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make your day dance

Time — urgent vs. sustained

September 27th, 2009 · 7 Comments · Tags: ····

I’ve had the opportunity to be thinking about time lately, both quantitatively & qualitatively — an opportunity that’s arisen from a drastic cut in the quantity of my instructional time this year.  Not surprisingly, I perceive this cut to be affecting the quality of instruction.

To cut to the quick, and at the risk of sounding whiny, I have eight 30-minute classes this year instead of six 40-minute classes.  Even before you consider the fact that classes often arrive late, thus cutting instructional time even further, there’s a vast different between what you can accomplish in 30 vs. 40 minutes.  In either case (30 or 40 minutes), there’s a certain amount of warming up, physically & mentally, that has to happen — an introduction to the day’s lesson & the guided instruction. In a shortened amount of time, what gets left on the cutting room floor is the independent work — the admittedly messy, inefficient & often time-consuming part of the lesson where students engage & have time to be creative.  But wait, wasn’t that the most important part?! The part where I quit teaching, and students do the learning?

Back to my ruminations on time…

In dance as in all activities, quantity of time can be measured — in counts, meter, minutes, duration.  But in dance & movement (as in all activities again I suppose), the quality of time — a person’s attitude toward time, as revealed in the movement — is far more important.

Let’s look at Time Qualities as delineated by Rudolf Laban. Described by Valerie Preston, one of his interpreters, in A Handbook for Modern Educational Dance (MacDonald & Evans, 1977), the Time Qualities are as follows:

“A sudden movement can be described as “urgent,” “sharp,” “staccato,” “excited,” “instantaneous.”  It can be felt as an immediate discharge of energy or as a decisive arrival at a new place. The sudden quality can continue after the body has arrived and is experienced as a feeling of urgency.

“Continuous suddenness appears as shivering, fluttering or vibrating and is an invigorating quality, but an exhausting one if continued over too long a period.

“A sustained movement can be described as “slow,” “smooth,” “legato,” “prolonged,” “lingering.” It can be felt as a gradual change from one situation to another or as an unhurried departure. The whole being indulges in time, extending this experience to the pause after motion has ceased.”

Thus, the mover’s attitude toward time is expressed naturally in movement.  Imagine the difference in your own movement in these 2 situations:

  1. On the day of a crucial early meeting, your eyes fly open to the sudden realization that your alarm failed — and you might still make it if you leave the house within minutes.
  2. Alternately, waking on an unscheduled Saturday morning when the sun shines lazily through your blinds, you stretch & roll over, beginning to think of coffee & the morning paper.

We’re not just talking about fast vs. slow.  The perception that one’s time is short leads to a sense of rush & urgency — which is possibly invigorating, but likely to be exhausting if continued. The perception that one has enough — plenty — of time makes a person unhurried, even indulgent.  The difference is frantic vs. relaxed.

So what does this have to do with education?  …we can teach & learn quickly, but we’re not at our best when frantic & pressured. The Writers Workshop, which I spent a week studying for inspiration in late August, asks for sustained periods of writing time for children — in order to improve learning. So the hurry of 30 minutes per class is at complete odds with the goal of providing students with time for sustained creative work.

Knowing all this, but stuck with my schedule, I’m left with trying to create an unhurried feeling of sustained learning within a brief modicum of time. So far, I haven’t been able to quell my own feeling of urgency, but perhaps it’ll come…

7 Comments so far ↓

  • JimmyBean

    I don’t know If I said it already but …Excellent site, keep up the good work. I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks, :)

    A definite great read..Jim Bean

  • Deborah Robson

    And the culture of most of our work world is based on that hurry-up mode that assumes all ideas happen as quick, brilliant flashes. Play, contemplation, and sustained work have historically accomplished more.

    Sorry you’ve had the schedule change.

  • megrm

    Thanks. I might get used to it, but then again, I might not!

  • Katie Wood

    Meg – Always so inspired by your site, by your work. Thanks for sharing and asking the big questions. Been having conversations with my principal lately about structuring instruction to allow for student independence, in order to know that they really are “getting it” – I am finding myself this last week watching myself teach and watching the kids learn (or not, as the case may be). Wondering if you would share some thoughts about how you structure your instruction to allow for student independence. Especially in light of the time constratints that we have. I am trying to teach conceptually this year, following a one-week SDIT training… thinking about how to teach rhythm, melody, timbre, expression, form – the elements of music, teaching through the musical material itself (isolating concepts within songs we are learning)… also thinking about the writer’s workshop model of teaching a mini-lesson and allowing for student independence, as you touched on in your entry about writers… What do you see as student independence in your work? I know you want students to choreograph their own pieces, and you provide a framework, and scaffold the process step-by-step. But in your daily lessons, what is student independence to YOU? I am struggling to define this in my own work. I am thinking that to me, a student (K) who can perform a steady beat on an instrument or perform locomotor movements to a steady beat are demonstrating independence. But is this true if I am “running the show” by modeling the steady beat somehow? If a student (Grade 2) can arrange rhythm cards into an ostinato (repeating pattern) and perform with body percussion or on an instrument, is this student independence? If middle school students are given a rhythmic phrase and asked to select percussion instruments and determine with a partner how to perform the phrase, student independence?

    I find much of my teaching is modeling for students and transfering skills this way. How do I know they are truly independent? And how do I plan my lessons to allow for more time for them to develop independence? I am finding that with 30 minutes sessions every other day, my time with them is most engaging (all students on task and expressing joy in the activity) when I am leading a song/game/dance/instrumental piece… I find that time runs out and I am frustrated when I am fishing for student reponses about concepts that may be too abstract at their developmental level (?) i.e. melody (I could have died this week, several times, from all of the “choking” I was experiencing as a teacher. Bomb city. ) I know I need to scaffold and remember that I am developing a spiral curriculum… students will continue to build their skills year after year, and perhaps by Grades 4/5, will be able to develop more independence? How can I structure the precious little time I DO have to include more of the “sustained creative work” and less of rote learning based on teacher modeling? Thanks for the insights. (PS – I have half a year with each class, 24 hours of instruction TOTAL, so you can see my frustration with squandered time, especially when it is my instruction which is to blame!)

  • megrm

    Katie, you always have such good questions! Funny you should ask… I was just thinking about student independence this week! … see my new post on flow. As you contemplate teaching conceptually & student independence, keep in mind your ultimate goal. I for one have gradually realized that although I teach conceptually, it’s not my goal for students to be able to think analytically about what they’re doing. My goal is for them to be working creatively. I hope my post on flow gives you some idea of what student independence looks like for me, as well as how I structure the learning to get there. The process of getting there is involving in & of itself, which is good cause it can take a lot of process to arrive at a few satisfying moments of independently creative work. But the percentage changes over the course of a year, and that’s the point I guess. It’s great to hear your contemplations!

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