Typhani Harris | March 2015

When it all needs to change

When It All Needs to Change.

When I began this year, I figured since I already built one full comprehensive dance program at the high school level. It shouldn’t be too hard to replicate it.  Boy, was I wrong.  I attempted to teach the same way, with the same curriculum, and same structure which had proven successful in the past, but for some reason none of this worked.

Originally, I structured the class so each week students would experience multiple genres and theories of dance.  For example, Monday would be modern, Tuesday jazz, Wednesday theory, Thursday composition, and Friday concert preparation.  This structure worked in the past, and provided variety. This assisted students in remaining engaged.  However, as the semester progressed this structure proved ineffective in this particular environment.  My students were not retaining information presented the week before, which led to spending a majority of class reteaching prior information.

So, as I began this new semester I realized things that needs to change.  I decided the entire structure of the class needed to be different and designed in a way that kept students engaged. Additionally, it also needs to change to help students retain information successfully so that each day could focus on advancing their knowledge instead of constantly reteaching and revisiting.  This process made me revisit my own personal philosophies of dance education including prioritizing and articulating how the standards, my vision, and the department goals can all work together for a comprehensive education.

Revisiting the Lesson

The performing arts department goals include students being able to master the skills of the art, articulate and advocate for the art, and the performance quality of the art.  My vision includes these expectations as well as ensuring that students have a well-rounded education of dance with a large understanding of the theory.  Equally important, the standards highlight all of these intentions.  So I asked myself how can I marry all of these expectations and design a class structure that places these at the forefront and provides an opportunity for the students to retain the information.

Although I am not a fan of compartmentalizing the learning experience as I feel the students should not learn in silo, isolating some of this information for the purpose of retention and mastery might work best for these particular students.

Hoping to structure a successful class, I retraced some of the experiences that caused a struggle.  Our school holds a revue after each semester so trying to teach a concert worthy piece for my students who had just begun taking class was difficult, they needs to change to know the technique in order to prepare the concert piece.  But in order to learn the technique, I felt it was important that students understood the theory and history of the genres we were working with.  These specifics were the foundation for the new structure I wanted to create.

So, this semester I began with the theory and history.

Each became an exploration of a new genre first the foundations of dance, then ballet, jazz, and modern.  Each exploration ending with presentations by the students where they focus on one iconic member of the genre and perform a section of their choreography.  And finally an exam that pushes students beyond the recall level of thinking.

So far, the students are retaining the information, are engaged with learning choreography, and are successfully teaching each other about significant members of the genres they are about to experience.  Since students are working with one concept at a time until retention is achieved this approach is working better than spacing the content out where it is explored once a week.  This practice was a good reminder that all students are different, and what worked for one set of students doesn’t necessarily work for others.  This also keeps us, the educators, from becoming stagnant in our preparation and delivery, and reminds us to redesign our curriculum each year.

Over the next few months I will be sharing some of these lessons including reading material, rubrics, and activities.  But remember to always alter any lesson you find so that is it what is best for your specific students.

Next Week: Revitalization
Revitalizing your Vision

When was the last time you analyzed your personal philosophies of teaching?  Next week we will sift through our philosophies to revitalize our visions!

About the Author

Dr. Typhani Harris, author of Putting the Performance in Performance Task and Stop Teaching, brings over 2 decades of educational experience to The Institute. Originally a high school English Language Arts teacher, Dr. Harris transitioned into a dance educator who cultivated an award-winning collegiate style dance education program at a public school in California. Prior to joining the Institute, she was an educational leader and instructional coach specializing in preparing new teachers in secondary urban schools.  As the Executive Director of Academic Affairs, Dr. Harris maintains courses, conferences, and the accredited certification program at The Institute.