Students who don’t like to dance

Have a class that doesn’t like to dance? Me too! If my class had a choice, they would rather do anything other than dance! Instead of forcing this group of really reluctant kids to dance before they were ready, I decided to take a different approach this year. Below is how I managed to get my group of anti-dancers moving and shaking one month into term two.

  1. The very first day together all we did was talk about their feelings towards dance. I listened closely to their concerns that dance is very embarrassing. I also listening to their concerns that they would be made to move to music that they found boring or really, really awful, as my one student put it. All in all, I spent day one with my students just listening to their reasons why they didn’t like dance.
  2. On day two, I came back to them and honestly told them that learning dance was not an option at school but that I had heard all of their concerns and had some ideas on how to address their problems with dance. I made a commitment that they could always choose their own moves, own music and that they wouldn’t have to share until they were ready.   (The music comes from a pre-approved list of songs that students submitted to me.)
  3. On day three, I reassured them again that I would never put them in a position where they would be forced to dance in front of other people until they were ready.
  4. On days four and five, everyone made a dance on an app. There is a free dance app that is hilarious, called Toca Dance. Everyone’s dance was hilarious and we laughed and began to look at some of the movements that the dancers made on the app.
  5. On day six, Students watched videos of dances that they liked and shared and spoke about what they liked about the dance.
  6. On day seven, we watched a VERY simple dance together and analyzed it. We saw that there were five moves, some locomotor and some non-locomotor. Their job was to create their own dances with five moves, both locomotor and non-locomotor. Some kids chose funny moves like those from the app and some chose serious moves. All students choose their own music.
  7. On day eight, students created their own dance with a partner to a piece of music of their choosing.

 

The most important lesson for me was taking the time to understand my students’ feelings. This was a group of students that really wanted to make their own creations and not have their creative process dictated by the teacher. They also really needed a safe place to make their creations. Once both of these needs were met, lots of boogieing and shaking started to happen.

Jack of All Trades, Master of None

I am for sure aging myself here, but for those of you who may not be familiar with this figure of speech it is used to describe a person who is good at many skills but a master of none. That is the best way to describe who I am as a teacher and how I have evolved over my career of  learning to be a better teacher.

Far too often we think that in order to use a strategy or tool in our classroom we have to be an expert at it. We don’t! As a teacher I have to be familiar with the content, the methodology and/or the necessary steps but I do not have to be a master of it. I am going to talk specifically to my personal Achilles tendon of teaching, the ARTS. I am in no way a musician, yet I can share my passion for music, lyrics and the powerful messages found in music. I can learn and teach to the curriculum expectations of my grade. I can partake in professional development opportunities to expand my skill set and knowledge. Even after all that, I will still not be an expert as compared to a music specialist.

My greatest accomplishment in the arts has been my work on understanding drama as a teaching tool, learning dramatic content and implementing it into my program. I have never been on stage (other than as an elementary student at Christmas time). I have never been a part of any formal dramatic theme, other than helping clean up after a school event and yet drama is one of the most successful components of my program these days. Each year my team and I take a group of highly volatile behaviour students and put on a formal dramatic presentation that we travel with to various schools within my board to share. We are currently in mid production of this year’s play.

Like in almost anything I was not comfortable with as a teacher, the students’ skill set, passion and innate ability to learn took over and I was just left to facilitate their growth. The second message is that when you share your expertise with your colleagues (collaborative planning) the saying that no one person knows more than all of us holds true. I am writing this for all teachers to understand that is it okay to take risks, it is okay to make mistakes in your classroom and learn from those mistakes and it is certainly okay to be a jack of all trades and master of none.

Starting The Year With Dance

Welcome to a new year! My name is Tammy Axt and I am a music/drama/dance teacher at a K-5 school in Brampton, Ontario. This is my fifth year teaching music and my first year teaching drama and dance. I am sure that with my new teaching package I will have a lot of learning to share in this blog. I love my job wholeheartedly and am proud to be part of the BEST profession in the WORLD! I should mention that I come from a maritime family where hyperbole is the norm when interacting in daily life.

In addition to teaching drama and dance for the first time, it has also been my first time teaching grade one in many years. Wow, they sure are a busy bunch. I’ve already learned a ton about having really simple, short instructions and built-in busy and quiet times. All of my grade one classes are also going to require a lot of community building and development of social skills.

This term, the grade ones will be making up a number of dances. However, this month I have noticed a few things about grade ones in my class. First, they cannot remember what dance moves they came up with three days ago. Second, they have no idea who their partner was three days ago. Third, they have difficultly putting papers on the floor in a row to make a sequence. Finally, without some structure put in place, they will have difficulty building on and revising their creations.

My colleague and I talked it through and came up with the very simple idea of housing their creations in a file folder. Each section of the folder would contain one creation that the students came up and at the end of the term the file folder with all of the dance plans will go home with the students.

Our first dance plan addresses the curriculum expectation ”students will use movements that are part of their daily experience in a variety of ways in dance phrases”. We asked the students to come up with movements that they like to do and draw a picture of the movement on two pieces of white paper. We glued the two pieces of paper into the folder and scribed the words that matched the picture.  The folders will be a valuable tool in helping the students to create their dances and assist them in remembering what they did in their previous dance period.

dance-folder-1

dance-folders-3

dance-folder-2

 

 

How important are the arts?

arts

Look very closely at the picture above. This picture was taken at an elementary school in St.Kitts while I was on a tour. I stopped to look at the bulletin board and on the board was a list of classes that the students could choose from for the upcoming term. There choices were Cooking, guitar, drumming, steel pan, dance, drama, sewing, arts and crafts and masquerade. As an arts teacher, with a team of three to support the pursuit of arts at my school, we would not come even close to offering our students all of these subjects as a separate choice.

The reason why I was lucky enough to be taking a school tour in St.Kitts was because two summers ago I was a member of Project Overseas. As a participant on Project Overseas, I spent the month of July giving workshops to teachers in St.Kitts about autism and it was the experience of a lifetime. Although I was there to lead workshops, I definitely learned a lot about my own practice and came back with a lot of questions about our education system. First and foremost, how important are the arts?

Teaching in an elementary school, I see the benefits of the arts every day. For many of my students, it is a chance to be successful in an otherwise challenging day. For other students, it is the outlet that helps them deal with challenges in their home life. I could tell the story of my struggling student who beamed when all of his classmates gave him a standing ovation in class for his beat boxing presentation. During our Black History Month assembly, one of our students did such an amazing dramatic interpretation of a Maya Angelou poem the whole audience broke into thunderous applause at the end and she looked so happy. There are stories of art projects, songs written, original dance moves and hours upon hours of critical thinking and creative expression.

The arts also support learning in all other areas of the curriculum. The scientific inquiry process and the creative process follow a very similar trajectory. They both encourage a lot of curiosity and a chance to try something out and revise as needed. The arts also support learning in math. Music notation and instruction in rhythm is basically a different way of thinking about fractions. Many music posters with division of beats look identical to fraction strips. When I walk around my school, I also often see art projects based in tessellations or symmetry. Social studies is basically embedded in the third overall expectation in the arts curriculum. Analyzing historical contexts and the past and present community perspectives is taught every term in Ontario arts classrooms and that is directly tied with the Social Studies curriculum. Finally, language is often what drives music melody and dramatic presentations.

The arts are also bring us together and make us feel good about ourselves. I have read so many studies about how music and the arts provide stress relief and comfort in times of need. With a very important move towards providing support to our students in the area of mental health, we need to recognize the important role that the arts can play in achieving this goal.

I recognize that I teach in a school with a large staff that requires a lot of planning time so having specialized arts teachers is easier for us than many others. However, when you start looking at the research conducted by People for Education in 2013 versus the same study in 1998 about specialist teachers I start to wonder about the direction we are taking. In 2013, only 44% of elementary schools had specialist teachers dedicated to teaching the music curriculum. In 1998, the number of specialist music teachers was 58%. My question is if planning time went up over the last 15 years why are there fewer music teachers required?

Can classroom teachers do an amazing job at teaching, drama, dance, visual arts and music? Of course they can! I see amazing instruction in the area of visual arts at my school all the time. However, with funding for arts performances and programs down as well as declining commitment to have specialist teachers are we moving in the right direction?

How To Write an Original Song With Your Class For 5 Dollars (With No Music Knowledge)

This year, I tried something brand new with one of my music classes. We wrote lyrics to a song, sent them off to a song writer and performed the original song called “Gymnastics” at our spring concert! This is how we did it.

The idea came earlier this year when I was trying to come up with ideas for our spring concert. I usually ask each class in January what they would like to do for the concert and then they create something to share. This year, our concert had lots of creations, including a tableau piece about anti-bullying, a Japanese fan dance with ORFF instruments, some black light performances and the original “Gymnastics” song.

The grade 3 class that wanted to do the original song was interested in working with a song writer. (I probably could have written a song, but it was WAY more exciting sending the lyrics off). Our first step was to decide what the song was going to be about.

I handed out a blank piece of paper to groups of three and told them to brainstorm some ideas for the topic of the song. After they brainstormed, I asked them to narrow it down to three ideas that they were really interested in. As a class, we did a community circle, and shared our favourite ideas. I noticed that the topic of sports came up in every group and highlighted that for the students. I asked the students to think of a sport that could show off the talents of their class. Immediately, gymnastics came up and the song was on its way! (This class is full of twisty, fidgety, wiggly students. Gymnastics couldn’t have been more perfect.)

Their classroom teacher took over the next part of the activity by letting the students do an inquiry-based assignment about gymnastics. They watched videos about, read, and studied the sport of gymnastics. By the time they came back to me, they were a fountain of knowledge about gymnastics. Our next step was to come up with ideas that we wanted to have in the song. We then compiled all of our ideas into a list and got them ready to send off to our songwriter.

We chose our song writer from the website www.fiverr.com .

www.fiverr.com is a website where you can hire people to do a wide variety of services for five dollars. There is a large section on the website for songs. You can have rap songs written, ukulele songs, etc…. I chatted with the song writer we chose and gave these simple instructions:

  1. The lyrics can go in any order
  2. Write the song in either C major, D major, F major or G major
  3. Please don’t make the melody have large jumps between notes
  4. The range of the melody should be from about middle C to D (one octave plus a note)
  5. Make it upbeat and fun!

 

The song came back and it was amazing. It was a big hit at our spring concert and I am sure the kids will always remember the gymnastic song that they wrote.

 

Another good resource for teaching the Arts curriculum

Some time ago I shared a great website resource for  drama and dance lessons and units- http://code.on.ca/resource

I have another favourite on line resource created specifically for Ontario teachers.

Learning Through the Arts hosts dance, drama, media arts and visual arts lessons based on the revised Arts curriculum for Ontario teachers.  I like that I am able to watch the integrated arts lesson unfold with real students.  You can browse by division or by subject.   I am going to attempt the third grade animal legends unit in May.   I hope you find this resource as useful as I do!