Deirdre Moore | December 2014

Creating vs. Imitating

Creating Versus Imitating

“Ms. Moore can we change it and go like this?”  Ah, the sweet sounds of student engagement and creative thinking!   Some fourth-graders said this to me as they rehearsed raps and corresponding dance sequences that I taught them. These were designed specifically to address science concepts students in the school system missed on the state standardized tests.  Because these lessons I modeled are part of a research grant, they need to be taught as written. There is no time built in for the students to create the raps or the dances themselves.

As much as I enjoy teaching these lessons, and as gratifying as it is to know that they yield positive results based on the state-wide testing scores, when I witness a group of students trying to make the movement their own both the artist and the educator in me long to make space for that creative process.  It causes me to reflect once again on the power of creating versus imitating.

There is a place for learning choreography, and imitating the movements someone else created.  It exposes a dancer to different styles, can improve technique, and adds to a dancer’s repertoire of movement. But, there are times when allowing students to create the movements themselves might be more educationally beneficial.  If there are some concepts your students struggle with, and feel ready to allow some time for student-designed choreography, you might want to try articulating those concepts in rhyme. Letting those raps be the “music” for the movement.

Here are some hints and suggestions to help you on your way.

1. Create the rap/chant together

This ensures that the information is accurate. Making sure the main points you want to emphasize are represented, and each group has the same basis for their choreography.  (Of course, if you’ve done this sort of thing with your students for a while, you can always have them create their own.  You know best!)  For the final product, allow some students to perform the rap, while others dance.  All should learn the movement and the raps, but in terms of “performance” the responsibilities can be split to accommodate student strengths.

2. If you have dancers in your class, use them.

They don’t have to have experience. We want them to have the comfort and confidence to move in front of their peers.  Make sure you have one in each small group, if possible, to assist with creating versus imitating the moves. Along with, motivating and encouraging other students to move.

3. Co-create some choreography. 

Creating versus imitating choreography, especially if you have limited dance experience, can be tricky.  However, we all move everyday. Actually, we have a larger movement repertoire than we realize.  If the idea is to create movement corresponding to the lyrics the class created, you may be surprised what movement sequences your students conjure.  You may want to create some choreography together as a class. Then, allow individual groups to add on to that, or alter it.  It’s much easier to create something from something, rather than from nothing!  Also, music inspires movement.  Find a song with a good beat, and see what happens….

4. Create a procedure for feedback and revision.

Perhaps you pair groups to watch and critique one another.  If you can video tape each group, allow them to watch it. It’s incredibly empowering for them to have an opportunity to self-critique.

5. Have time limits and deadlines.

The creative process is never really done.  Set time limits and goals for work done in class, and deadlines for the “performance” of the final product.  There is nothing like a deadline to assist in the decision-making process!  You can always give the students an opportunity to select a piece that becomes their project piece they continue to work on throughout the marking period or the year.

Having students learn raps/chants and corresponding choreography can be a very effective means of teaching or reinforcing information.  Having students think about the content and create movements that embody that content can be time-consuming but may prove to be that much more effective as a learning tool and will certainly be more meaningful for the creators.

About the Author

Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.