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Behind the Curtain

Use Technology The Way Your Dance Students Do!
By Susan McGreevy-Nichols
Posted on 12/12/2017 2:28 PM

From time to time, NDEO will be featuring guest blog posts, written by our members about their experiences in the field of dance education. We continue this series with an entry from Cara Lavallee, Dance Director at The Episcopal Academy in Pennsylvania. 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 email Shannon Dooling-Cain at sdooling@ndeo.org.





Dance & Tech: Use Technology The Way Your Students Do!

Cara Lavallee, Dance Director at The Episcopal Academy in Pennsylvania


“Tech” is such a buzzword these days that the title of this blog post might have made you involuntarily roll your eyes. I can assure you that the specific technology tool I will be sharing can be easily integrated into your dance classroom, and your students will have a blast along the way.


This spring I utilized an online video and discussion resource in my “Introduction to Dance” course called Flipgrid (www.flipgrid.com). Some objectives for this particular course are:


  • Assess student understanding of dance vocabulary within a particular genre

  • Provide opportunities for students to create choreography within that genre

  • Generate discussion through student-to-student feedback.


This is a survey dance course at a high school, for art credit toward graduation. Throughout the course students consider their answer to the question "What is dance?," as well as explore various dance concepts such as Time, Space and Energy. My class was a group of ten freshman girls with minimal dance background. The students in the course move through different dance genres as the course progresses: ballet, tap, jazz and hip-hop. Technique is a main focus, as students participate in daily warm ups, learn basic steps and eventually a choreographed combination for each style. Viewing video clips of professional dance performances and discussing the history and major contributors of each style are also integral parts of the class. The course culminates with individually choreographed, reflective solos from each student.


To prepare my students for creating choreography on their own I utilized Flipgrid. I think Flipgrid’s homepage sums it up best: “Flipgrid is a video discussion community for your classroom that supercharges your students’ voices. You add the topics, your students respond with short videos, and everyone engages!” Using Flipgrid was a way for my students to practice creating choreography in a low-stakes context before they had to choreograph their final solos. Rather than the traditional model of getting up in front of the whole class to share their work, students presented their mini choreography projects through videos they posted on Flipgrid. This format allowed for greater repetition with “flexing their creative muscle” while not eating up tons of class time with presentations and feedback. As the teacher, I could review the videos outside of class time and respond to each student individually with meaningful feedback tailored specific to them. I did not have to waste nine other students’ time while I talked directly with one student about their work.


In each dance style the students’ experience was slightly different. In ballet, the students did not use Flipgrid at all but instead had a movement “quiz” based on body positions and ballet fundamentals. The “quiz” created a lot of anxiety for the class, but they studied and reviewed heavily and did very well with the material. The problem with the “quiz” was that I had to meet with them one-on-one, which was time consuming and, again, not the best use of class time. Flipgrid is the perfect way to see and hear from each student without eating up class time with individual check-ins.


In tap, the students had their first taste of Flipgrid. Since this was a new resource to everyone, I did an example video for the class (embedded below) that highlighted exactly what I wanted them to do. Within the videos I was looking for:


  • Students utilizing a consistent 8-count that matched the music and movement

  • Genre-specific dance vocabulary

  • Physical execution of the dance steps



The students struggled a bit with their counting, did pretty well with the vocabulary and had fun helping one another capture and post their videos (as you can see from their “screen shot” photos below).


One of my favorite features about Flipgrid is that students can re-take their videos as many times as they want until they are satisfied. If a student misses a sound with their tap choreography, or falls out of a turn, they can do it over until it reflects their very best work. Then, outside of class time, students could peruse one another’s videos and see what their peers came up with. Seeing their classmates’ videos can also be a motivator for students to improve upon their own material! I left each student a video comment (seen below), modeling the type of feedback I wanted them to eventually give to one another. Taking a few minutes outside of class to leave feedback for students was super easy. Sometimes I did it after class in the studio or later when I got home. With the phone app you could essentially do it anywhere you have a free moment!


The Jazz Flipgrid, seen below included the same parameters as tap: create two counts of eight, this time using jazz vocabulary; however, each student was then assigned to give feedback to another student about their choreography. Not surprisingly, the students were much quicker with creating and submitting their work, now that they knew the drill. The students were excited to watch one another’s work and were serious and thoughtful with their feedback to their peers. While one class period (forty minutes) was given for creating the choreography and taking the videos, the beauty of Flipgrid is that students who did not finish in time or were not able to give their feedback during class time could do it later that day, either on their computer of even via the phone app.


Lastly, for the Hip-Hop Flipgrid students worked collaboratively with a partner and submitted one video per pair. The change to working with another person was to offer a more social experience (which works well with hip-hop) before the students began their final projects, where they would be spending most of their time working independently. At this stage, students made their Flipgrid videos but since there were only five groups, each group also presented “live” during class and gave/received feedback in the classroom setting rather than online. This in-person feedback session was also to transition them for their final project experience, presenting their solos in front of an audience. I wholeheartedly believe that the practice they had presenting and giving/receiving feedback digitally prepared them for an authentic in-person performance.



Reflection

The area I noticed the most progress from the students was their usage of dance vocabulary. These were novice students who were using words like “ball-heel,” “pirouette,” and “Leo walk.” Seeing the students retain the terminology was incredibly encouraging, and their repetition through using Flipgrid helped reinforce this. Flipgrid also allowed me as the teacher to hear every student’s voice, not just the bold ones who speak up the quickest during class time.


Other highlights that came from students exploring tap, jazz and hip-hop choreography through Flipgrid include the way each student problem-solved the assignment. There really was a nice level of creativity and variety in the projects, especially after only doing each dance style for 8-10 class days. Some students created choreography that needed a partner; others used terms from ballet, which was the unit we had explored first, so the students really pulled from all their resources which was nice to see. When I asked the students if they enjoyed using Flipgrid there was unanimous positivity and a noticeable comfort level. This was something that stood out after using Flipgrid: the ease with which students navigated the technology. I was impressed with how second nature it was for the students to record, submit and explore one another’s videos.



Practical Applications for Every Dance Teacher


I am fortunate to work at a one-to-one institution, where every student has a laptop, so during class time students were all able to work on their choreography at the same time in their own corner of the dance studio. If this is not feasible for your students, you could consider allowing your older students to access Flipgrid via their smartphones for a class period. This, of course, could come with other distractions but presented with specific parameters could be an extremely successful exercise. You could also select two or three “responsible” students to bring their smartphones and have multiple students record on the same device. Flipgrid does not require a login account and each video submitted can be labeled with the appropriate name.  As long as you give your students a “pin” or “code”, they can go to the Flipgrid website and access the “grid” or video portal.


If you have a single laptop or iPad you can use at your dance studio, you could set it up in the corner of your classroom as a station, with a notecard of instructions for what you want students to work on. Some students could record their Flipgrid videos while other students are at other stations around the room, working on flexibility, core work, or even reviewing choreography. The following class period the Flipgrid station could be used to watch the other groups’ videos and respond to them. Whatever works best in the pace of your classroom, Flipgrid can be a dynamic experience and asset to you as a teacher. Flipgrid can help you identify which students are truly grasping the material and which need more clarification. As the teacher, you have time outside of class to review the videos and assess how best to help individual students where they are struggling. You might realize you really need to work on turning technique, fast footwork, or performance quality.


For logistical support with using Flipgrid, take a perusal through their website. You can even create a single “grid” for free, if you want to dip your toe in the water. I highly recommend embracing the idea of online-learning and considering how to keep your dance classroom feeling current and fresh. The students and I got better at utilizing Flipgrid after each unit, so give yourself the time and space to get acquainted with it and try something new. Using videos with dance is not a novel idea; however, the ease, accessibility and organization of Flipgrid gives it a unique and purposeful niche. I hope you find it promotes growth within your dancers, as they can look back at their various “grids” throughout the season and see how far they’ve come.



Cara Lavallee has been a dynamic dance educator for over the past decade. She graduated cum laude from Hobart & William Smith Colleges with degrees in Dance and Arts Education. Since then, Cara has been teaching dance to students of all ages, ranging from pre-K through undergraduate. After receiving her Master of Education in Dance from Temple University, Cara has taught in a variety of settings including private dance studios and Philadelphia city schools. She is passionate about curriculum design and was Assistant Curriculum Director for Exploration Summer Programs at Wellesley College. Currently, she is the Dance Director at The Episcopal Academy in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania.


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