Kinesthetic Teaching Part II
How to teach within cultural context.
There are many ways to write a lesson plan. In some ways teaching is the same no matter what. You create a goal of learning or understanding for the students to achieve and then you create exercises to support that goal. One of the major differences between me teaching with cultural context and teaching without it is simply a mindset. In my standard classes I often look at it as though *I* am the teacher and am imparting my way of doing things onto others. Eg This is how to do my fishtail. This is how I do struttin’, ect. When I teach as a black person though, there is a shift for me. The point of my classes is not to teach you what to do, but HOW to do it. I am simply a knowledge base to help you find your own style within the idea I’ve taught. Eg Finding and expressing rhythms in music, discovering isolations, musicality, and various ingrained cultural ideas.
When I teach, I teach like my mother taught me.She taught me how to take charge of my own learning, how to explore ideas on my own, how to ask the right questions where I'm a little lost. I feel like that's the place to start really. What do you actually want your students to understand? If you're coming at it from a Black Culture mindset, it means that it will not be all clear cut. It means that half the battle is getting people to feel it, not to complete steps. When our children are young we specifically teach them how to do things. What we don't necessarily spell out for them is what to do when. How to be like adults. And we don't necessarily give them clear steps of how to learn a thing or what what it means to be successful. We put a large emphasis on the fact that our children need to be decisive, passionate, and objective about what they are good at, what they are not good at, what they feel like they can get better at with a lot of hard work, and what they actually don't understand. We also put a large emphasis on exploring the things you don't understand or the things you're not good at, instead of, as I've found in white culture more often, discouraging you from doing the thing because you are “not doing it correctly.”
With these values in mind I've learned to structure my classes in a way that encourage those things to come out of my students. Additionally, I create these classes with cultural understandings of what expectations, values, and ideas are assumed in the basics of the dance. I take time intermittently to explain these concepts to some students that may be blind to them because they did not grow up in the same culture I did. What this creates is an environment that is not only steeped in knowledge in terms of information and knowledge that is being passed on, but additionally it's rich with context simply by the way that the class is structured. My classes are not white classes. My assumptions about myself, my students, and our roles in the learning process are different from most other classes I've ever attended.
When I open a class, I make a few things clear immediately. In no particular order:
1. I encourage but do not demand that everyone try both roles. I explain that there is no power different between the two roles, and that both sides are unique, but important to try.
2. I personally will not advocate for you unless you ask me to. This is clearly seen in the way that I handle rotations, interacting with in partners, your willingness to do solo drills, and that I expect everyone to speak. I do this to ensure that my students understand that they are expected to participate in their own learning. Additionally I also expect them to be able to take care of themselves, as they are adults and should be able to do this at this point. I create a safe place for students to learn how to not only dance, but additionally how to stand up for themselves, help to advocate for their needs and wants, and how to personally push themselves farther.
3. I make it clear to my students that I'm a facilitator and not a dictator in our classes. My job is not to run you through drills. My job is teach you to think, move, and be aware of what's happening to you, all the while teaching you about the dance. At the same time I make it clear that I control the space, I will not be disrespected, and I have high expectations.
After I set my expectations. I begin with the class. Setting expectations typically takes about the first 15 minutes of the class. It's more of a meta thing than what my students actually might notice. I always begin my classes with solo first. Depending on the class, that could simply mean a solo warm up but honestly for most classes it means that a third to half of the class is done apart. I do this for a lot of reasons but the main one is because of a cultural reason. This dance is meant to be done with 2 equal people, who know how to move themselves and have creative ideas they want to share. Most of our classes don't actually teach students on their own how to dance. I don't mean how to have great quality movement, that is something different. What we often don't teach is how people can get into their bodies, make decisions, the expressive, find their own passion, and never ever lose their voice even while partnering.
This is when I introduce the class topic. Typically I don't really let them know exactly where we're going to end up. That's part of the experience. In my first piece I talked about not understanding how to cook chicken. The funny thing is I did know some things about cooking chicken. I use that mentality in my classes. I assume that my students know more about their bodies then I, seeing they’ve lived in them their whole lives. They may not know what they know, they may not know how to express it, but there are some things that everyone knows. I use this concept throughout the class to encourage people to really take stock of what they do and do not know.
It depends on the class how the rest of the class goes. In general, I set my students up with what feels like to them vague instructions. After each exercise they get a slightly deeper understanding of the general topic as the class goes on. Sometimes this may mean that students are very constricted in the beginning and gain a lot more freedom as the class goes on. Other times it's the exact opposite. This is where subject matter is really important to me. What is it that I'm actually trying to get my students understand? And how can I facilitate them exploring that topic, and ending up exactly where I would like them to be. I often set my students up for failure, give them a task they feel like they can't do, encourage them to work together to figure it out. Throughout every exercise I’m generally aware of what the room at large needs, and give clear direction to address the general concerns that I see.
Between exercises and during the Q&A sessions I often find it is easy to give students knowledge in these moments. While I'm watching, I find them not doing something that I expected them to naturally do, and therefore must figure out the cultural block that stops them from actually understanding what I'm expecting. This is when I talk about culture and history. I try to tie it back into the class theme and answer general culture questions also during these moments. And then we get back into the dancing.
I tend to teach all levels classes which means sometimes there is discrepancy between different students in my classes. I take time in the middle of exercises to level things on a more individual basis. I offer more difficult tasks for the more advanced students and suggest that they support their (newer) partners to understand better. I think this is important because it reminds more advanced dancers what it feels like to be new and it gives newer dancers one, someone to look up to and two, an example of what they can look like in the end. At the same time newer dancers challenge stronger dancers to be on their toes and really innovate in a way that reminds me of b-boy cyphers.
At the end of most classes there is a time for showing off what you learned. It helps with community and respect, gets folks to be proud of what they do know how to do. It teaches how to participate in a jam and use others’ ideas as inspiration for your own movement. It’s also a easy way for be to check to see if they got it and if they feel like they got it.
This post was a lot on HOW I do it. The next will be more on how others can bring this into their teaching and avoid issues I’ve run into while teaching like this.