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Behind the Curtain Blog

NDEO's "Behind the Curtain" Blog features articles written by NDEO members about dance and dance education topics as well as periodic updates on NDEO programs and services. This is a FREE resource available to ALL.


ABCDE: Learning Theory Linked to Pedagogy

NDEO’s Guest Blog Series features posts written by our members about their experiences in the fields of dance and dance education. We continue this series with a post by David Alexander, BS, MEd. Guest posts reflect the experiences, opinions, and viewpoints of the author and are printed here with their permission. NDEO does not endorse any business, product, or service mentioned in guest blog posts. If you are interested in learning more about the guest blogger program or submitting an article for consideration, please click here.

A model of learning, and the pedagogy informed by each learning component.

“The way we learn should inform the way we teach.” 

Like an anthropologist I like to study learning, and the learning behaviors of students and teachers in each situation. My studies seem to reveal components and a pattern to what it is individuals seem to do as they embark on a voyage of learning something new. That pattern might be used to inform pedagogy. First, consider the components inherent in your own process of learning something new, then apply it to your students.

A   AFFIRM/ACKNOWLEDGE - Find out what I, then my learners, already know or think about what we are about to do, try, learn, or study.

Learning something new often includes figuring out what we already know. Each of us has some knowledge and understanding of the question or content to be learned. To begin by affirming what that is says, “You are not a blank slate! I know you know some things already!.”

Examples: “What do you think Dance is?”, “What do you know about dance?”

B    BRIDGE/LINK - Bridging/Linking is what occurs as you and your students share knowledge, which is linked to create and represent the group’s knowledge base.

I feel we learn best when we find and become part of a community of learners interested in learning about the same thing. Bridging/Linking one person’s idea with another person’s idea exemplifies this thought.

Example: Sarah says dance is “Moving your body and it’s parts!”…. then Corina says

“Dance is moving to a beat!!’”….. So…… I ask, “If I move my head to a 4 count beat am I dancing?”

C    CONSTRUCT -  In the Bridging example above, the question posed was asked intentionally to construct new knowledge and understanding. Most problem solving experiences are also construction experiences. Problem solving characterizes this phase in the process.

You and your students involved in problem solving need to pool what is already known, with ideas that others have, then brainstorm and test potential solutions and insight, thereby creating knowledge no one in the group had in the beginning.

Example: “What are your ideas for how we can adjust this choreography so we do not run into each other while we are skipping from left to right?

D    DISPENSE - Provide yourself and students with information and ideas.

The classic responsibilities of learning and teaching has been to gather and dispense knowledge. When knowledge is dispensed in conjunction with students constructing knowledge, it’s often to provide students with knowledge they don’t have and might not be able to generate on their own, but need in order to move on in their understanding.

Example: “If you bend both knees deeper before you jump up, your jump will be higher and there will be more time for the entrechat quatre!”

E    EVALUATE/ASSESS - Occasionally evaluate, but regularly assess.

To evaluate includes placing a value (good, bad, nice, etc.) on something. To hear “nice turns” is personally important for the turner to hear. “Nice turns! You were really on your pointe this time”, is even better for the turner to hear since the compliment also shares data that helps the turner understand what was nice about the turns.

However, assessing is different from evaluation. Here’s a format describing what assessing might sound like:

  • “One word or phrase that describes what you/I just did.”
  • “One word or phrase that describes what you/I felt was a success.”
  • “One word or phrase that describes what you/I felt was a challenge.”
  • “What do you/I want to improve?”
  • “What do you/I want help with?”

Questions like this provide the teacher and student with data that can be use to help the student reflect and improve.

When need be, in order to gain a fuller understanding of what each student feels, knows and is describing, the teacher can ask students to elaborate on the responses shared above. Student’s responses to each item gives the teacher data about that student that can be used by the teacher to personally tailor their approach or curriculum for that particular student. Again, an evaluation comment could be followed by an assessment question.  For example, “That was fun!” says the student. (Evaluation) “What were the things about it that made it fun?” asks the teacher. (Assessment)

An additional example of evaluation combined with assessment: A student asks the teacher a question. The teacher responds: “That is a very good question! Here’s what makes it a very good question: ____.  Asking questions like that tells me that you have a curious mind and are interested in knowing more about: ____. Let’s look it up together after class.”

Although, by using ABCDE as a mnemonic device for helping the reader recall each of the components of this learning/teaching paradigm, it should not be assumed that ABCDE is the order in which each component needs to be treated, though it can be. I have taught using this paradigm and sometimes never asked a Bridging/Linking question or Bridged/Linked two student remarks to make a point. I often have never asked for an Evaluation/Assessment of anything. I even Dispensed several chunks of information in a row when it was clear to me that information would help the student’s understanding. Every learning moment has its own chemistry.

Students in studio classes where the teacher uses the components of this constructivist paradigm say they enjoy having ballet class deepen to include reflective, cerebral, as well as movement and social experiences. They value hearing other student’s ideas and feel like they are in a more rounded, substantive learning community.

ABCDE is my idea for how learning occurs. If this is true, a teaching or pedagogical paradigm informed by this process might be a worthy way to enable learning in your students. The way we learn should inform the way we teach.

David is a white man with short grey hair.  Hes wearing a white turtle neck, and the photo has a black backround.

David Alexander, BS, MEd, recently retired as Education Advisor to Boston Ballet’s Outreach programs, but continues as Chairman of the Boston Ballet Volunteer Association’s Education and Community Initiatives committee. Before coming to Boston Ballet, David was a Project Associate at the National Institute on Out-Of-School Time, Centers for Women, at Wellesley College in Wellesley, MA. His work there was greatly informed by his 20+ years as Lecturer and supervisor of Student Teachers, and Director of the Curriculum Resource Laboratory at Tufts University, Department of Child Study in Medford, MA. His dance teaching experiences at Boston Ballet include assisting Adaptive Dance classes for children with Down Syndrome, plus the ballet’s CITYDANCE program for 3rd graders in the Boston Public Schools. His on-stage experiences include dancing as Clara’s father in many Walnut Hill School productions of Nutcracker. Boston Ballet productions included numerous supernumerary roles and one season as Mother Ginger. David has recently served as Director of NDEO’s Membership Engagement Advisory Committee.


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