Sunday, February 27, 2011

By the Book

I have to stop beating around the bush. 

You know, I know, and everyone knows that a chance to reflect on one's learning is where the learning actually happens.  That's why, when we were first developing the Math in Your Feet program, my wonderful co-creator Jane Cooney said, "We have to have a workbook to go along with the dance classes."

Yes, I know the label of 'workbook' has a lot of connotations, including busy work, and if you can think of a better name, please let me know.  Residency Journal?  That might be better.

Anyhow, Jane's idea was that the workbook would be the place for written reflection, word study (math and dance words/concepts), a record of the students' creative work (including mapping the patterns), and extension activities that look more like recognizable math problems related to the residency work.  For instance: "Make a scale drawing of the dance space you use in dance class."  As I've discussed elsewhere in this blog, I build the bridge between math and dance in my workshops, but it is up to the classroom teacher to make time to use the workbook and bring this learning back to the page.

Over the years, I've notice teachers becoming more and more stressed by the push of their district's curriculum and by testing, so much so that just bringing their kids to me for an hour a day for a week is now about all they can handle.  Maybe they get their kids to complete the daily reflection journal prompt and the word study, but that's about it.  Math in Your Feet, unfortunately, sometimes ends up being just a 'fun' event (and don't even get me started on 'fun'...).  There's also sometimes a perception that teachers carry that we're not doing any real learning while we're moving, the least of which would be math.  I once actually heard a teacher say to his students, when leaving my class, "When we get back to the classroom it's time for math."

An obvious sign that students are skipping the written work and reflection is when I start to hear the kids say, "Where's the math, anyway?"  Or, "Why are we doing this?"  Not every kid says that, and more often than not, kids still love dancing and making up their dance steps.  But I can tell they don't have the same kind of facility with the math and dance terminology.  I can tell they don't remember what we did the day before or why.  I can tell that they don't really fully understand the process and concept of transforming their patterns.

It's an opportunity lost, if you ask me.

Last week I was at Templeton Elementary School in Bloomington, IN where I live.  (Thanks to an Indiana University ArtsWeek 2011 grant!)  As the week went on I got lots of fantastic reports about kids who had never wanted to pick up a pencil who were excited to go back to their classrooms and write about their work in Math in Your Feet.  I've heard this before, actually.   Engage a kid's emotions, give them something real and personal to write about, and they'll respond.  And, along with that, REQUIRE that they complete their residency workbook assignments.  Even if it takes longer than expected.  Even if other things have to be pushed aside for the week.  Even if the math topics in this program don't align with your lesson plans for the week I'm at your school.   

There's the potential for deep, thoughtful engagement with both the math and dance content in this program, but it's all water through a sieve if kids don't get a chance to reflect on their learning and make it their own.

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