Sunday, January 25, 2015

fall semester wrap-up... and on to the next

Finals are over, and the fall semester is done. We finished two full creative-work units, with lessons on the elements and group choreography projects — working mostly on the element of Space, with locomotor and axial movement, directions and facings, levels, and symmetrical and asymmetrical shapes. Two choreography projects is considerably less than I would like to have done in one semester... but that was at least partly due to letting students have the time they felt they needed to perfect their first projects to their satisfaction, so perhaps that fits in with the ethic of "less is more"; and I was able to fit in some other creative-work lessons between projects, which I hope to build on further.

As for the technical side, we completed three different short dances, learning some basic jazz technique and a bit about Katherine Dunham as well as some traditional / historical jazz in the form of Lindy hop and Big Apple. A large contingent of dancers (nearly 40) got daring enough to perform in front of most of the school in the Hallowe'en Thriller flashmob, and a couple dozen of them are preparing to perform the Lindy hop piece for the whole school at the next assembly — not bad for beginners!

Along the way, I think we've managed to establish a classroom community where students feel safe to dance, create, and take risks in front of each other — definitely a good start, and something to build on as I work on moving them into making meaning with dance...

One happy problem I had this first semester was around how to tweak my daily participation rubric to differentiate among my (huge majority of) students who fully participate to their best ability every day. While I was at EOSA, my classes were small — never more than 25, and mostly between twelve and twenty — so it was relatively simple to evaluate each student on fulfilling the learning targets at the end of each class. Then last year, in a school where most students expected any class within the PE program meant free play, so few made the effort to participate in the lessons that differentiation was easy — my problem was just getting enough students to participate enough to pass my class. Now that I am in a school where students have the expectation of coming prepared and staying focused on class, I started to wonder if too many of my students were earning A's (if that is a problem, it is certainly a more pleasant problem to have!). After checking with some dance teacher colleagues and finding that my very simple rubric does accord with theirs, I solved the dilemma by deciding not to worry about it too much... At least not this year, as we're getting the program off the ground and all the classes are Beginning Dance, it's really okay for the majority of students to be able to succeed just by doing what they're supposed to do, to the best of their abilities, every day (and there are always written work and choreography projects to help differentiate). I can always tweak the rubric to make it harder for more advanced year!

So now we are on to spring semester... Since we ended the fall semester doing technique for performance finals, we are starting this one with creative work — moving on to the element of Time with tempo variations. As usual in the spring, I have plans to teach a lot of world / multicultural dance forms — I always include a little Baile Folkl√≥rico and a little African-Haitian or Congolese, along with some Polynesian; it appears the three forms the students are most interested in are Brazilian Samba, Hawai'ian hula, and (this one surprised me) classical ballet, so we will most certainly cover those. I would like to get in a lot more creative work — contrasts, some work on choreographic forms, something that will lead to a collaborative dance for each class that they can perform at our informal concert at the end of the year, as well as the choreography final (I usually give them a narrative form project for that one)... so much to cover in so little time! Well, we'll see how it goes — I have to keep reminding myself that my curriculum at EOSA didn't really get settled for a few years, so whatever happens here, it is a good start.

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