This question grew from a seminar last term in which we had to write down areas of interest which might create our extended essay question or themes. I wrote choreography and teaching art.
Until 2 days ago I was focusing on university choreography courses and was trying to find out what they syllabuses were like to see what was actually being taught, but it is really hard to get hold of course specifications for uni and I thought it would be better to focus in on one course that is taught all around the country.
To guide my research I had some initial questions about the course such as who says what it needs to include, who writes it, who assesses it, what does it actually consist of, what type of learning is encouraged (physical exploration or studying books or both). Also what should a dance education include, what is important to experience and learn to have a rounded education of dance.
Firstly I looked at the setting of the national curriculum. The government tells us what we should learn and how we should learn in. There as very recently been an education reform in which the department of education stated that they wanted more rigorous testing and a linear framework (which means that you do all your assessments and exams at the end rather than take modules throughout the year). Once the government has created the course content requirements, awarding and examination bodies (aqa, ocr and edexcel) develop a course which moulds into the outline. AS and A Level dance content was designed by the government and AQA created the course to adhere to the content.
So if the government is dictating what we must learn and how we learn it, it seems important to look at what they believe the goals of education are, and what role art subjects play in achieving the goals. I read through many releases and speeches by Nicky Morgan and other members of the department of education who consistently tell us that they value the arts and see them as vitally important to learning, but then almost immediately describe art subjects as complimentary to the ‘core academic subjects’. I feel this implies that art isn’t and shouldn’t be a core subject in our learning.
So what does the department of education say we should be learning in AS and A level dance.
The aim is to cultivate creativity and allow for individual enquiry and there is a long list of aims and objectives. There are lots of skills you should develop. You should know a lot about dance. You should be equipping yourself for university or getting a job and also have some general life skills.
The department of education also determines the weight of practical to exam assessment (which is 50 50 at a level).
So AQA works with this framework to create some specific assessment outcomes. Each outcome is weighted equally and the idea is that if you achieve these, you get an A level in dance.
On the AQA course, the assessment outcomes are split into practical assessments, where someone from the exam board will come and watch you perform your two dances and one choreographed piece, and a written exam which is 2 and a half hours long. You have some short answer questions and some essay questions on a practitioner you have been studying.
What seems to be missing from the course? Throughout the specification it refers to appreciating dance as artistic practice, but there isn’t any mention of the need to know any artistic context of dance. It has a very limited and set list of practitioners you should know and be able to write about and only covers there styles ‘modern’ ‘ballet’ and ‘jazz’. You are not required to learn about any other dance styles or movement practices. You don’t have to learn about story telling or meaning making.
It seems it is the responsibility of the teacher to give a broader education of dance as art.
Clearly from this I need to do more research into dance education and see what various theorists and dance teachers explain is important to learn in order to get a good dance education.
Moving on to my research about the arts in education, I have been reading a document created by Allan Davies on assessing and teaching the arts. He explain outcome based learning is designed to demonstrate what has been achieved and how well. But it is hard to measure ambiguous terms like ‘understanding’ ‘creativity’ and even ‘knowledge’. These are all different for everyone. To attempt to solve the problem of measuring these he says we can ‘disaggregate’ or separate into parts, what the student must understand, into measurable things.
The use of indicator verbs can help measure cognitive outcomes and there are words like ‘team work’ ‘collaboration’ ‘organisation’ which can measure ability and skill outcomes.
We can see all these words in use in the learning outcomes of a level dance.
But the problem of dis aggregation is that is more of a quantitive than qualitative idea of assessment. In seems to encourage a closedness in attempting to achieve the course aims.
Referring back to the a level dance specification, in a01 your dance can be set by your teacher to achieve all of the specified learning outcomes (such as ‘dynamic elements’ ‘spatial elements’ and ‘timing’), you just have to learn the dance in order to get a decent mark.
I have also looked at general ideas on teaching art, but I have not gone into much detail yet. Mike Fleming talks about attitudes to art education and offers some ideas on fair assessment of the arts. Ive thought about these in relation to the syllabus I’m examining and found that yes the a level is obsessed with outcome and its ‘unlocking’ to further education and a career, rather than exploration
more research i need to do