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make your day dance

Translating Writers Workshop

August 31st, 2009 · No Comments · Tags: ······

Pedagogy changes constantly.  When I was a 5th-6th grade classroom teacher for a few years (15 years ago), the writing pedagogy sweeping through schools was characterized by 6 traits (content, voice, organization, word choice, fluency & conventions).  I was trained in teaching the traits & scoring writing samples using rubrics built on them.

Nowadays, however, the 6 have become 6 + 1 (add presentation). But even that’s obsolete!  Lately, the writing pedagogy that seems to be everywhere is Writers Workshop (developed by Lucy Calkins from Teachers College at Columbia University).  And while Writers Workshop acknowledges the 6 traits (+1) of writing, it’s more of a philosophy of teaching & learning, with quite a different focus.  So lately, my vocabulary & process haven’t been synching with writing instruction. It was clearly time for me to catch up!

Why?  Because when I’m teaching choreography, I try to use vocabulary & methods that parallel the way the kids are learning to write.  That way, 1)  our work in choreography reinforces their understanding of the writing process, and 2) the kids learn that the creative process plays out similarly in any art form.

So last week I spent 4 solid days learning about Writers Workshop. Naturally, I was the only dance educator in the midst of many classroom teachers & reading specialists. It’s a bit of a brain twist to spend 4 days trying to filter new information through my dance-and-choreography filter. Obviously, I’m not planning to try to teach writing — what I want to do is use the vocabulary and process of writing — where applicable — for teaching them to choreograph.

The biggest obstacle is that Writers Workshop uses the visible evidence of many drafts to help students learn how writing improves with refinement.  With choreography, there’s no good evidence of the growth — I don’t even want to think about the logistics of using video for every stage in the dance! However current it may be to put everything on YouTube, I’ve got parents in my population who won’t sign a permission slip.

There are some great points, however, that can translate from Writers Workshop to Choreographers Workshop:

  • a notebook for gathering ideas is good, and the logistics might even be workable if I can get to Office Max in time for the 20-cent composition books;
  • one teaching point per day!  not based on a vocabulary word, but as a complete sentence about what strategies dancers use;
  • keep the lessons really short, and the engagement period long;
  • modeling the problem-solving process by talking aloud;
  • offer opportunities for really sustained improv and/or choreography work, not just at the end of the year but frequently;
  • don’t make assignments; allow for choice in every task;
  • encourage an attention to detail in the movement;
  • work through the process as often as possible — from choosing a “seed” idea to drafting it into a dance, refining, rehearsing, and performing…

Sound familiar?  Yup, to me too. Why is it that I have to keep learning the same things over and over?  That’s OK.  It’s good to be recharged!

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