The PRACTITIONER ENQUIRY SESSION 5 focussed on self-evaluation against a set of standards (rather than reflection). With reference to my dance teaching and the teaching observation of other practitioners in two different settings, the following blog entry focuses on what I consider to be ‘best practice’ in dance teaching and learning.
Critical Reflection on Dance Teaching
Dance Links (2005) clearly defines outcomes for ‘best practice’ in dance teaching/learning and identifies attributes and skills which allow effective teaching of children and young people (CYP). I chose Dance Links as a model as it identifies how excellent teachers adapt content, teaching style and strategies to meet individual needs and provide experience of the creativity and artistry of dance which contribute to wellbeing. This model guides ‘best practice’ in dance teaching in the curriculum and out-of-hours school dance and fosters strong links between dance organisations and schools. This is relevant to my practice as I teach Contemporary, Ballet and Jazz from age 2 in the community and from age 11 in Scottish secondary dance education. I observed two professional practitioners to provide examples of high quality dance training in relation to Dance Links model. I considered a community Jazz teacher [A] instructing a General level class for ages 8-11 in the setting of a private studio for enjoyment of learning dance skills and a Scottish Ballet teacher [B], training a Beginners technique class at an educational RAD summer school for ages 11-16 to maintain continuity of technique for Secondary curricular dance. I chose these practitioners as they work in the educational and community contexts outlined in Dance Links and reflecting on their practice would inform my teaching as the contexts, dance genre and ages of learners are encompassed in the classes I teach. I will explore key qualities of ‘best practice’ in relation to Dance Links model to inform my practice.
Dance Links identifies that ‘best practice’ requires passion to motivate student learning. I felt Teacher-A’s strategies made instruction more appealing and noticed they fulfilled the four-factors of learning theory described by the ARCS model (Keller, 2000). Her tone and level of voice commanded attention (A) on counts and effort. Teaching points and corrections had immediate relevance (R) to practice. She built confidence (C) with energetic language ‘let’s work on our turnout’. A simple statement ‘good’ or a wink was enough positive reinforcement to develop work ethic and gave learners satisfaction (S) she had acknowledged their achievements. There was a energy in this class which I enjoyed observing and felt was shaped by Teacher-A’s passionate delivery style and positive inspiration during skill acquisition. This passion provides a mechanism to work more freely, creatively and inclusively within a community setting and still benefit from structured training at general level (Amans, 2008).
Teacher-B also motivated learners through his passion for dance and fulfilled the ARCS model. His passion for his craft showed in his confident entry, eye contact, technical alignment and attire, which I noticed impressed learners immediately. He took control of the class from the start and precisely worked through teaching points. This maximised achievement of technique. His passion for teaching showed through his pursuit of technique mastery, in professional demonstrations, patience and individual corrections. I observed this clearly motivated his class to mirror his vision and this suited the educational context. This passionate approach built standards and trust in his attention to detail and suited achievement of RAD ballet principles in the timescale of the educational context.
In accordance with Dance Links model, I share both teachers passion for teaching. I find young learners are particularly enthused by positive feedback and draw on my experience and love of dance. In community classes I use popular street dance to inspire learners to create choreography. In educational settings, my passion promotes independent learning, if supported by my dance knowledge and behaviour management. This agrees with theories that learning can be influenced by the teacher (Vygotsksky, 1978).
Dance Links states best practice shares the value of dance with learners of all backgrounds. Dance is pivotal in enabling learners to enhance technique, creative and artistic skills. Additionally, dance develops lifeskills which shape personal, social and cultural identity (Scottish Government, 2009). Best practice in all classes showed dancers’ knowledge and movement confidence developed where exercises were corrected and practiced (Griffin, 2011). Dance enables creative expression by uniquely engaging the body and the imagination (Brinson, 1991). I felt Teacher-A achieved this by facilitating creative group tasks and discussion. The supportive ethos promoted team-working (Smith, 2004). Learners became effective contributors working independently to evaluate peers and responsible citizens supporting others. Like Teacher-A, I promoted understanding of ethical and safe practice and differentiated roles to support inclusion. I promote the value of dance in health, fitness and wellbeing as part of local community ‘Change for Life’ and ‘Active Schools’ campaigns which encourage learners out with dance to participate. In an education setting, in my classes and those of Teacher-B, kinaesthetic learning raised aspirations of less academic participants resulting in improved behaviour and reduced bullying. Boys whose learning needs were unfulfilled by the read/write nature of the school curriculum thrived with competitive challenge and excelled in tasks requiring contact improvisation and problem-solving. Teacher-B provided a strong male role model which supported skill development and encouraged boys to dance.
Dance Links requires teachers to understand progression in content in relation to child development and utilise this to meet learning needs. To achieve this, teachers plan a coherent and progressive lesson series where learning objectives for each lesson meet the overall aims and are achievable by all learners. To ensure work is appropriate and motivating alternative avenues must be provided to overcome learning barriers and challenge most-able. I recognised learners of the same age develop ability and skills at different rates. Teacher-B developed technique and focussed on agility and speed suited to 11-16 years (Sanders, 2012). To account for variation in learners, Teacher-B used outcome-based differentiation where all learners completed the same exercise during barre work. I observed less-able focussed on balance and more-able on coordination and strength to provide flexible learning avenues. Teacher-A developed alignment, movement quality and choreography for 8-11 years who have the cognitive development to problem-solve (Sanders, 2012). Teacher-A differentiated a group choreography task based on learning activity. This showed best practice in relation to child development as she assigned roles as performers/choreographers/audience based on learners’ interests, ability and learning styles. Learners had opportunity to develop social skills and observe others to develop their practice. In my 8-11 years Jazz classes, I also differentiated activities based on task by including armlines/pathway/pace/dynamics and outcome to develop planning, organising and evaluating during group choreography tasks. I find this promotes inclusion and active learning.
Dance Links states best practice requires creative approaches to teaching and learning. Research suggests an effective teacher should employ various teaching styles within one lesson to actively involve all learners (Mosston & Ashworth, 1994). Teacher-A and Teacher-B used command and practice to instil technique inspired with patterning and rhythm. Teacher-B used the same styles throughout the lesson to develop precise technique in set sequences as required in an educational context. I acknowledge teacher led-direction is initially effective to develop beginners’ skills but learners became reliant on instructional methods. Incorporating other teaching styles would achieve the same outcomes and allow learners to benefit from social and lifeskills. Teacher-A developed group dance sequences using guided discovery, reciprocal and inclusive teaching styles in a group choreography task. Learners worked together creatively developing their own sequences based on the teachers choreography using choreographic structures and devices and in response to various stimuli. Development from teacher-lead to learner-directed styles facilitated skill acquisition. By working through tasks and building on prior knowledge, learners developed creative and cognitive skills.
Dance Links advocates Maslow’s theory that personalised learning motivates students to achieve their potential (Griffin, 2011). It is best practice for set-tasks to match the individual’s preferred learning style described by Kolb’s model (Stice, 1987). Like Teacher-A, I include group choreography activities which appeal to all four learning styles. In addition to Concrete-Experience and Reflective-Observation skills gained during practice of technical exercises, group tasks allow problem-solving to develop Abstract-Conceptualisation and exploration to develop Active-Experimentation. Assigning groups with a range of learning styles supports learners during choreography tasks. This achieves the higher quality learning experience described by Gardiner’s Multiple intelligence theory (Gardiner, 1983). I feel activities that consider all learning styles ensure participant engagement and progression, which is core to high quality learning.
Integrating composition, performance, and appreciation into a lesson is advocated by Smith-Autard (2002) and supported by Dance Links. Teacher-B demonstrated best practice, as composition of exercises developed specific use of the body and understanding of shape, dynamics and levels. I follow set BATD exercises, but Teacher-B selected sections from RAD exercises to concentrate on key techniques. I believe focus on movement initiated from the core and deconstruction of each exercise showed best practice and significantly improved performance. I noticed Teacher-B’s precise demonstrations allowed learners to appreciate the attributes required to engage appropriate muscle groups and the teachers’ commentary developed awareness of correct technical language. I felt ballet exercises achieved the educational objectives to develop technique but did not cultivate artistic learning. Teacher-A overcame this problem using a shorter technique section that supported a creative task. Learners worked in groups to develop diverse jazz composition based on teacher-A’s choreography and developed by various stimuli, then performed to their peers who provided feedback on their performance. I felt this reflected best practice as through collaboration they became skilled in developing their own composition. The impact of best practice was evident in Teacher-A’s and my own classes through group feedback during open discussion and enhanced performance. When parents observed end-of-class performances their positive commentary further enhanced artistry shown during the lesson. In my class an autistic boy particularly benefitted from parental feedback when showing his ‘super-smile technique’. The supportive environment and lack of external assessment fostered creativity as stated in Rodger’s Theory (Amabile, 1996). In contrast performance in Teacher-B’s class was limited by an educational curriculum, exam pressure and observations by school management resulting in a focus on the product. I think nurturing a supportive environment promotes lifelong enjoyment of dance which is enhanced by composition, performance, and appreciation.
Best practice maintains a safe and effective learning environment matched to learners needs. In line with duty of care legislation, both teachers included a warm-up/cool-down and showed a disciplined approach to physical and emotional safety. Teaching strategies are mechanisms which enhance a positive learning environment for skill acquisition by enhancing self-belief (Mainwaring & Krasnow, 2010). Best practice by all teachers matched lesson content to learning needs in a clearly defined class structure. Teacher-A actively involved learners in a creative starter that established learning objectives, whereas Teacher-B set objectives but provided learners with the option to review or develop learning. I also link objectives to lesson aims. Best practice was shown by all teachers to promote attitudes and behaviour which benefit the whole dancer and the learning process. Like Teacher-A, I adopt an enthusiastic approach, praise positive behaviour and skill and move through the class to correct individuals technique and control potentially disruptive behaviour. The focus was on group working and providing differentiated avenues to support inclusion. This suited the needs of a mixed ability class. Teacher-B used a calming approach which settled anxious learners and quietened a talkative group. This reflected respect for this 11-16 age group. I felt all teachers reduced injuries and anxiety impeding achievement by focussing dancers on composition rather than competition and controlling the pace of exercises and energy needed. In my class I find that encouraging self-reflection identifies achievable targets which positively benefits learners.
Dance Links identifies assessment as essential to best practice as it enables the teacher to monitor learners‘ progress and direct subsequent teaching to meet individual needs. Assessment sustains continuous improvement by collection, review and use of information (Palomba & Banta, 1999). Diagnostic assessments are used to identify gaps in current knowledge (QIA, 2008). I use results of diagnostic assessment of posture, movement and verbal discussion to adapt planned lessons to meet individual needs. In Teacher-A’s and my community classes observed informal formative assessments provided the most applicable method to gauge acquisition of cognitive and problem-solving skills in group choreography tasks. I felt informal assessment allowed the criteria to be arranged to the learning activity, assessed at appropriate times and identified dancers’ understanding and creativity without examination pressure. In contrast, my after-school classes and Teacher-B’s lessons are driven by the need for a range of formal formative techniques to provide evidence of student attainment (Black & William, 2001). I felt this could minimise opportunity for exploration of creativity especially leading to summative exams. Additionally in my lessons, peer assessment of group choreography appraised artistry and critical skills. This deepened learners understanding of the assessed criteria.
Dance Links promotes that teachers refresh their practice by participating in continuing professional development (CPD) to understand and practice relevant legislation. I recognise CPD is key in raising teaching and learning standards and allows teachers to adapt practice to age, ability, behaviour and setting. Updating skills supports curricular development and benefits practitioners by promoting personal development (CDET, 2013). I attend professional dance classes to maintain technique and update teaching skills and have been inspired by observing professional practitioners. Reading relevant literature allows me to identify new issues in effective practice. I consequently focus on dealing with welfare, behaviour and safe practice. I am a reflective practitioner who self-evaluates lessons and discusses ‘best practice’ with other teachers to continuously improve (Schon, 2009).
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