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The Dance Revolution: Bringing history to life through movement
Bringing subjects to life for students is not always a simple task for teachers, especially when those subjects involve historical figures to whom students do not easily relate.
When Sara Pennington, a fourth-grade teacher at North Elementary School in Morgantown, West Virginia, wanted to find a unique way to engage her students in curriculum about the Revolutionary War, she reached out to Stephanie Lorenze, an associate professor and coordinator of the Elementary Education Program at CEHS. Lorenze, whose specialty is the incorporation of dance and movement into classroom message, was able to offer a helping hand.
Lorenze teaches Dance and Movement in PK-12 schools, a course that educates students about how to integrate movement into classroom lessons on topics from a variety of disciplines. Though the course does consist of a traditional lecture component, Lorenze ensures that students master the methods they learn in each class session.
“It’s a little bit of lecture, but we move and dance in every single class that we meet,” Lorenze said.
Lorenze brought some of her students, including Abigail Doran, Marly Nichols and Caroline Evans, along to assist with the projects. This gave the students, all elementary education majors, the opportunity to put what they learned in Lorenze’s classroom into practice.
“It’s important for me as an instructor to give my students a safe place to try these things out, because if they’re not going to try these things out in the classroom, they’re not going to do them in their own classrooms,” Lorenze said.
For the Revolutionary War lessons, the fourth-grade students at North Elementary were split into groups and assigned different events or notable individuals from this historical period. The groups were then tasked with writing and performing a script that demonstrated their respective topics. Doran, Nichols and Evans helped the students add movement into the skits they had written.
“We showed them that you don’t just have to speak to get things across,” Nichols said. “You can use your body in different ways to get the audience to understand what is happening.”
From start to finish, the fourth-grade students gained confidence in performing and demonstrating emotion through movement. The exercise resulted in dynamic performances that showcased significant events in America’s founding and exemplified student involvement in the lesson.
“The first day that we were there, they had the script and they were just reading it,” Doran said. “By the end, when they were actually performing it, they had their backgrounds that they drew, and they were moving and acting it out. It was really cool to see the progression from standing there and reading a monologue to actually being more engaged and fully using their bodies to show the Revolutionary War.”
According to Lorenze, the addition of movement into classroom lessons is an effective way for educators to reach students with different learning styles and foster collaboration among students.
Evans added that the utilization of movement can help break up the time that students sit at their desks, which ultimately allows for greater interaction with the material.
“Whenever you’re in a classroom, you can tell that students are wanting to move around anyways,” Evans said. “If they’re just sitting at their desks all day long, they’re going to get bored with the material.”
For Nichols, working with the North Elementary School students was a clear indication that movement can be a highly effective strategy for teaching.
“It is so inspiring to see the way that students might not understand things, but once they get up and use movement to describe it, it’s like a completely different world,” Nichols said.