Making Learning Visible in Dance

By Education Director Annika Nonhebel A few months ago I was fortunate enough to attend the Young Audiences of Northern California’s Teaching Artist Retreat. The retreat focused on integrating Young Audience’s core values in the work of all the artists they represent   - helping us to identify how students experience, create, and understand our art form and how they will be able to connect what they learn to their day-to-day life. The second day of the retreat some of YA teaching artists provided workshops. One of them was on "Making Learning Visible" by Visual Artist Ascha Drake.

students making v-shape

As the Education Director of  AXIS Dance Company, a company of dancers with and without disabilities, I was intrigued. Would it be possible to make dance learning visible? After all, dance is such a fleeting art form. It happens in the moment: dances are created on the spot, but once the dancer leaves the space, so does the art he/she just created.

While listening to Ascha and watching her presentation, I started to realize that I too could make learning visible. Back in the dance studio, I started taking pictures of my students executing specific tasks, such as making a shape or exploring concepts like space. The following week I would show them those pictures, allowing us to go over what they learned the week before. Every week we placed these pictures on the wall.

The moment I started doing this I myself started to see the learning that was happening. The students really enjoyed looking back on the last week’s class and talking about what they learned.  I knew that my students would benefit from using multi-modality learning, but seeing such a steep spike in their learning was more then I ever expected. Seeing themselves as dancers and seeing what they did the week before made them connect with what they were learning.

Additionally, the students' parents started to have a better idea of the learning that was taking place. It was no longer just a fun movement activity, but a way to teach their child new skills and concepts. Now they eagerly ask me after each class, what we are going to do next week?

Making learning visible

As the teacher, I fully enjoy making learning visible. It helps me to focus my lesson plans and  instantly allows me to reflect on the class. Now, instead of packing up and going onto a new task, I briefly report on the students achievements, decide how I will reflect on this next week, and create my new lesson plan. All this in the 30 minutes following the class.

I never thought I would apply Visual Art  concepts to my dance teaching, but now I strongly believe that Making Learning Visible is possible for every art-form.

This post originally appeared on the Young Audience of Northern California Blog