02/18/2014 09:42 am ET Updated Apr 20, 2014

Common Core & Dance: A Perfect Match

By Patricia Reedy, Director of Teaching and Learning at Luna Dance Institute

At the 2010 annual conference of the National Dance Education Organization, Jane Bonbright and colleagues presented a stimulating session on the 21st Century Skills and how they would be impacting national standards in all content areas. Often on the vanguard, Ms. Bonbright worked extensively with leaders in arts and science education and, using dance, set protocol for new national standards in all arts disciplines; many strategies of which are influencing the development of standards in non-arts subject matter.

For those of us teaching standards-based dance, adapting our curriculum to Common Core often simply means transparently doing what we've been doing all along. Common Core Standards, adopted now by 43 states, integrate the 21st century skills-evidence-based research in the qualities of effective workers and learners-into the content areas valued in each state. After many adaptations, the 21st century skills committee has organized those skills into four main areas: Ways of thinking: creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, decision making & learning; Ways of working: communication & collaboration; Tools for working: technology and information literacy; and Skills for living in the world: citizenship, life and career, personal and social responsibility. Although the national dance standards are currently being re-written, even the former version [Standards for Learning & Teaching Dance ages 5-18, 2005] is a clear example of Common Core; particularly with its emphasis on Create, Perform and Respond.

There is much anxiety around Common Core, possibly due in part to 12 years of top-down, linear content teaching-to-the-test. People may be afraid that this is more of the same. In fact, just the opposite is true. Common Core is less about the what and more about the how; emphasizing priority-setting about coverage (less is more) and going deeper with the content, intertwining concepts into the nuances and complexities of all areas of learning. The standards are written in accordance with the revised Bloom's taxonomy that revealed more than 50 years ago that higher order thinking occurs in the process of analyzing, experimenting and creating rather than remembering or explaining. In California, Common Core standards are written "in accordance with 21st century skills" and "Habits of Mind." Lots of energy and money is going toward professional development in Habits of Mind. The 16 practices of Habits of Mind used were articulated by Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick. However, in 2004, Harvard's Project Zero researchers Lois Hetland and Ellen Winner developed 8 Studio Habits of Mind after a lengthy ethnographic study of visual artists working in the studio. Many of these "habits" overlap and are clearly articulated in the National Standards for Dance. It is absolutely no wonder, then, that dance taught as an art form is a perfect fit with Common Core.

The fit is even more evident when dance is taught through a Constructivist, Critical Pedagogic, and art-making lens such as is taught, advocated and at the core of professional learning at Luna Dance Institute. The progressive curriculum taught in Luna's programs at New Highland Academy in East Oakland, California and written in the district's Blueprint (Dance Learning in the 21st Century: A Blueprint for Teaching & Learning Dance Grades K-12, 2010) meets every single of the 16 habits. The spiral curriculum allows for applying past knowledge, improvement, persistence and opening to continual learning. We see problem posing/inquiry at the heart of the CREATE standard through Luna's Explore, Improvise, Compose, Show, Revise structure, as well as deliberation, creating, imagining & innovating, and taking responsible risks. The PERFORM standard allows for keeping a high standard and communicating clearly. RESPONSE/REFLECT allows for meta-cognition and listening with empathy. And, because co-constructing is at the heart of Luna's philosophy, students work in pairs and small groups to improvise, challenge each other and co-create. This structure demonstrates flexibility, fun, working interdependently and sometimes humor. There is really nothing to change in our approach to meet Common Core. In fact, standards-based dance, taught through a Constructivist lens can be a model for other disciplines.

However, one does not have to take my word for it. North Carolina was the first state to actually re-write their content standards through the Common Core lens. Their website clearly shows how dance meets and exceeds all that the 21st century thinkers had in mind.

Rather than be afraid, I think dance educators should seize this moment. All children deserve the right to express themselves fully -- with their whole selves: body and mind. Neuroscience research continues to report evidence of the deep connection of body and mind in action. Parents, teachers, principals and other citizens can start the process of bringing dance to life in their community. For some, who have tried to contort dance to meet non-art expectations you can let that go. Those of us who never wavered can help you re-discover what you loved about dance in the first place. That is, creating, performing, responding, expressing, and collaborating to create something brand new from the body moving through space, in time and with energy.