Sunday, May 12, 2013

"Dear Malke..." 4th Graders' Letters of Learning

I had an incredible week of dance making and math making with 160 fourth graders.  Yes, that's five classes of 32 students.  Every day for five days.  And, yes, I was tired, but it was totally worth it.

It was worth it even before I got a packet of incredible letters from one of the classes, but what I found written there showed me just how impactful this week really was. 

For just a little context, this was the ideal Math in Your Feet residency.  The teachers were all on board and supportive during the dance classes, which makes a huge difference in students' learning.  And, they also made time to have the kids work in their residency journals, with special attention to the daily reflection prompts and word studies which also makes a huge difference.  The classes were filled with enthusiasm for making and learning.  By the end of the five days it seemed that almost every student had moved forward in their understanding of and skills in both the dance and math.

There was one class, though, that seemed to struggle more than the rest.  Their attention would wander and, when I talked, they seemed to need lots of time to process my words.   It took me until the final day to feel like I was making a connection with them.  So, it really was success when, on that final day, almost all the students in that class were able to perform their final original 8-beat pattern.  

But when I read the 32 beautifully hand-written letters from the students in this class I knew it  was more than success, I knew it was an out and out victory.  I mean, just listen to their reflections!  They are filled with descriptive details of personally relevant learning and understanding of program topics.


“I really want to thank you for helping us with dance and math.  I really enjoyed when you danced for us it was awesome.  It surprised me when you taught us about reflection.  I would never have thought about you doing that.  I learned that you can make math fun while dancing.”

“I like (sic) all the things you taught us when we were in there, but what I like best was that you were allways (sic) excited with what we had did in our patterns.  I am happy we learnd (sic) this and thank you.”

“Thanks for every day leting (sic) all of our bodies stretch out every day at 9:15…I loved how on the last day you left the tape all mest (sic) up and you said you can do your dance step without the tape.  I’m still kind of confused with how we did A + B together, but it was still fun because you were there to help us.”  [I love this comment about getting to move/stretch.  This came up in verbal reflection in a different class too.]

“I like how you teach everybody you meet that you can learn to clog and learn math at the same time.” [Well, not everyone....] 

“Thank you for coming in and teaching us clogging, patterns and tap dancing.  I learned that a pattern is a rhythm or beat that repeats.  I also learned congruent means all the same.  Also reflection means the same but oppisite (sic) rights and lefts.  I enjoyed and was surprised we got to make and perform our own Pattern A and B.  My partner and I are still struggling to combine and reflect our pattern.  Thank you!” [Kids are often surprised that they can make a dance step.]

“I was surprised because I didn’t know how much fun math and dancing together was.  Thank you for helping me realize that.  I realy (sic) enjoyed Math in Your Feet.” 

“You have taught me and my class so well.  You taught me about movement and direction.  I enjoyed when we got to make our own dance move.” 

“Thank you so much for teaching me about percussive dancing and math.  It helped me on my math test and I got to have fun too.  The best thing about Math in Your Feet was sharing my dance with my classmates.  I had a lot of fun.” [Just for the record, this is the first time a kid has mentioned a test in this kind of reflection.]

“Thank you for the math, dance and patterns. I really learned a lot.  What I learned was that your dance moves has to be all the same.  I also learned how to combine my dance moves together, although it was hard but I got it.  I had a great time with you and I’m pretty sure the rest of the class did to (sic).  [The idea of 'patterns' is introduced and carried on from the very first day.] 

“I really enjoyed the part where you got to find a partner and make up a 4 step dance.  I also enjoyed the warm-ups when we got in the room.  I really enjoyed learning and dancing with you.  You have taught me things I have never knew (sic) about dancing.” [Kids often mention liking our warm ups!]

“Thank you for teaching my class some more about math and angles with degrees.  I really injoyed (sic) you dancing for us and I liked how you put music on and you were singing the directions [to the warm ups].  I was surprised how fun and easy it was to dance and learn angles at the same time.”

“You taught me a lot of things like patterns new math vocabulary words that I didn't know and I am really really greatful (sic) for that you don’t even know how much I needed thows (sic) lessons.”

“I don’t like dancing but I really like it this time.” 

“The games we played were really fun.  I learned all my degrees and angles because of you.  You helped me so much by helping me with my pattern A and B.  You are really paticent (sic).” [We play some games I developed to help train our eyes to watch the moving patterns and discern whether both partners are dancing congruently or with a reflection.]

“What surprised me was that I can do a lot of dance steps with my feet.  I also learned that patterns can be different.” [To me, this is a huge revelation.  Patterns in elementary math are usually of the linear, single attribute variety: red, blue, blue, red, blue, blue, for example.  Our dance patterns combine a number of attributes on each beat and change from beat to beat.]

“The thing I liked was when we all got to do the two games.  My partner and I got the hang of combination with pattern A and pattern B.  Thank you for teaching me about the turns.  The turns were fun and hard at first.  When you keep practicing you could get the hang of it.” 


I loved that the program was hard for them and, at the same time, a challenge that they wanted to meet.  Most of all, I loved getting their letters and being able to hear so clearly what was important to them about this experience.  As a visiting artist, here one week, gone the next, there isn't always a chance to get this kind of feedback.  And for that, I am am completely grateful to their teacher.   Thank you Mrs. Trent!!

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