Typhani Harris | June 2015

Reflections Part II: Lesson Plans of the Past Year

This week, we’re concluding the Reflections Series that I started last week on Unpacking the National Standards.  Today, I’m offering up my insights on how Standards 9-11 went and where to go next! Let’s take a look at lesson plans of the past year.

Standard 9

In April we unpacked Standard 9: Apply criteria to evaluate artistic work (Full Article) and tested out the following lesson plans:


9-12 (but can be simplified for younger students)


How did I do?

Established Goals:

a. Analyze the artistic expression of a dance.  Discuss insights using evaluative criteria and dance terminology.

Enduring Understanding:

Criteria for evaluating dance vary across genres, styles and cultures.

Essential Question:

What criteria are used to evaluate dance?

Objectives: Students will

  • analyze specifics of dance based on genre/style
  • determine appropriate criteria for evaluating dance
  • demonstrate proficiency in dance terminology
  • utilize constructed criteria to evaluate personal performance

Learning Activities

  1. Based on the performance choreography, begin a class discussion on the specifics of the piece including technical skills, artistic expression, artists’ intent.  Highlight the specific skills that students should focus on based on the needs of the class.  (For example: if one of the technical elements you have been working on in class is the pirouettè, then there should be a specific area to evaluate that skill)
  2. Once criteria is built, design a form to complete while viewing the piece.  Below is a template with sample criteria:  Performance AnalysisPerformance Analysis, Lesson Plans of the Past Year, Education Closet
  3. Have students complete the criteria based evaluation while viewing the performance.

a.  Place a star over areas that where performed well, and a circle around specific areas that can be improved:

Performance Analysis, Lesson Plans of the Past Year, Education Closet

b.  Based on the circles and stars, assign a letter grade to the component.

c.  Present a rationale for the letter grade of the component.

d.  Complete the evaluation with a list of goals to work toward for the next evaluation


This remains one of my favorite evaluation tools.  This really places the evaluation into the hands of the students and allows them to reflect on their progress.  I use this tool with not only their performances but also new technical skills that are introduced in class.  One thing that I am considering altering for next year, however, is the “grading” aspect of this tool, the A B C section.  Next year my department is testing out master-based and project-based grading, where there is less of a quantitative evaluation and more of a qualitative reflection, I will let you know how that goes :)

Standard 10

The unpacking continued in March with Standard 10: Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art (Full Article).  In unpacking this standard it was clear that this is heavily concept-based and involves large ideas that can be infused throughout many lessons and experiences within dance.  So, for this standard we looked at more encompassing lesson plans and opportunities, rather than specific lesson plans.

Analyze a dance to determine the ideas expressed by the choreographer.

This can be demonstrated at any point when students are watching choreography, whether it is a viewing of student work or professional work, include probing questions that help students to specifically analyze what the choreographer is trying to express through the movement vocabulary used.

Explain how the perspectives expressed by the choreographer may impact one’s own interpretation.

This can easily be re-phrased into a question that students can respond to when viewing artistic work.

Collaboratively identify a dance related question or problem.

Open a discussion forum with students to identify issues related to their personal dance community.  Have students turn to social and printed media to see other issues in the greater dance community.  Use these issues to build questions.

Conduct research through interview, research database, text, media, or movement.

Utilizing the questions generated from the identified issue/problem, have students determine what avenues of research would be best to conduct in order to find plausible answers to the composed question.

Analyze and apply information gathered by creating a group dance that answers the question posed.

Once students have answered their questions through traditional research methods, communicate the results through composed movement.

Discuss how the dance communicates new perspectives or realizations.

Have students identify the perspectives that are introduced through the movement.  Students can demonstrate this through written or oral presentation.

Compare orally and in writing the process used in choreography to that of other creative, academic, or scientific procedures.

One academic process that is clearly aligned with the artistic process, is that of writing.   Each step of the writing process is also experienced in the choreographic process.  Making this connection will also open many opportunities for cross collaboration.

Prewrite = improvisation, gathering concepts,
Write = composition of initial movement, including structure and devices
Revise = accept analysis of the composition, take questions and suggestions into account
Edit = make adjustments in the composition
Publish = present the composition


Again, these concepts were infused throughout the year encompassing almost every lesson plans.  One area where the arts can grow is through collaboration, which really hones in on the last concept Compare orally and in writing the process used in choreography to that of other creative, academic, or scientific procedures.  By doing this, we can also start conversations on arts integration and really help our core teachers to not only see the value but possible start integrating the arts on their own.

Standard 11

We concluded the series last month with Standard 11: Relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural, and historical context to deepen understanding, with this lesson plans:


9-12 (but can be simplified for younger students)


Foundations of Dance

Established Goals:

a. Analyze and discuss dances from selected genres or styles and/or historical time periods, and formulate reasons for the similarities and differences between them in relation to the ideas and perspectives of the peoples from which the dances originate

Enduring Understanding:

Dance literacy includes deep knowledge and perspectives about societal, cultural, historical, and community contexts.

Essential Question:

How does knowing about societal, cultural, historical, and community experiences expand dance literacy?

Objectives: Students will

  • analyze specifics of dance based on genre/style
  • determine appropriate criteria for evaluating dance
  • View multiple pieces from the foundations of dance including historical, cultural, theatrical, and social dance
  • Research the history of a specific foundational dance
  • Recreate a piece
  • Present the piece and the history to the class

Learning Activities

  1. Present background information on the foundations of dance: Historical, cultural, theatrical, and social.  Gayle Kassing’s History of Dance: an interactive arts approach offers a wonderful comprehensive look at these various foundations and includes a DVD of samples. To connect more directly to your specific students, utilize their cultures as well as their pop music and local dance scene to share the foundations of cultural and social dance.  Consider composing a power point to introduce the background of these foundations and have students compose notes to follow the presentation.  Design the presentation with your students in mind by highlighting their personal cultures and favorite pop culture social dance and music, also consider what videos you have access to as you will want to present visual samples of the different foundations.
    Note-taking strategies
    Sample Foundations PowerPoint
  2. Separate students into groups of 2-3 and have them complete the following tasks:

    1. Select 2 foundations to focus on: for example, cultural and theatrical or historical and social
    2. Choose a subcategory of the foundations selected: for example, cultural (Domincan) and theatrical (ballet)
    3. Continue to focus the study by choosing specific movement/pieces that fall into each subcategory: for example, Cultural~Dominican~Soka and Theatrical~Ballet~Swan Lake
    4. Complete a more comprehensive search of the history and background of the selected movement/piece
    5. Build a presentation utilizing a medium of your choice (poster, powerpoint, prezi, etc.).  The presentation should include a more focused discussion of the background of the selected movement/piece.  What specifically is included is up to teacher discretion, you can require location, number of participants, music, purpose, original dates/dancers etc.
    6. Identify a specific piece or section of a piece to learn.
    7. Learn 1-2 minutes of the selected choreography.
    8. Determine the ways in which the two pieces are connected, and add to the presentation.
  3.  Have students present by first discussing the background of the foundation.  Next, perform the section of movement.  Finally, discuss the natural connections between the pieces.
  4. As students are watching, they should be completing two tasks:

    1. Utilizing ARTISTIC critique to evaluate the recreations.  Since it is not a full recreation, nor an original piece, focus on A-R-T of the critique.
    2. Second, have them write down further questions for research on an index card.  At the culmination of the presentation, have the presenters collect the cards and respond to them.  Have them return the cards with answers, after you have evaluated the question and answer


This was one of the strongest lessons from this year, especially because I was able to use it as a springboard to performance.  At my current school, the beginning arts classes are only a semester long and culminate in a formal performance, which is difficult.  Essentially, we need to teach theory, history, and foundations of dance, plus dance skills and techniques, and compose a performance…all in 3 months.  Originally, I had mixed feelings about this, see my article Performing, is it for everyone?  But this lesson plans allowed for me to combine the foundations and history along with the beginning stages of performance preparation and the assistance of the students.  It turned out to be a win-win for everyone, and the parents loved seeing their cultural dances performed on stage.  Also, combining this lesson plans with Standard 7’s lesson What is Dance creates a very strong and comprehensive introduction to dance, perfect for the beginning of the year!

Overall, unpacking the standards and testing out lesson plans has been a great focus this year.

Next Week: Top 10 High School Dance Lesson Plans
We will take a look at theory, history, and composition and compile a list of my favorites from the year.

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.