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.

 

 

 

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!