Arts Bridge Scholar: Emmalynn Pace at Brookhaven Elementary

I had the privilege of being a dance Arts Bridge Scholar at Brookhaven Elementary school for the past couple of months. I was nervous about teaching kids by myself, as this was my first experience doing so. I quickly learned from my first- and second-graders, however, that kids are so non-judgmental and forgiving. They are eager to participate, please, and conquer the next challenge. My Arts Bridge experience this semester has been extremely informative in changing my teaching practices for the better and helping me understand the complications and beauty of integrating dance into the classroom.

The first thing I learned about arts integration is the importance of the drum. I learned how to effectively give start- and stop-cues for movement that ended up being the perfect way to manage the classroom. Another “ah-ha!” moment that I had with integrating dance into science lessons was realizing the importance of simplifying my instructions. The district arts integration coach, Bob Smith, gave me the good advice to give only one or two prompts at a time to the kids. As I focused on this throughout my remaining lessons, the kids followed along better with the structure of my lesson, were more engaged, and I maintained better classroom management.

The lesson where I experienced the most success was my pumpkin life-cycle lesson where I used a story book about the process of growing pumpkins to walk the students through an example of the life cycle of a plant. We discussed the steps of seed, root, vine and tendrils, vine leaves, flower, small green pumpkin, and large orange pumpkin. We then went through each step again in the dance space, associating a different body shape with each step in the life cycle. For example, we associated a vine and its tendrils with a twisted shape and an orange pumpkin with a large, curved shape. The flow of the lesson went very smoothly after establishing the base of the story. I feel that the book gave students very clear expectations and visual examples of what kinds of shapes we would be making, which in turn also helped them remember the life cycle better. 

I noticed that it was difficult for my first graders to make their pumpkin life cycle shapes different from their neighbors and for my second graders to remember the differences between energy qualities as we associated them with various landform changes (i.e., vibratory energy for earthquakes, sustained energy for canyon forming, and explosive energy for volcanic eruptions). This indicated to me that I needed even though their original solutions were technically answering the initial prompt, I could encourage their creativity by 

  • modeling and demonstrating more (performing different examples for them), 
  • providing more side coaching (encouraging them to experiment with the use of different body parts or levels they had not tried yet), and 
  • inviting students to find another answer to the movement prompts given.

If I were to repeat my Arts Bridge experience, I would focus more on quality content, rather than simply covering content to ensure deeper learning.

A big lesson I learned that I am eager to take into my future teaching is that it’s okay to not know exactly how my lesson will play out. I love being organized and tend to feel insecure when I don’t have everything in my lesson planned out to a T. The reality of teaching is that your lesson plan is not going to go exactly the way you planned it, no matter how prepared you are. Be okay with deviating from the plan a little when something is not working out the way you hoped it would or when you recognize a greater opportunity for student learning. Sometimes the spontaneous moments are the most productive and beautiful. 

Arts Bridge has truly blessed me with gems of knowledge and ideas to take into my future teaching opportunities. I am grateful for these new teaching experiences that I can take with me into the rest of my life and career. 

Comments (3)
  • Thank you for sharing your experience, Emmalynn! What you’ve illuminated is so important and can inspire so many teachers! I love what you wrote about the importance of the drum and I saw you improve that skills RAPIDLY! Kudos to you! You’re amazing.

  • Spot on with all you did with these students! When you love what you do and celebrate what your students do, they love it too! They were so aware and so connected! Watching first graders be so mindful of their space and their pathways was so amazing. These are skills that every student is working to develop and within minutes they had it! You are a great teacher! Keep on dancing!

  • I really enjoyed reading about what you want to improve, Emmalynn! Reflection is such an important part of the learning process and you nailed it here. I can see this practice will be a huge benefit to you in your future work. I love how you were able to inspire each student to move and dance what they learned–everyone is engaged! Thank you for sharing your experience with us!

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