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Dance Constructivism for Students At Risk of Dropping Out

Since arts education inherently aligns with the constructivist approach to education; it can
be argued that dance pedagogy would be a key component in helping educators involved in
reformation to restructure the school curriculum in a way that reaches children at risk of
dropping out. Constructivism is a 20th century theory that adopts ideals from psychologist Lev
Vygotsky and Jean Piagets studies on children learning through play and experiences, which
means that learning occurs through experiencing our world. (Saraniero) According to Patti
Saraniero, author of Constructivism: Actively Building Arts Education, the arts and
constructivism naturally overlap one another. Like the arts, constructivist classrooms are studentcentered, and promote collaborative and authentic experiences. The constructivist learning
approach is also very challenging, as it emphasizes higher order thinking assignments (thinking,
analyzing, understanding, and applying); similarly, the arts require understanding, thinking,
analyzing, applying, and creating. Students in a constructivist classroom frequently reflect on
their learning, which makes them more independent thinkers who take charge of their own
learning process. In the arts, self-reflection and assessment are critical to improve ones creative
and critical thinking abilities. Constructivist learning theory also happens to be similar in its
instructional approaches to the Coalition of Essential Schools Principles, a partnership dedicated
to redesigning American high schools (Tewel 91), which transformed what is considered a
dropout factory (Davis 3) to a 0% attendance rate. A survey indicated that of 989 Cedar Rapid
high school students, the 168 Metro High School students (Coalition school) demonstrated a
positive attitude towards teacher helpfulness, counselor helpfulness, treatment of students by the
administration, adequacy of the curriculum and quality of teaching, co-curricular activities and
participation in school life, and general satisfaction and pride in school. (Weinholtz 27) Taking
this into consideration, dance-constructivism can indeed contribute to reformers battle against

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Dance Constructivism for Students At Risk of Dropping Out


student dropout rates. The excitement and content relevance that the arts provide already
promotes the motivation for students to stay in school.
Constructivism: A Holistic and Approach to Teaching and Learning is culmination of
several works written on the Constructivist Learning Theory. The coordinator of this work, Janet
Giesen, provides readers with the basic philosophy and classroom approach described in this
theory. Teacher and student roles and responsibilities, pedagogical practices, and learning
methods of the constructivist theory are included as well. This resource contributes a significant
amount of background information about the Constructivist Learning Theory, which is essential
to my research, since I am comparing it to the critical evaluation process in dance pedagogy to
draw the explicit connection between dance and constructivism, creating dance constructivism.
Giesen defines constructivism as a learning approach that enables people to construct their own
understanding and knowledge of the world through experiencing things and reflecting on those
experiences. While comparing the constructivism theory to the critical process, it is self-evident
how much it also relates to the reform curricula mentioned in this literature review, such as the
Coalition of Essential Schools principles introduced in Restructuring of an Urban High School
and Rethinking High School: Best Practice in Teaching, Learning, and Leadership.
Donn Weinholtz, former educator involved in reformation, is the author of Restructuring
an Urban High School, which addresses the reality of the school systems in urban communities
plagued by severe social and economic situations. Elaborating on his own previous reformation
project with Cedar Rapids Metro High School, Weinholtz introduces readers to the Coalition of
Essential Schools nine common principles that significantly changed the institutions conditions.
These principles provide a framework that helps schools initiate a planning process in which
faculty members and administrators constructively collaborate to achieve greater student
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Dance Constructivism for Students At Risk of Dropping Out


accomplishments. (Weinholtz ?) The principles offered in this book provided a strong foundation
from which I initially based my theory on comparing dance constructivism and a basic
reformation model. According to Weinholtz, schools that adopt these principles, or Coalition
schools, have outperformed other schools in its area in their attendance and dropout rates,
academic performance, discipline, and the pursuit of higher education. Reading from a first-hand
account of how the Coalition principles work, while understanding the theoretical relations
between these principles and dance-constructivism strengthens my argument.
Rethinking High School: Best Practice in Teaching, Learning, and Leadership by
Harvey Daniels, Steve Zemelman, and Marilyn Bizar serves as a shared consensus of successful
secondary education reform methods that has been put into practice over the last few decades
(Daniels xi). It provides anecdotal evidence surrounding Best Practice High School and other
institutions, which demonstrates the long-term benefits of applying these practices. According to
the authors, there is no one way to carry out the best practices for all institutions, because of
historical and geographical context; therefore it is the authors mission to provide numerous
experiences as exemplars for our own best practices (Daniels xii). In this work there were some
similar and different takes on how to design a restructured curriculum, one of which was the
Coalition of Essential Schools Principles as previously pointed out. The authors actually present
them as eleven principles, rather than nine in Weinholtzs Restructuring of an Urban High
School, making the principles more comprehensible. The connection between the critical
process in dance education and constructivism, and the Coalition principles are more visible
because of the authors take on the Coalition principles.
On the topic of dance education and constructivism, in the article entitled
Constructivism: Actively Building Arts Education by Patti Saraniero, the author highlights the
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Dance Constructivism for Students At Risk of Dropping Out


interconnected relationship between the Constructivist Learning Theory and the general arts
education curriculum approach. The author emphasizes the major themes that are accentuated in
the Constructivist Learning Theory, such as the problem-posing pedagogical approach, the use of
collaboration, a more student-centered atmosphere, and authentic assignments that are relevant to
students lives. Saraniero then compares this learning theory to the arts curriculum, and depicts
learning scenarios that occur in both the dance and music classroom to suggest that the arts and
constructivism naturally overlap. This is a resource compliments my own theory, as my
argument imposes that dance education and the Constructivist Learning Theory are similar in its
pedagogical approaches. For instance, a constructivist dance teacher turns the task of
choreography, as well as the ability to explain it with examples, over to students. With a wellplanned structure set in place by the teacher, students gain understanding of choreography
because they capture the real-world job (Saraniero). Within that example, Saraniero is able to
prove how dance education naturally presents students with an authentic curriculum, which is
one of the key concepts described in constructivist theory.
While on the subject of choreography in the dance classroom, this takes us to Dancers
Talking Dance: Critical Evaluation in the Choreography Class by Larry Lavender. Dancers
Talking Dance is a great tool for dance educators who are looking to enrich the critical
evaluation process that takes place in response to student performances in the classroom. The
author, Larry Lavender, guides dance educators through the approach of critical evaluation with
explicit step- by- step examples, while providing explanations of the underpinning theories of
each step. (Lavender) This resource helps dance educators to teach their students how to observe,
describe, analyze, write, and talk about their dances more effectively. The critical process is
active, challenging, authentic, and features multidisciplinary learning, as students are required to
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Dance Constructivism for Students At Risk of Dropping Out


cognate, connect, reflect, write, and verbalize their work. (Lavender) In comparison, as an
instructional strategy, constructivism helps students to pursue their personal interests and
develop his or her abilities. In order to for students to find and develop these hidden capabilities,
teachers must implement a multidisciplinary curriculum, such as the arts curriculum (dance).
Multidisciplinary curriculum gives students the chance to explore and express knowledge in
different ways, providing room for different learning styles. Practices such as Lavenders critical
process, gives students this multidisciplinary approach, allowing them to understand, master, and
explore concepts through different means; observing, describing, analyzing, writing, and
verbalizing. Since, I am specifically focusing on the critical evaluation process that occurs in the
dance education curriculum in comparison with the Constructivist Learning Theory, this resource
is a part of the foundation from which I am basing my theory.
Last, requiring a moderate amount of statistical data to support my theory in light of the
correlation between dropout rates and arts integration, I found the Americans for the Arts report
Arts Education Navigator: Facts and Figures, written by Kristin Engebretsen, to be of use.
Within this source, the author provides quick facts in a creative format about how students
involvement in the arts can improve their attendance rate, academic achievement, test scores, and
academic leadership. This report states that Students who are involved in the arts are: four times
more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, four times more likely to participate in a
math and science fair, three times more likely to be elected to class office, and three times more
likely to win an award for school attendance (Engebretsen 5). Moreover, low-income students
who are highly engaged in the arts are more than twice as likely to graduate college as their peers
with no arts education (Engebretsen 4).

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Dance Constructivism for Students At Risk of Dropping Out


After reading about several reform educators unique processes, experiences, and most
importantly curriculum approaches, I came to the conclusion that there was something oddly
familiar about their perspectives on restructuring curriculum. Each of these reformers have
redesigned a curriculum that naturally aligns with the arts-constructivist curriculum. From the
perspective of a rising dance educator, I have comprehensively created a parallel between what I
would like to call the dance-constructivist curriculum and these reformed curricula found in my
research. Consequently, the purpose of this research is to provide a supposition addressing how
educators involved in reformed can use a dance-constructivist curriculum approach to reach
students at risk of dropping out.

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Dance Constructivism for Students At Risk of Dropping Out


Works Cited
Weinholtz, Donn. Restructuring an Urban High School. Bloomington, Ind.: Phi Delta Kappa
Educational Foundation, 1991. Print.
Daniels, Harvey, and Steven Zemelman. "Curriculum." Rethinking High School: Best Practice in
Teaching, Learning, and Leadership. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2001. Print.
Lavender, Larry. Dancers Talking Dance: Critical Evaluation in the Choreography Class.
Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1996. Print.
Giesen, Janet. "Constructivism: A Holistic Approach to Teaching and Learning." . N.p., n.d.
Web. 20 May 2014. <http://www.niu.edu/facdev/programs/handouts/constructivism.pdf>.
Saraniero, Patti, and Lisa Resnick. "ARTSEDGE: Constructivism: Actively Building Arts
Education. The Kennedy Center: ARTSEDGE - the National Arts and Education Network.
N.p., n.d. Web. 22 May 2014. <http://artsedge.kennedy-center.org/educators/how-to/fromtheory-to-practice/constructivism>.
Engebretsen, Kristen, and Elizabeth Van Fleet. "Arts Education Navigator: Facts and Figures." .
Americans for the Arts, 1 Jan. 2013. Web. 29 May 2014.
<http://www.americansforthearts.org/sites/default/files/pdf/2014/by_program/arts_ed_network/n
avigator_series/AFTA_Navigator_Facts-and-Figures.pdf>.
Tewel, Kenneth J.. "A Working Definition of High School Restructuring ." New Schools for a
New Century: A Leader's Guide to High School Reform. Delray Beach, Fla.: St. Lucie Press,
2001. Print

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Dance Constructivism for Students At Risk of Dropping Out


Davis, Jessica Hoffman. Why Our High Schools Need the Arts. New York, NY: Teachers
College Press., 2012. Print.

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Dance Constructivism for Students At Risk of Dropping Out


Works Consulted
.
Stephens, Pamela, and Nancy Walkup. "Presenting Bridging the Curriculum Through Art:
Lessons in Interdisciplinary Connection." Bridging the Curriculum Through Art:
Interdisciplinary Connections. Glenview, Ill.: Crystal Productions, 2000. Print.
Crawford, Linda. "Accessible and Alive - Six Good Reasons for Using the Arts to Teach
Curriculum." Lively Learning: Using the Arts to Teach the K-8 Curriculum. Greenfield, MA:
Northeast Foundation for Children, 2004. Print.
Kohl, Herbert R."Preface: The Necessity of Art in Public Education." The Muses Go to School:
Inspiring Stories About the Importance of Arts in Education. New York: New Press :, 2012.
Print.
Jensen, Eric. Arts with the Brain in Mind. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and
Curriculum Development, 2001. Print.
Bloomfield, Anne, and John Childs. "The Integrated Arts Mode." Teaching Integrated Arts in the
Primary School: Dance, Drama, Music, and the Visual Arts. London: David Fulton Publishers,
2000. Print.

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