I started out this year trying to stick to the new curriculum I had planned over the summer, though with some modifications. My plan had been to focus on one major dance element or concept each week, with a set structure to the week: creative work lessons on Mondays and Tuesdays to introduce the concept, video observation and journal writing on Wednesdays (which is our district’s early release day, so the classes are too short for getting dressed in dance clothes – good day for classroom work), and technique work that continues to focus on the week’s concept on Thursdays and Fridays.
Unfortunately, the Wednesday observation / writing day went right out the window, for a number of reasons: For one, I had no workable technology for showing video; also, the first time I brought out paper for observations, the non-participating students wadded it up and threw it around the room (so I gave up on that for a while); and, as it turned out, I would still have to supervise the locker room for the other PE class even if my students were not getting dressed – so since I couldn’t take my students directly to a classroom there wouldn’t be enough time for any serious observation and writing anyway. So Wednesdays turned into a very short regular class and catch-up day, either creative work or technique, whichever most needed the extra time…
My plan was to start working on opposites – EXTREMES! One thing that came up at the curricular progressions workshop over the summer was that middle school-aged students tend to live in “medium” – so getting them to go to extremes right off the bat seemed like it would be useful for everything afterward. The elements I picked to work on extremes were size/range, level, and speed/tempo — as probably the most easily accessible elements for brand-new, non-dance-experienced kids.
For Size/range, we did some basic freeze dance work using action words and HUGE and tiny movements (I tried to do a bit of Shape Tag or Puzzle Museum, but only the 6th graders actually did it, since with the 7th and 8th grade classes were still too chaotic to get much past the freeze dance). For the technique classes, I tried to focus on doing a little jazz combination with very big and very small movements (with mixed success).
The next week, for Level, we tried to do a little bit of Rocks and Bridges (from Anne Green Gilbert's book), where movers climb and leap over low shapes ("rocks") or crawl under and through high shapes ("bridges") — again, the 6th graders managed it, but it was a little scary since we were still in the little portable classroom (leaping was really out of the question). We tried the Erosion game the next day, in which pairs manipulate each other into gradually lower shapes, and all the classes had some success with that lesson. For the technique half of the week, because we weren't moving very quickly through steps, I couldn't very well teach them a whole combination focusing on Level in two or three classes (as I had envisioned before school started) — so I just appended five shapes onto the end of their (very brief) jazz combination, alternating high and low.
The next week, we spent just a day working on Speed/tempo, working on finding movements that they could do faster… even faster… hyperspeed! and slower… slower… s-u-p-e-r slow-mo… Then they got into groups and began their first choreography project. The project was pretty simple: create a short dance that includes extremes of size/range, level, and speed/tempo — and, of course, a beginning and ending shape!
For this first assignment, I let them work in groups that they felt comfortable with (this may be a mistake in the long run, but at this point it was definitely a matter of choosing my battles — arguments over "I can't be in a group with him/her!" were just one more thing I did not need to deal with). As it happens, once they got into groups and began planning their own steps, some of the students who had not been dancing yet got pulled along, and began asking if they could join one group or another and participate, so the classes began to look more generally successful…
The next problem was that, absolutely universally, everyone in the class agreed that they could never, never perform their dances in front of the rest of the class! So I made the agreement that, just for this time, I would just come around with my video camera while everyone was working, just as if it was a normal practice day, and no one else in the class would be watching because they would all be practicing (sigh… so much for showing and responding…). I am hoping that once they get a little more comfortable, we'll be able to get them to show in the future… baby steps for now. In the end, the finished projects were not the most original in the world, and the extremes were certainly not as extreme as I had hoped — but about 2/3 of the class did complete the assignment, which a few weeks before was something I would never have believed. So it's a start… This week we're starting on shapes and symmetry, we'll see how it goes from here!