Having just returned from this year's 2015 Dance Teacher Web Live Conference and successful class session on "Lesson Planning for Dance in the K-12," I’d like to contribute some more information regarding many of the attendees’ passionate questions on assessment in dance education; which can also be adapted for use in the studio setting.
An extensive topic in itself, the inclusion of dance education in the public school has stimulated lengthy debate over how to: evaluate the arts; define and justify dance’s existence within an education system, and create meaningful experiences for students. With the 1997 inclusion of the arts as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), or The Nation’s Educational Report Card, major steps have been taken to formalize arts assessment and overcome traditional standardized testing protocol. Educators have had the difficult task of capturing, what is in essence, an intangible area of study; moving product, gone as quickly as it was created.
The question of what dance assessment entails, and how a teacher can develop evaluation methods that contribute to student success, is constantly evolving. Assessment, defined as, “the vehicle through which learning objectives are made clear, and through which teachers and students participate in the enriching process of noticing and reflecting upon learning and behavior-change as they occur” (*Mirus, White, Bucek & Paulson, 1996, p. 205), can provide a basis from which meaningful dialogue can surface between student and teacher. Evident from literature, assessment, for progressive learning in the arts, involves gathering evidence with the objective of discovering learner potential for exceptional achievement, versus under-achievement.
The goal of assessment is to join visible and hidden learning objectives in an effort to provide meaningful understanding for the student. When constructed and executed properly, assessment links learning to society and makes a substantial impact on a student’s self-motivation to learn. It also identifies a student’s strengths and guides their improvement while cultivating individual experiences. Thoughtful assessment aims to give students the opportunity to be evaluated from vast perspectives, over an extended period of time; in order to chart growth. This also provides educators the simultaneous advantage to validate dance’s positive effects within a scholastic curriculum and give further educational dimension to dance studio training.
In dance assessment, the most pressing challenge has been to capture the kinesthetic, cognitive and affective domains; while remaining aware of multiple intelligences and various learning styles. The other challenge for educators has been to evoke objectivity over subjectivity and clearly articulate a student’s progress within an art-form which has been traditionally viewed and critiqued in subjective terms.
With increasing teacher responsibility over recent years to provide substantive reported evidence regarding dance within the K-12 setting, (i.e. the national standards,) these “benchmarks” have helped ease the enduring challenge of “how” to objectively evaluate what has mainly been pigeon-holed as a subjective art-form. By providing student’s of all levels the opportunity to not only be tested on “skill” alone, dance assessment, when administered accurately in a curriculum, gives students the opportunity to engage in divergent thinking skills, critical thinking and their creative process.
Students will benefit through self-appraisal and open the lines of communication with their teacher to cultivate an understanding that assessment is not a one-shot-deal but rather an ongoing process which involves edit, revision and self-adjustment to achieve enduring, meaningful comprehension and transfer of knowledge. In opposition to rote learning and standardized testing, new tools (including rubrics, qualitative grids, portfolio submission, interview, etc.) have been adapted as more practical and successful measures for determining individual success; while reinforcing dance’s rightful place within the public school and higher education arena.
While some of the aforementioned assessment methods may not be appropriate or applicable to your studio’s exact training protocol, there are simple variations to those assessment methods which can be utilized to provide your dancers with continuous knowledge for their continued progress. Portfolios of a student’s work allow students and teachers to collect and study selected examples of work in varying content areas. Samples can include, journal entries, video of the student in dance class or performance, photography, written reports, art-work, choreography notes, taped interviews, questionnaires, etc, and promote self-assessment while supplying parents with creative evidence of their child’s dance experience. Portfolios also promote peer-assessment as well and stimulate dialogue about each other’s works; increasing the ability to objectively critique and provide feedback to others.
Providing regular individual feedback and scheduled, “touch-base” meetings are another great way to “check-in” with students at certain times of the year to discuss personal goals, improvement, areas of concern, etc. This will give dancers the tools to maintain personal awareness towards their training and desired outcomes.
Finally, performances are also always a clear indicator of what a student has learned in dance class. In-studio and larger-scale productions provide visible evidence of physical growth of a child, and of how well concepts were processed. Performances, like portfolios, also invite parents, and those within the community to witness the results of the dance curriculum, training and education at your school.
What are your thoughts on this very relevant topic? We'd love to hear!
See you in the dance studio!
* Mirus, J., White, E., Bucek, L. E. & Paulson, P. (1996). Dance education initiative curriculum guide. Golden Valley, MN: Perpich Center for Arts Education.