02. Teaching
REFLECTION, SYLLABI, coursework, EVALUATIONS
Fall 2021
For the Period of August 30, 2021 - December 21, 2021

Modern III/IV (DANC 421/441)

  • Syllabus

  • Coursework 

  • Work E-Portal

  • Student Surveys (Evaluations)

Intermediate Ballet (DANC 234)

  • Syllabus

  • Coursework 

  • Work E-Portal

  • Student Surveys (Evaluations)

 

Special Projects - Composition

(DANC 390)

  • Syllabus

  • Coursework 

  • Work E-Portal

  • Student Surveys (Evaluations)

 

New Repertory (DANC 325)

  • Syllabus

  • Student Surveys (Evaluations)

Teaching Reflection

 

Overview

Based on my portfolio last year, the Department of Theatre and Dance Personnel Committee suggested that I be more reflective toward student responses and my teaching. This recommendation encouraged me to research reflective practices, and over the summer, I took a course from the Open University, UK, entitled, Becoming a Reflective Practitioner. The course was based on taking a careful look at teaching and learning situations from various perspectives, including the theory that supports ideas, better understanding class issues, and better understanding my own views within the process. 

 

The course has enabled me to further direct my teaching with foresight, learning to see why things are as they are, and how they might be. By looking at teaching from many viewpoints, I found myself working to be more conscious of my actions, asking myself more questions like, “What is my natural response to this, and what would happen if I looked at it this way?” By doing so, I am investing more in how to solve problems, remaining open to learning for students and myself, recognizing that there are no simple answers, and understanding that the conclusions I reach are likely to be tentative. 

 

I have realized that with a more flexible outlook, I have found success in better introducing material to students, transferring it between different learning contexts, situations, and compositions of students, and supporting their progress toward a more effective and positive outcome. I have also found it helpful when adapting my teaching to new ideas and changes in education. 

 

   

                                   Content Links:

1.) The Student Process 

2.) Structuring Classes/Opportunities for Peer Feedback and In-class Reflection

3.) Teacher/Student Connection and Providing Feedback

4.) Attendance and Participation

5.) Reflection on Student Class Surveys (Evaluations)

1.) The Student Process

Students of dance demonstrate daily processing in a more instant and visible way than students in lecture courses by learning and problem solving through physical and expressive means. I don't have to wait for that first quiz, I can see how students work and their development by the end of their first class. The benefits for learning outcomes give tremendous value to this discipline.

 

Learning movement activates and strengthens both sides of the brain, which means that students can learn the logical and mathematical aspects of dance while, having the opportunity to express themselves creatively and balance their overall wellbeing. In diving deeper, dance is truly one of the few subjects that utilize all three domains of learning: psychomotor (physical/kinesthetic), cognitive (thinking), and affective (emotional/feeling). May I add, if one of these domains of learning is missing in the teaching of dance, it may be challenging to accurately examine dance as an art form.

 

The psychomotor approach (physical/kinesthetic) in dance is the most obvious and can be identified as learning movement activity through process-driven approaches, increasing body awareness and strength as well as developing proper anatomical alignment as it serves in the technique. Students learn skills through imitation and improvisation and incorporate laterality, directionality, symmetry, asymmetry, and movement phrase inversions. Students also identify and incorporate various movement qualities through space, time, and dynamics. By understanding components of proper technical use of the body and the anatomically sound application of movement, students demonstrate the ability to learn and retain more complex movement sequences in a variety of technical styles.

 

The cognitive approach (thinking) in dance can be identified as exploring and discovering the full potential of ability, by learning and repeating movement that progresses to a wider range of difficulty as the skill-level advances. Students begin by learning movement qualities linked to imagery like, for example, carving, swiping, reaching, melting. They learn nonverbal spatial awareness, strengthening social skills including listening to and following instructions, following the rules of the class, ignoring distractions, focusing on the work at hand, asking for help, taking turns when they speak, getting along with others, staying calm with others, and creating a shared experience of classwork. This leads to practicing competency in self-responsibility, a positive and inquisitive attitude, respect toward others, versatility, and awareness. Students participate in the process of giving, receiving, and incorporating feedback in class material and discussions. They also recognize, discuss, and critically appraise the origins of dance, including its relationship with other art, social, and cultural forms in history, and as it evolves into the twenty-first century. Students eventually advance and further develop technical, creative, and critical thinking capacities, having a sharper sense of musicality through time and qualitative dynamics, demonstrating personal ownership of movement, and applying skills learned to advance at the next skill level with confidence. Ultimately, students grow to be able to participate in real-world dance settings, efficiently.

 

The affective approach (emotional/feeling) in dance can be identified as learning to be more devoted to dance and the collaborative process, while also understanding movement intention and body awareness, and as students develop, this experience prompts connections with and strengthens interpersonal skills. By encountering dance teaching from an affective approach in tandem with an overall deeper investigation cognitively and physically, students begin to care about movement quality and performance, demonstrating intention, full-bodied commitment, and using the body as an instrument of artistic expression. Students flourish as they grow to appreciate their relationship with dance, and as they advance, they become passionate about dance as a performing art form. They equally develop informed ideas about culture, society, and history, and investigate the next steps to connect with the world in being a citizen within it.

With that said, in order to illuminate how social and cultural formations inform the discipline of dance, I have strived to decenter traditional canons. In my role from diversity to inclusion to equality, I have looked at the boundaries of what has defined dance in academia as well as its engagement with and redefinition of questions about movement and inclusion versus exclusion. Students have learned lessons centered around reflecting on the concept of global citizenship through understanding and appreciating perspectives other than their own. As our world grows increasingly complex and intricate, we have never been more connected; and therefore, our choices and actions may affect people and communities locally, nationally, and internationally. As such, it is important to help students understand that the world is a much bigger place than they may have experienced before. By prompting holistic views between diverse ideas and emptying out subjectivity, such acts have repurposed my own coursework through dance techniques, theories, vocabularies, and histories.

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2.) Structuring Classes/Opportunities for Peer Feedback and In-class Reflection

The layout for this section is based on technique and composition coursework. The research, teaching, and reflection are covered in the following components: 

  • Course Summaries

  • How Material Unfolded and Impacted the Coursework

  • Engaging Students in Exploring the Discipline

 

Course Summaries

Technique courses were designed for students wishing to emerge toward a wider skill range within the dance discipline. Technique, terminology, and performance were strongly emphasized, as students were provided with challenging material to expand their movement capabilities and to aid in their artistic growth as potential performers. The movement emphasized the anatomy that governs the mechanics of each technique. Discussions took place, theorizing about the principles of movement within each discipline, the fundamentals of practice and performance, and the current and historical elements that landscape each technique. Additional class work consisted of midterm and final written and/or practical exams, self-assessment work, and attendance to departmental productions followed by an oral assessment of the performances as well as a written critique essay addressing description, analysis, interpretation, and evaluation.

 

Modern Technique -  (Level I/II and Level III/IV) Combined a full-body floor warmup, center floor foundational exercises, locomotor work, and the practice of various movement phrasing applications appropriate for each course level and based on eclectic modern technique forms.

 

 Ballet Technique -  (Beginning and Intermediate levels) Combined barre work and stretching, center floor exercises, locomotor work, as well as movement phrasing appropriate for each level and based on the Vaganova system.  

 

Composition - (Special Projects Composition and Senior Choreographer Project) They are considered our upper-level choreography courses, with the latter teaching the highest-level composition students. In both courses, the process included generating subject material, investigating its possibilities, experimenting with multiple elements of producing a concert, and presenting the work in a concert dance production.

Repertory - (This course and its participants will continue in the Spring 2022 semester) Guided practice of choreographic repertory. Investigation of choreographic vocabulary, intention, stylistic approaches, and performance technique for small group work.

 

How Material Unfolded and Impacted the Coursework

Teaching with a flexible outlook is common practice with the teaching of dance because of its physical, ‘hands-on’, social, and holistic approaches. Typical dance courses provide students with opportunities to work with materials in multiple ways, problem-solve, be open and reflective, explore who they are, build collaborative experiences, as well as opportunities for a high ratio of praise and feedback. In addition to a flexible outlook in teaching and in order to truly understand my own course intention, I organized course trajectories starting with my overarching goal, and then, I broke them down into milestones of monthly, weekly, and finally, a checklist of daily goals for each class. Daily checklists also included tapping into the kinds of thinking involving physical, analytical, creative, emotional, and social/holistic elements. In so doing, I identified questions to answer along the way: “How will one idea be cohesive with other ideas?”, “How could I build on this as a theme throughout the class, the week, or even the month?”, “What questions would students ask, and why would they ask them?”, “How may they respond to one answer over another?”, “How would students benefit from this, and what could be their takeaway?”. This served as a roadmap for my courses to present clearer ideas and strategies. Generally, students regarded the material actively by acknowledging awareness, identifying connections and what was learned, evaluating the relevance, and expressing how to use it in future work. Some students required supplementary and more in-depth guidance, which I will explain in the following section.

 

Engaging Students in Exploring the Discipline

Technique Courses

By engaging in student learning and improving their quality of thinking in technique (and composition) classes, I included exercises that, for example, encouraged them to assess and analyze the elements of movement, which I refer to as “the BEAST” (body, energy, action, space, and time). Exercises also involved reconstructing movement ideas and phrases through the various choreographic devices such as a directive device called inversion, which is doing the movement phrase as if looking in a mirror or doing the opposite side. Another exercise example used was the alteration choreographic device called instrumentation, which is doing the phrase where a movement performed by one body part is transferred to another body part. Further exercises developed critical thinking when I set up exercises like, for example, “Go back and review what you just learned and recreate a feeling of fluidity throughout the phrase”, or “Can you make this movement travel across the floor?”, or “Go back and change the timing of the phrase in any way you wish.” 

 

I worked to give clear learning objectives on exercises and used various methods of examples like metaphors, historical references, or explanations through personal related experiences. I considered action words like carving, swiping, curving, or falling that became the thread that strung the movement of the class (or the week) together, thematically. Students learned how to bridge movement phrases together, which was most successful through executing the movement in slow-motion, finding the placement of the exact footing, arm gesture, spine initiation, or head position to connect and shape the next movement. Additionally, I found it beneficial to have students engaged as partners or in small-group discussions, where encouragement and positive guidance were given. In this setting, students had more of a sense of control in their processing of movement, and when it came to problem-solving, they even took on a greater sense of responsibility toward comprehending ideas. Students learned that solutions to dance took on many forms, and this type of investigation involved focus, attention to detail, and memorization. As a result, these exercises challenged students with how to organize information, analyze it, and reinvent new movement ideas. 

 

As music does play a large role in the classes, students explored tempo, meter, and dynamics as well as its ability to express certain intentions. For its unique rhythmic variety as well as to expose students to new music and their origins, I taught using recorded percussion and other instruments from non-European musical traditions. Once a week, however, students were able to attend class with percussion accompanist, Len Mackey with other musicians. The combined experience of live music and dance had a beautifully persuasive effect on how students experienced and perceived dance, and it left them only wanting more. I truly hope that this can be incorporated into all modern dance classes for its richness and value in the student experience.

 

Students in ballet learned that traditionally and sheerly by its nature, certain movements are accompanied to specific musical selections that regard performance instructions (adagio, allegro, and larghetto), tempo, and genres (tango, waltz, mazurka, and tarantella). By also honoring the origin of ballet in the Italian Renaissance and within its particular etiquette of movement, music, and ritual helps students (beginning and intermediate levels) examine its foundations and its place in history, to better understand and appreciate all that ballet can offer as an art form.

 

With all of the above said, even when I directed my teaching with what I thought was good planning, some students needed ideas broken down more, others needed more repetition with the material, some were challenged with conceptualizing movement phrases due to conditions related to left and right confusion or imitation comprehension, or others had never before inverted a movement phrase. Regardless, to spontaneously see movement, imitate it, and invert it, for instance, is a difficult task with plenty of challenges within itself. Each student uniquely needed the time required to strengthen their skills. Rather than going on to teach more material when some students seemed unclear, this typically was a good time to take questions and get to the nitty-gritty of detailed quality, timing, or bodily approaches. This kept the more advanced leveled students interested as they refined their work, while others were able to better comprehend the material. 

 

If students were still not understanding the movement, for a brief time, I broke them into working groups, integrating the different skill levels. For each group, I created tasks based on concerns. After regathering, we discussed the results of group work, and I asked questions. “Did you arrive at a resolution?”, “How did you get there?”, or “How do you think it could have been done differently?”. As some students initially struggled, finding engaging outlets to satisfy all learning experiences tended to unite classes, promoting positive working environments as well as building confidence levels. This type of exercise allowed me to better observe and understand the intrapersonal and interpersonal levels of students and how to adapt my approach for future classes.

 

After such scenarios, however, I would also go back and question my material and/or approach, and how I could have impacted the students differently. “Why did some students not understand?”, “What caused this situation?”, “What options were open to me?”, “Why did I decide on one option and not another?”, “Was there not enough time?”. By questioning, this gave me more insight to better-align my classes for next time, and most importantly, it helped me recognize not only my accountability but capability also to fix it.

Composition Courses

When the audience took their seats and the lights went down, a magical hush overcame the theatre. The audience, concerned only with what was about to happen on stage, rarely would consider the long process that brought the student choreographers and dancers to that moment. The work and energy of mounting a concert dance production was the real-world experience of those who attended the courses, Special Projects Composition and the Senior Choreography Project.

 

At the beginning of the semester, students were provided with learning outcomes for the course and asked to document their own personal learning goals with their project and within the course objectives. After they held auditions, cast their works, and scheduled rehearsals and spaces, choreographers began rehearsing and worked through their creative processes. These students were elected to a leadership role to demonstrate choreographic understanding from prerequisite courses. This included conducting themselves with work ethic in a collaborative spirit and with positive energy. As they assumed their new role as choreographers, they also underwent some growing pains, realizing the depths of the job. 

In working with their dancers, students went from being a peer to the leader and felt like they had to be the one stopping other people from goofing off, for example. In a group discussion about leadership and managing cast members, the choreographers all expressed concerns of coping with feeling nervous about commanding the respect of their peers, and sometimes, it felt tempting to go overboard, enforcing rules. However, “being a leader was more than just bossing everyone around," as one choreographer said. “I earned respect by listening, implementing people's ideas, resolving conflicts, and managing time effectively,” said another choreographer, who also said, "Of course, there are times I've had to put my foot down and say that right now, we're not friends. I'm the choreographer, and you're my dancer.” Another choreographer added, "But… I always tell my cast that I'm here to grow and learn. Let's do that together.”

Being named a choreographer (and a peer leader) doesn't mean they already know how to do everything, perfectly. These students had to be prepared to use their strengths and improve on their weaknesses, for the good of their cast and the production. One choreographer said, "At first, I had to work at being vocal when someone in my cast had a negative attitude. It's hard to feel like the bad guy." Another replied by saying, "As a choreographer, I've learned to speak up when something needs to be said." In a nutshell, the job of these students is to strive to ensure that everyone—not just them or a few close friends—is set up to succeed. "Being a choreographer is not about power at all," a choreographer said. "It's about inclusion, supporting, and advocating for each other and lifting each other up." 

Key points of the semester were showings of works-in-progress, where students revealed what they spent their rehearsals crafting. Before the first showing, choreographers were encouraged to develop a working title as their beacon to reference ideas of intention. They were also asked to develop elements of physicality through various means such as body language or mannerisms, to eventually evolve into a movement vocabulary. This process embodied various manipulations of movement through choreographic devices and fundamental elements emphasizing body, energy, action, space, shape, and time. At the showings, students were given the opportunity to interact with each other, creating a shared experience of giving, receiving, and incorporating feedback. It can be common that some students struggle with constructive criticism. The first few showings were, typically, quite personal for students. It was at this point that they were realizing and embracing their own outlook and, hard as it was, began understanding the need for becoming more objective.

 

The fall 2021 group did have more difficulty with this than past groups, however. I wondered how they were unique, and then, it dawned on me that if students grow used to receiving feedback online, it can feel detached and not as direct as it would in an in-person scenario. Online, on an abstract screen, students may not really feel as exposed, because they don’t see the others in class respond to what has been said about them. Feedback this way may even feel filtered or detached. Coming back into the in-class scenario, it suddenly has all of the directness again, being with others, in a group situation, and being exposed to something in the moment. They suddenly had to ‘face the music’ of in-person feedback after two years. They unlearned how to handle this primarily, and it seemed to add stress. 

 

Realizing this, I worked with students to give easily actionable guidance by helping them relate to what they had learned and identified as their initial goals for the work in order to promote a forward-looking perspective with confidence. In an effort to also challenge students, I gave them clear and concise input on what I saw and asked them to reflect on if it was cohesive with their intention. If it wasn’t, they needed to reevaluate and develop further refined movement ideas to achieve their goals. 

 

Through self-assessment, students gauged their own progress toward their self-identified goals, while I tracked their progress in relation to the course objectives. I met with students one-on-one about their progress and asked them questions like “What’s working in your project, and what are your concerns or questions?” I listened to them and let their experiences inform my teaching and how I could guide them further. Together, we identified themes and outlined courses of action. This gave me insight into their experiences, and it informed me how to work with each student for the remainder of their project.

 

In addition to choreographing, students also learned about the various components of mounting a production from promotion and marketing to managerial and operations. The task of planning and organizing a dance concert meant that students needed to adhere to the timing and schedule allotted, as in the real world. Working closely together, they responded effectively and efficiently to the specific needs of the multiple entities related to production, communications, and events management in general. These challenges were sometimes an exhausting undertaking for them, but they realized that it was crucial to have a well-thought-out plan of action in order to succeed.

 

Eventually, through assessing, editing, and re-assessing, students began building foundations of movement, which led to constructing a beginning, middle, and ending. This included understanding how sound, costumes, and lighting design all played a role in the presentation of their work. Equally, the media dance students developed skills on how the eye of the camera and post-production played additional roles in the process.

 

At the end of the semester, students wrote a reflection, critically evaluating in writing their personal development through the process, and questions included: (1) Describe how you proceeded in a sense of trajectory and embodied cohesion as you created your work; (2) Analyze the research, creative process, and gained knowledge that the project served in terms of your growth as a choreographer; (3) Interpret the feedback/critiques given to you both from the faculty and your peers; (4) Evaluate the outcome of the project, a rating of your overall practice, and how these results may affect future approaches to dance-making. 

 

Student Responses

“Embodying a harmony concept of cohesion was an important quality I wished to incorporate.” “As for the sense of trajectory, it is something I would like to learn more about and truly know what I can present in my next piece to do it.”

 

“One dancer moved with a sense of flow, which worked very nicely for some parts of the piece. However, there were moments when I asked her to move very quickly and sharply, which was not how she naturally moved. This was clear in the showings and feedback, and I learned that I had to communicate the quality of movement more effectively to my dancers.

 

“There was a time when I doubted if my art was enough to be included with the others. For a time, I believed I was the underdog. Cynthia has been a wonderful help; she was always there to help every one of us, but I truly appreciated how she took her time to give us her best. She provided excellent comments, which alone made this experience ten times more enjoyable. It's like a breath of fresh air to hear such positive feedback after nearly giving up so many times.”

 

“Choreographing this semester required a lot of planning and fixing in order to create a cohesive piece for the audience to see. Certain sections of the piece would come and get set a lot faster than others. Also, some sections needed to be adapted multiple times before they were ready for the stage. The creative process “is not linear, but instead is more fluid, proceeding both forward and backward” which is what I realized quickly this semester (Human Kinetics). Before I began choreographing, I had to come up with a basic concept to capture within the movements and set a goal for the piece. Then, I developed the theme over time and changed it throughout the various sections I set.”

 

“There were a few times where I was told certain movements did not fit where they were or did not fit the piece at all, which caused me to go back to those spots and rearrange or change the movements. There were also a few times where transitions needed to be fixed more than once, including the ones that went into a trick, such as the turning sections or a back-walkover. These were the points that were brought up in many rehearsals and were a frustrating part of the process because it took a long time before I was happy with the transitions. Transitions have never been one of my strong points as a choreographer, but with the help of my dancers and other choreographers, some of the ideas they had helped me complete these tricky spots of choreography. Something I learned throughout this semester of choreographing, is that it is fine to ask dancers in the piece to help when a choreographer needs it most. They have another point-of-view and know the piece well enough that they can give good advice to solve a choreographic problem or have some new ideas that the choreographer may never think of. My dancers all have a different style that when asked to choreograph a solo to tidy up later, they brought ideas and movements that I have never seen before and would not come up with myself, but it benefitted the piece greatly. This is something that I will keep in mind when I get stuck in a spot of choreography or need new ideas to spice the piece up.”

 

“Going out of the comfort zone can be the best choice sometimes and can sometimes create our best work, which is what I consider this piece to be as it is my first piece that was shown onstage live.”

 

“This piece was a new style for me to choreograph but I had a lot of fun with it and learned many new things about my work throughout the process. This piece, ‘Allegiance’, went through an intense process to take it from being a rough draft with loose ends to a clean piece that was performance-ready. I think that I did well for this being my first piece performed live and in the first concert performed live in almost two years at SUNY Potsdam. I worked extremely hard to choreograph something I could be proud of and worked even harder to correct my work to make it a stronger piece. Something I will take from this process for my future choreographic projects is that a person cannot hold on too tightly to what they have created because if they get too attached to their work, they will struggle to transform it to make it the best version of itself. There were times when I thought I knew best for my piece in certain sections, but after listening to what other people were telling me and fixing those sections, it made my piece even better than it already was. I have learned to let go at times for the sake of my piece and learned that other points of view may help a choreographer realize what they need to fix in their piece. Through all of the feedback, countless rehearsals, and tough showings, I am thankful for all of the experiences since my piece came out better than I had ever imagined. When I first created the concept of the piece, I did not have high hopes for it and thought it would just be something fun to do. Now that the performances are over and I can look back at my work, I realize that I have something that I have created to be proud of.”

 

The choreographers were extremely hard workers, and some admitted that it was the hardest project they had ever done. A student expressed that “even though the process was very challenging, it was a great opportunity to be a part of the Student Choreographers’ Concert.”  Another student also stated, “the process has been a personal rollercoaster, but I’ve enjoyed it! It has helped me better understand myself as a choreographer and my creative person.”

 

In mentoring these students, they engaged in a real-world setting of mounting their vision step-by-step and watching it all perform on stage. I was pleased by what our student body achieved, and the choreographers had captivating points of view to share. I was happy that they felt successful with their work, both personally and artistically. I am proud of their dedication to detail and teamwork in building the production from the bottom up. This experience gave students a new look at what they can achieve through their investment of the many hours. As one student said, “This creative process has been tremendously difficult and demanding, but I am proud of what I have produced.”

 

Fall 2021 Student Choreographers Concert: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Y0f2Ur8tk4

Spring 2021 Media Dance Works Series: https://www.cyndance.org/copy-of-performances-1

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3.) Teacher/Student Connection and Providing Feedback

In building a positive connection and trust with my students, I have worked on using more direct language in class. I take seriously my responsibility for shaping how students think and act and, ultimately, how they learn. When I express my thoughts clearly and use a kind, straightforward tone, I have recognized that students learn that they can trust me. I also sense that they feel respected and even safe, a necessary condition for developing self-discipline and taking the risks required for learning dance.

 

I have learned that if my class is not as well-structured or I am not clear or confident in my own ideas, it's easy for me to slip into using unintended language like those requiring only a quick nod from students like “understand?” This is also the case when using generalized praises to the entire class. It becomes apparent that over time, it can come across as laissez-faire, and communication this way could become meaningless to students. I have learned to make a bigger deal out of a student’s A+ effort on her/his movement execution or looking closer and taking the time to individualize comments to students, so they can feel noticed. I also do one-on-one meetings with students as an additional means of finding out their needs and how I can improve in teaching them.

 

I have made conscious choices to show more of an interest in students’ lives. I have asked them to arrive at class 10-15 minutes early every day to prepare, which includes centering their thoughts and doing mild stretching if needed. I take this time to open up opportunities for more casual discussions by checking in on how each student is doing, asking how other classes, work, or rehearsals are going, or offering more in-depth feedback about previous exercises in class. This has been successful, as it has given the students and me opportunities to better connect and engage. For example, when I revisit a previous discussion with a student, like “How did that test go?” or “How was your job interview?”, their eyes light up, and I feel that this little bit of extra care before class creates a more relaxed environment, and I even suspect that it may contribute to an overall higher participation and attendance rate. 

 

It is important to add that we have experienced ‘not’ having in-person dance instruction during COVID times, and it is especially important to emphasize a more social and flexible outlook toward teaching and learning these days. 

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4.) Attendance and Participation

When designing my courses and considering policies, I have simply asked the question, “What would I need if I were a dance student during these times?”, which has also meant, “What do I know that will be most helpful for my students to succeed during these times?” Success is typically the result of having a sense of confidence, but no one really explains how to become confident. On the other side, failing is not the enemy of a student, it's the fear of failing that truly hinders them. People develop confidence in different ways. I have felt most confident when I fulfilled my accomplishments through passion and happiness. When I have achieved a task, I saw my success and felt good about it. I have found that the best way for students to gain success is by giving them opportunities to investigate and practice achieving goals. Putting them into situations where they can critically think, take action, and reflect on their activities, for example, has helped them see why it is worth it to make the most of their efforts. Accompanied by positive reinforcement and praise, I have challenged and encouraged students to put their fear of failing to the side and keep going one day at a time, which has given many of them the courage to succeed. I also teach students how to be better organized, so they can feel in control of their efforts and empowered. While guiding students, equally, I must be an effective role model as a teacher, modeling confidence, being prepared to teach, showing support, and accepting mistakes I make with grace. Helping students to discover success gives value to their education and, even, to their life. 

The importance of building confidence in students also means motivating and supporting them. For the last two years, students have been learning from a place of distraction, displacement, and distress. During a time when we have to wear face masks, be six feet apart, and sometimes be in quarantine, we have to also think about what it is like to be in the shoes of the students. If I am having difficulty during these times, I can only imagine being a 19- or 20-year-old student. No wonder distraction is the main deterrent to learning these days. Should students be penalized for this and given a failing grade? Granted, we have no comparison for teaching through such a crisis. It is clear that we have to adjust accordingly and be human first and the professor second; therefore, it seems important to have policies as humans for the success of humans and with an awareness of what has become a part of all of our lives. 

Some may raise the question, “What about students taking advantage of the system?” Perhaps there are, but for the exception of a few, blanketing the idea that most students are distressed is far beneficial for the masses than the few getting away with dishonesty. Others may ask, “Isn’t it a lot to ask of faculty?” It is a lot to ask under non-crisis circumstances, perhaps. It is an imperfect, everchanging time for education, but I feel my goal as a faculty member still remains to lead students toward a successful future. When there are so many lives turned upside down, leading students to success couldn’t be more vital. If we don’t, our students will fail, and we will fail.

I, not only, try to give students the tools to be inspired and to feel confident, I also try to encourage them to think about the world beyond the pandemic. If the colleges' goals are student retention and engagement, particularly new and transfer students who may feel overwhelmed with all of the challenges they have undergone, it is important to state a positive impression and go the extra mile for students. More than ever, I feel that “now” is the time to put that impression out there to students. Helping them gain strength in the present will prepare them for building toward a better future.

Addressing Direct Questions Regarding Attendance and Participation 

If students are not attending class, what are my strategies to check in on them? I assume that students are honest young ‘adults.’ I include respectful, non-judgment check-ins and am prepared to listen. I accept that they may have a valid reason for the absence. This grows the trust that the student is actually telling me what is going on. I have also told students, “I can potentially excuse any absence, but a message must come to me before the class.” I believe that because of this respectful and trusting interchange, I have had steady attendance among students.

 

What are the strategies to encourage students who are not attending class to return? Typically, this is a student who has symptoms of something bigger, and I find out the real cause for it. Like anyone else, at the earliest opportunity, I call them in and request a personal meeting to understand what is going on. Then, I advise them on that basis, surrounding an atmosphere of trust for them.

 

How have I managed students who enter class late? I find the student individually and remind them of the protocol. If this happens on more than one occasion, I request a personal meeting to try to understand what is going on and help the student find solutions.

 

How have I managed students who observe a class? Before class, I ask the student questions about why they feel the need to observe and discuss the next steps. Sometimes, students don’t realize that some movements and stretches are actually beneficial for certain tight and/or sore muscles. If they feel confident in doing so, I ask them to begin class and attend as much as they can, and then, take notes for the remaining time. As it is stated in the syllabus, a written observation means documenting each exercise as well as finding at least one precaution to consider while executing it. A copy of the notes is sent to me by email at the end of that class. Additionally, students are asked to study their notes and apply them to the next class, where I will be assessing them, accordingly. 

 

How have I managed the cohort of Zoom students? As we have realized, it is paramount to engage with all of our students, particularly those who may feel overwhelmed with the challenges of being in quarantine. While students are feeling displaced, putting a value on their participation on Zoom can create a feeling of belonging and even a sense of community. If they can’t be live, being like live and actively participating is the most important. 

 

Data Pertaining to Course Management

Below, I have captured the enrollment of my classes in the first week and last week of the semester as well as the percent average of student attendance and the overall grade scale.

 

Modern III/IV and Special Problems Technique (DANC 441/442/385)

  • Enrollment at the beginning of the semester: 14

  • Enrollment by the end of the semester: 14

  • Average semester attendance: 90%

  • Zoom was used in week 2 (3 students in quarantine - 2 not vaccinated), week 8 (2 students in quarantine -1 not vaccinated), and week 11 (1 student w/ shoulder dislocation and in father’s care, who is a doctor).

  • Grade scale percentages: 4.0 - 8 students, 3.7- 2 students, 3.3 - 3 student, 2.3 - 1 student

Intermediate Ballet (DANC 234)

  • Enrollment at the beginning of the semester: 10

  • Enrollment by the end of the semester: 10

  • Average semester attendance: 92%

  • No Zoom sessions were used.

  • Grade scale percentages: 4.0 - 5 students, 3.7 - 1 student, 3.3 - 3 student, 3.0 - 1 student

Special Projects Composition (DANC 390)

  • Enrollment at the beginning of the semester: 4

  • Enrollment by the end of the semester: 4

  • Average semester attendance: 98%

  • No Zoom sessions were used.

  • Grade scale percentages: 4.0 - 2 students, 3.7 - 1 student, 3.3 - 1 student

New Repertory/Performance and Production via the Faculty Dance Concert (DANC 325)

  • Enrollment at the beginning of the semester: 3

  • Enrollment by the end of the semester: 3

  • Average semester attendance: 95%

  • No Zoom sessions were used.

  • Grade scale percentages: 4.0 - 3 students

Performance and Production via the Student Choreographers' Concert (DANC 309)

  • Enrollment at the beginning of the semester: 8

  • Enrollment by the end of the semester: 8

  • Average semester attendance: 90%

  • No Zoom sessions were used.

  • Grade scale percentages: 4.0 - 6 students, 3.7 - 1 student, 0.0 - 1 student -dropped out in last two weeks of concert and never performed.

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5.) Reflection on Student Class Surveys (Evaluations)

Students' evaluations are an important tool to me. I value their honest and constructive feedback and use it to make coursework enhancements and improve the overall teaching quality. In the past, I created an evaluation that helped me understand the needs of students more, and I used it again this past year. Below are the statistics based on course surveys as well as my reflection on the student survey comments.

 

Survey Statistics

Modern III/IV (DANC 421/441) 

10 student class surveys (evaluations)

Overall Average = 91% Accurate and Consistent

1. Motivates students (3 questions): 

  • 27/30 = 90% accurate and consistent

  • 3/30 = 10% somewhat accurate and consistent

2. Communicates Lessons (3 questions):  

  • 26/30 = 87% accurate and consistent

  • 4/30 = 13% somewhat accurate and consistent

3. Demonstrates Knowledge of the Curriculum (4 questions):

  • 38/40 = 95% accurate and consistent

  • 2/40 = 5% somewhat accurate and consistent

4. Sets High expectations for student achievement in accordance with needs and abilities (3 questions):

  • 30/30 = 100% accurate and consistent

5. Interacts with students (7 questions):

  • 59/70 = 84% accurate and consistent

  • 10/70 = 15% somewhat accurate and consistent

  • 1/70 = 1% not accurate or consistent.  (Question: Promotes a positive self-image in students)

See full evaluations here.

 Intermediate Ballet (DANC 234) 

10 student class surveys (evaluations)

Overall Average = 98% Accurate and Consistent

1. Motivates students (3 questions): 

  • 29/30 = 97% accurate and consistent

  • 1/30 = 3% somewhat accurate and consistent

2. Communicates Lessons (3 questions):  

  • 29/30 = 97% accurate and consistent

  • 1/30 = 3% somewhat accurate and consistent

3. Demonstrates Knowledge of the Curriculum (4 questions):

  • 39/40 = 98% accurate and consistent

  • 1/40 = 2% somewhat accurate and consistent

4. Sets High expectations for student achievement in accordance with needs and abilities (3 questions):

  • 29/30 = 97% accurate and consistent

  • 1/30 = 3% somewhat accurate and consistent

5. Interacts with students (7 questions):

  • 69/70 = 99% accurate and consistent

  • 1/70 = 1% somewhat accurate and consistent

See full surveys here.

Fall 2021New Repertory (DANC 325) 

3 student class surveys (evaluations)

Overall Average = 100% Accurate and Consistent

1. Motivates students (3 questions): 

  • 30/30 = 100% accurate and consistent

2. Communicates Lessons (3 questions):  

  • 30/30 = 100% accurate and consistent

3. Demonstrates Knowledge of the Curriculum (4 questions):

  • 40/40 = 100% accurate and consistent

4. Sets High expectations for student achievement in accordance with needs and abilities (3 questions):

  • 30/30 = 100% accurate and consistent

5. Interacts with students (7 questions):

  • 70/70 = 100% accurate and consistent

See full surveys here.

Reflection on Student Survey Comments 

I am glad to see positive responses from student evaluations such as “Cynthia creates the most encouraging classroom atmosphere. She gradually higher the difficulty, whilst making it appropriate for success. Extremely influential!!”, and “She really takes time with us, so we can succeed.”, and “It is clear she knows what works for each student.” “This class was a very effective layout, and I was able to progress with the material (i.e. continued to progress even as the material became harder).”, and “I liked when we would work through movement in metaphors and with verbal instruction before given demonstration –those are fun and challenging moments.”, and “I love this class. It makes me feel strong and gives me the dance knowledge I need.” By creating a learning experience aimed toward student success as well as having frequent self-reflective opportunities early on and throughout the semester has provided more opportunities for students to develop, organize, and evaluate their thought processes related to learning, problem-solving, and evaluating. In addition, this stream of feedback has given me opportunities to continuously adapt my teaching to immediate, real-life student needs.

 

In carefully examining the student evaluations, I have sorted my reflection into two categories: 

  • Students responding to the course design and teaching methods 

  • Creating an engaging and inclusive environment for students

 

Students Responding to the Course Design and Teaching Methods

Aligning with the expectations of students, the degree program experience, and my teaching methods, I believe that I provided a clear understanding of the learning outcomes written in the syllabus and executed through the coursework by summarizing content and expectations at the start of each class, following through with material in an organized and productive way, discussing various influences that define progress toward successful learning, and regularly referencing the objectives of the course.

 

Based on the above evaluation questions, 2. Communicates Lessons and 3. Demonstrates Knowledge of the Curriculum, of My Technique and Repertory Courses, 96% of the students believe that I am accurate and consistent in demonstrating teaching accurately, creatively, effectively, and sequentially as well as showing interest in presentations and giving feedback. 4% of the students felt I was somewhat accurate in these traits, particularly, toward putting ideas across logically and responding to student progress. I can work toward giving those students, who may be reluctant to ask questions, more opportunities to address what isn't clear to them, and while giving feedback, I can speak using more direct language and let students be aware that what I am doing is, in fact, giving them feedback. Some students in ballet recommended more stretching, which suggests that I need to make them more aware that the barre work portion of the class does incorporate stretching. Additionally, I will research more stretching exercises to incorporate at the barre for the future. 

 

Creating an engaging and inclusive environment for students

Just as I have varied strengths, abilities, values, and constraints that influence how I teach, students also vary in ability, talent, personality, and learning styles. I strive to understand all of my students as individuals, respecting the whole person and recognizing their needs and differences. Upon the start of class, I consciously connect with each student, greeting them, asking about school, work, how they are, and/or giving any feedback that came to mind from the previous class. During class, I consciously make it a goal to reach each student with at least one constructive comment within the week and even within the class, if possible. I make myself available to meet with students outside of class whenever they request it and responding to their emails is always a priority to me.

 

Based on the above evaluation questions, 1. Motivates Students, 4. Sets High Expectations for Student Achievement in Accordance with Needs and Abilities, and 5. Interacts with Students, of my technique and repertory courses, 96.2% of my students recognized that I motivate, show concern and understanding, encourage success, give constructive criticism, promote a positive self-image, and get to know each of them as an individual. They also agree that I can maintain a disciplined and driven atmosphere while inspiring and encouraging them through energetic and constructive criticism and praise. 3.3% of the students felt my work in this area is somewhat accurate or consistent, particularly my work in communicating with students accurately and with understanding, assuming personal responsibility for student learning, and trying to know each student individually. 0.5% of the students felt my work in promoting a positive self-image in students was not accurate or consistent.

In order to reach the 4% of students who felt that I need to strive harder in the above-mentioned areas, I will focus on more conscious, direct language with them. I could try addressing these students by saying “I am giving you feedback on your dancing, now, and these are the reasons why this is a positive comment.” Even though the course is upper-level, some of these students have only been dancing since they have been in college, and some of these students are receiving feedback for the first time. Rather than taking it constructively and toward something beneficial, they may be hurt by it. 

Over the past year and certainly throughout the pandemic, educating students in dance has additionally meant playing a significant role in helping them develop stronger personal skills. I have sought out and adapted styles of teaching and learning that promote a positive self-image and personal growth in students. Self-esteem to students is interpreted as feeling included as well as feelings of worth and value, even if they don’t always reciprocate it within the class. I have worked to find a common ground to help those students rise up and perform tasks, successfully. For some, their outlook stems from issues beyond the class, and it requires a gentle approach and patience to gain their trust.

 

Educating students has also meant teaching interpersonal skills and communication. Students vary in these abilities as well as in how they incorporate and handle certain social situations. The exchange of verbal and nonverbal thoughts, ideas, feelings, and emotions reflect the environment of the class. It has been an important part of my teaching to clarify class etiquette from the perspective that focuses on awareness and mutual respect among students. This approach has assisted students in learning to balance self-involvement with group sensitivity. For example, I have made efforts to create a motivational environment and invited discussions and acknowledgments regarding its purpose and benefits. I have taught students about what a dance class with strong morale looks and feels like, encouraging them to support and respect others and their learning process. Students and I have also covered a variety of scenarios, where interaction and cooperation have been essential, including building relationships with others. Section 2.) Structuring Classes/ Opportunities for Peer Feedback and In-class Reflection gives such examples of building communication in classwork. (Back to top)

 

Click here to​ go to Fall 2021 Faculty Peer Evaluation and Reflection​