “works” for me, but I know that at the end of some days I feel absolutely great about all that I’ve done. Other days, this is not so much the case. So, again, I don’t have this down to an exact science yet, but I do know that I love relishing in the thought that I’ve used the hours in the day that has just passed as effectively as possible to move me closer toward attaining my goals and toward living my ideal life. So I’m trying to feel like that more.

That’s all I have for now, friends. Let’s chat again soon!

 

Dance Classroom Management: Double Plan

Happy Monday, Dance Friends!

Today’s dance classroom management tip, which comes from the book Teach Like A Champion 2.0 (paid link) is called Double Plan. To Double Plan is to plan both what you–the teacher–and the students will be doing at each point in class when you are writing out your lessons.

The text goes into detail about using a graphic organizer packet to guide the lesson and check for understanding in a traditional classroom setting. As a dance educator coach, I want to focus most on the idea of a T-chart that is mentioned. Using a T-chart lesson plan (i.e., get out a blank piece of paper and draw a huge T, so that there is a line going down the middle, creating two columns, and so that the top of the capital letter T allows you to label each column) allows us to write side-by-side what the students will be doing while we are saying or doing what we plan to do.

“It’s natural for teachers to write lessons that focus on what they will be doing: which key points they will cover, questions they will ask, activities that will facilitate, work they will assign, and so forth. Still, the most effective teachers I know Double Plan, that is, they plan at least as carefully what their students will be doing each step of the way” (p. 143).

Though not written in a T-chart style, you can see simple examples of Double Planning in the Dance Daze® Lesson Plans for Dance With Me and Ballet and Tap over at DanceEdStartup.com.

According to the text, “Double Planning forces you to consider how you will at each step hold students accountable for the content and quality of their work” (p. 149). I believe that Double Planning forces educators to consider the desired behavior that they want or expect during each part of their lesson.

For example, in your dance class, should students be copying your movements while you explain or should they be standing respectfully and observing as you demonstrate? If students will have props, how should they hold their props and when will they pick up their props? What should the rest of the class do while you are giving corrections to one student?

During my teaching residency program and during my years of working as a classroom teacher, I was taught and came to deeply understand that we must teach our students everything we want them to do. We should never assume that our students already know how we want them to behave or what we want them to understand unless we have explicitly taught them in many different ways, reviewed our expectations, and practiced desired behavior many times over the course of a session of classes or a dance year.

The next time you plan your dance lesson, remember to Double Plan so that you can be better prepared for a successful lesson with students behaving the way you want them to behave!

Dance Classroom Management: Warm/Strict

Today’s Behavior Management Monday Technique from the book Teach Like A Champion 2.0 (paid link) is one of my favorites. It is an extremely simple technique that I use regularly in my work as an educator, both in the traditional classroom and in the dance classroom.

This technique is under the larger category of building character and trust in your classroom. Using the Warm/Strict technique allows us to “send a message of high expectations, caring, and respect” (p. 438).

This is a short section in the book, but I really love the way that the technique is described:

We’re socialized to believe that warmth and strictness are opposites: if you’re more of one, it means being less of the other. I don’t know where this false conception comes from, but if you choose to believe in it, it will undercut your teaching. The fact is that the degree to which you are warm has no bearing on the degree to which you are strict, and vice versa. You should be neither only warm nor only strict. In fact, as the Warm/Strict technique shows, you must be both. You should be caring, funny, warm, concerned, and nurturing–but also strict, by the book, relentless, and sometimes inflexible.

In fact, you should seek not only to be both warm and strict but often to be both at exactly the same time. When you are clear, consistent, and firm while being positive, enthusiastic, caring, and thoughtful, you send the message to students that having high expectations is part of caring for and respecting someone. (p. 438)

In reading the above paragraphs from the text, I am reminded that the idea of showing caring through high expectations is a core belief of mine. As a child training in dance, I remember complaining a few times to my mother that I was being “picked on” by my dance teachers. I remember my mother explaining to me that if the teachers didn’t care or think that I had potential, they wouldn’t correct me. She pointed out the some students never received corrections and got away with doing movements incorrectly, but the fact that teachers took the time to make sure I did things the right way shows that the believed in me and knew I was not giving my best effort. Those teachers wanted me to be my greatest self. Today, I realize from the way in which I communicate with my students and the lens through which I view parenting decisions is largely based in this belief: When you truly believe that someone can accomplish great things, as if it is an undeniable fact, you won’t have a problem with helping them see themselves in the same way and encouraging them to reveal the best part of themselves through their own work and effort. This is one of the qualities that I love most about the technique of Warm/Strict–it combines caring with high expectations and reminds us that high standards are good and should be sought and desired.