Sunday, March 20, 2011

Dance Fever

I have referred before to Ken Robinson's comments that schools are educating our students "out" of their creativity.  Another fine example of where this is not occurring is in Physical Education classes at J.N Burnett Secondary.  I have recently read posts about the Arts and their value from both Johnny Bevacqua (here) and Chris Wejr (here) and am proud to say that we are promoting their value at Burnett, allowing students to create, perform and appreciate the Arts via dance performances and several other student projects around the school. 

Twice per year (just before Winter break for semester 1, and just prior to Spring break for semester 2) the PE department teaches the dance unit.  The concluding assignment is to have students get into groups and create dances that incorporate different genres of music, rhythms of dance and the other elements taught throughout the unit.  In the two weeks prior to performance day (usually the Friday before the break), the hallways are packed after school with students and their music systems, relentlessly rehearsing their dance performances.  Students are fully engrossed in preparing and performing their routines, working collaboratively, sharing thoughts and ideas and putting countless hours and energy into the process.  The PE staff recognizes the popularity of the performances, and sends an email to school staff welcoming them to bring their classes to observe the show on the last day.  Invariably, the gym is packed with students keen to watch and support their peers, sometimes hosting as many as 600+ observers.  The more reluctant students are given the option of performing the day prior in front of only their teacher, but most choose to perform in front of the live school-wide audience.

This is student creativity at its finest, and is breeding some risk-taking, adventurous and highly engaged learning.  When we see the energy poured into rehearsal, the smiles on the performers faces and the pride they feel about what they have produced, we know that what students are doing is worthwhile, has them involved and is something they will look back on fondly for years to come.  Coupled with the way the audience behaves, we can see the learning taking place is about so much more than dance.

Assignments such as these did not exist when I was in school.  If they had, I probably would have opted to sit out, and it is likely that I would have been someone in the back of the gym ridiculing other students due to my own insecurities and inability to put myself out there and take risks.  In fact, the audience behavior is one of the things that impresses me most about the performances.  Students are all supportive and respectful of one another, encouraging and politely applauding all efforts.  I am confident that this would not have been the case a generation ago.  The focus our school has had on Socially Responsible behavior, as well as the popularity of television programs like "Dancing with the Stars" and "American Idol" have made risk-taking and creativity more acceptable and certainly more encouraged.

We are moving in the right direction.  Let's keep promoting risk-taking and creativity in our students learning.  It gets them excited, and enables them to produce some of their best work.

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