SPOTLIGHT ON TEACHERS – Shauna Russell

Teacher Shauna Russell Strengthens Student Learning Through Dance in Sacramento County

Meet Shawna Russell, the Dance Director at the Twin Rivers School District’s Creative Connections Arts Academy in Sacramento County.  Shawna was trained in choreography and improvisation and teaches dance to K through grade 11 students. She graduated from UC Berkeley with honors awards in dance and a BA in Education and has gone on to win several awards for her work in dance.

The Arts Academy fosters high expectations with an innovative, standards based curriculum integrating academic goals while allowing students to investigate their individual talents. The project-based learning supports mastery of skills and knowledge using 21st Century technology and cooperative learning. Students investigate cultural diversity through visual and performing arts and invite community involvement to broaden their growth and development.

For the 6th grade dance lesson Shawna submitted to the CCSESA Arts Assessment Compendium participating students might have never before danced in a structured setting or might have been dancing for several years in the Dance Company.  In the lesson, students worked in small groups to review historical facts they researched about different ancient civilizations.  The students then agreed upon key characteristics about a culture, and combined these with the elements of dance to create a dance study that told a story through on-verbal communication.  Each group’s dance was then incorporated into a dance sequence for a final performance.  Students used their research skills and addressed content standards in dance, history/social science, and ELA.

In reflecting on her dance lesson Shawna found that one of the most successful part was the group collaboration. The student groups researched then created their choreography from what they found. Shawna said that during the process, she observed students respecting their group members’ opinions and artistic suggestions, which created a safe environment for each child to gain confidence and strengthened their ability to watch, listen and learn, as well as, speak, show and teach. She said, “The students also took into account each other’s strengths and weaknesses in dance ability while creating fantastic artwork.”

In regards to the integrated nature of this lesson, Shauna’s conviction that student awareness and retention lies in events and experiences they have seen or heard through artistic media, i.e., music, TV, movies, etc. was reinforced.  She says, “Creating a form of learning that taps into the student’s automatic way of learning provides them with a greater passion and success rate for learning material they would otherwise memorize, and later forget.”  She continues her reflection saying that, “ In my experience with teaching dance, I have found that if a student learns a dance, they are able to remember it no matter the length of time that has elapsed after they learned it. Hearing the music of the dance can trigger their memory and they can perform the dance again accurately. I believe this is true for academic learning as well. Students need a retention mechanism, which can be later used as stimuli to trigger information. By using a combination of visual, audio, and kinesthetic teaching, connecting the arts to academics, students have a greater chance of success in learning. “

Go to the Arts Assessment Compendium at www.ccsesaarts.com to fine Shauna’s complete Arts Learning and Assessment Project.

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