Movement Composition: More Than Just Dance

Back in August 2013 I blogged about Enhancing Dance in your #PhysEd Program.  The blog post provided a few simple suggestions to encourage teachers to think critically about how they could improve the way that dance was being delivered in their physical education programs.
If you were anything like me when I first came out of university, the thought of teaching dance was terrifying. Putting yourself in front of a group of kids and looking like this:

As I mentioned in the previous post, making a fool out of yourself in front of your students is the quickest way to gain their respect and have them lose their inhibitions about dance. If you are not dancing, then why should they?

Opening Up My Thinking

Now that I was comfortable and confident in my ability to engage my students in dance I began to think about how I was going to assess their learning and progress in the unit. My first step was to turn to my curriculum documents, which in my case was the International Baccalaureate’s PYP Personal, social and physical education scope and sequence. The movement composition sections stated that students will aim to becoming proficient in:

“Recognizing that movements can be linked together and refined to create a sequence of aesthetic movements. Movements can be in response to stimuli or performance elements and/ or criteria and can communicate feelings, emotions and ideas”
– IB PYP Personal, social and physical education scope and sequence.

As I read this passage my brain went into overdrive as nowhere in this statement is the word “dance” mentioned. All throughout my teaching career I have been someone who gets really sick and tired of teaching the same thing over and over again. In my timetable I often have the same grade level back to back to back and by the third lesson I am well and truly on my way to become brain dead. This goes the same for my year to year plans. Of there are things that I do every year, however I always challenge myself to think about how I could modify, adapt or make it better. As Joey Feith puts it; I try to be a Tech SAMuRai.

Anyways back to the point about the word “dance” not being a part of the description of movement composition. As I mentioned my brain was buzzing and I began to think about ways that I could deliver experiences to my students that would allow them to demonstrate their skills and understandings in movement composition.
I had a few ideas but before I could introduce them I had to get the kids out of the mindset that it was “that time of the year when we do dance” (otherwise known as the monsoon season here in the equatorial tropics). I remembered reading Andy Vasily’s blog about how he used an I See, I Think, I Wonder thinking routine to open up his movement composition unit so I went ahead and created a playlist of videos on YouTube which you can see below:

At the start of the first lesson of the unit before I had mentioned anything to the students we watched these 13 videos. The only instructions I gave to the students were to watch the videos with three things in mind; What do you SEE? What do you THINK about what you see? and What do you WONDER about what you have seen?
Here are some of their responses:

“I saw lots of incredible things.” – Jack
“I saw people dancing in lots of different ways.” – Emma
“I think they were trying to mean something when they were doing all of the actions.” – Sally
“I think they did a lot of practice because it seems like hard work” – David
“I wonder how long it took to learn all of that?” – Wendy

As you can see the videos provoked them into thinking more critically about what they had seen and this was an excellent jumping off point for the unit. Rather than just rolling out the same old music, Just Dance videos and creative movement games it was time to really challenge their learning and my teaching.

Movement Composition Through Martial Arts

My first step in trying to get away from dance in my movement composition unit was to turn to Martial Arts. The first problem was that I have never taken part in any form of martial arts in my life, the second problem I faced was with a lack of training how could I ensure that students would remain safe. Then I remembered something I had seen once at the Notting Hill Carnival in London; Capoeira.
Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art that combines elements of dance, acrobatics and music. It is known for its kicks and spins and the fact that it is non contact. Perfect right! So as all good teachers who don’t know how to do something do, I turned to YouTube where I found not only videos of people doing Capoeira but also How-To videos of the different Capoeira moves.
I have compiled them below in a Google Presentation which you are more than welcome to make a copy of for your resources.

By using these How-To videos it allowed me to give the students a learning experience which previously I would never have had the ability to provide. After a few lessons of learning the basic movements and working together in pairs the students presented their movement sequences. You can see an example of one of my Grade 5 classes below.

Movement Composition Through Yoga

Another path that I went down with my students this year for our movement composition unit was with the use of Yoga, which is something that I recently found a real passion for. Yoga fit perfectly with our learning outcome by allowing students to select and perform simple movement sequences by using elements of body and space awareness and relationships alone and with others.
Although I have a new found passion for Yoga by no means was I am expert so again I turned to the internet for answers.
There is an overwhelming amount of Yoga routine videos available online and if you haven’t yet checked out Cosmic Kids Yoga for your younger students then you are missing out.

Through the use of our PE iPad mini’s students were able to research different yoga poses and they try them out. Eventually after plenty of discovery time and some guided routines using videos found online, students were split into groups and given a planning sheet for their yoga sequence. When introducing the planning sheet to the students I told them to focus on the “flow” of their sequence and to try and ensure that the movements transitioned nicely together. You can see an example of a planning form from some of my students below.

Once the students had planned their routine, the refined and practiced it before using Book Creator to document and display their routine. They made a new page for each pose they had chosen and then recorded themselves completing their sequence as a video on the last page. I have exported one of their books as a video below.

Assessment For Learning 

Last year my focus was just on ensuring that all students were engaged and participating in our dance & movement units. This year with the introduction of Capoeira and Yoga not only were students engaged (particularly the boys in Capoeira) but it was much easier for me to assess their progress against our learning outcomes. In both cases I could easily see how students had selected and performed movements in a sequence working alone and with others.

I hope that my experience in offering alternatives to dance as part of our movement composition unit inspires you to think outside of the box and really consider what is the best way for you to offer your students activities which are engaging and allow you as a teacher to assess them against your learning outcomes in a meaningful way. If you have any other ideas or suggestion about alternatives to dance for movement composition please feel free to comment below.

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