Pedagogical aims and focus of students’ reflection in practical dance classesAuthor: Äli Leijen
Dit artikel is eerder verschenen in: Linden, M. van der, L. Wildschut, J. Zeijlemaker (eds.) (2008), Danswetenschap in Nederland – Deel 5. Vereniging voor Dansonderzoek, pp.120-128
As a result of a former study (Leijen, Admiraal, Wildschut & Simons, 2008), where practical dance teachers were asked to describe their pedagogical practice, we found that supporting students’ reflection in respect to their learning and behavior can be considered to be a widespread educational need of practical dance classes. More attention should be paid to encouraging students’ reflection in both dance technique and choreography classes in higher educational settings. This study aims to find out which variations appear among the practices of reflection, therefore, the different interpretations of reflection in education based on the literature are discussed first. Second, based on the findings of an empirical study, the practices of reflection in tertiary dance education and a descriptive model of reflection are presented. This model can be considered as a framework for supporting students’ reflection in dance classes.
Different interpretations of reflection
Despite consensus concerning the importance of reflection for learning, there are different interpretations of reflection in education. According to Procee (2006), the most influential approaches are the pragmatist school of Dewey, and the so-called Frankfurt school of Critical Social theory, e.g notions of Habermas. The followers of these schools interpret reflection differently. In Dewey’s view, reflection served the purpose of becoming conscious and thoughtful about one’s action, as being opposite to acting according to a trial and error scheme while dealing with confusing and problematic situations. The process of reflection as described by Dewey consists of a linear model of successive phases (Rodgers, 2002): ‘an experience; spontaneous interpretation of the experience; naming the problems or the questions that arises out of the experience; generating possible explanations for the problems or questions posed; ramifying the explanations into full-blown hypotheses; experimenting or testing the selected hypothesis’, p. 851. Most of the reflection models in the pragmatists’ tradition (e.g. Kort-hagen, 1985) consist of a phase model like Dewey. On the other hand, the Critical Social theory perspective on reflection emphasizes the critical position of individuals and groups towards the actual situation and engagement in critique and doubt by questioning existing assumptions, values and perspectives, which underlie their actions, decisions and judgments in order to open up a horizon of liberation (Procee, 2006).
Procee (2006) criticizes both approaches for their negative stance towards the concepts and experiences of the reflective individual. The Dewey tradition of reflection having its main orientation on improvement enhances a negative attitude of the learner to his or her past performances. Due to this negative attitude students may develop a dislike to reflection. A similar situation can be found in critical models of reflection, which focus on emancipatory criticism. Procee (2006) uses arguments of Van Manen (1995) for pointing out the limitation of the latter: ‘It is obviously not possible to act thoughtfully and self-confidently while doubting oneself on the same time…It would disturb the functional epistemology of practice that animates everything that they do.’ (p. 9). Therefore, despite taking a side between two different traditions of reflection Procee (2006) develops a systematic approach to reflection based on Kant’s distinction between understanding and judgment, the latter associated with reflection. ‘Understanding is related to the ability to grasp logical, theoretical, and conceptual rules and judgment is related to the ability to connect experiences with rules.’ (p. 17) As Procee argues: ‘both are important in the field of education –students have to learn existing concepts and theories in their specialty (understanding), but they also have to learn to make connections between their state-of-art knowledge and the domains of reality in which they are operating (judgment).’ (p. 18) These connections can occur two ways, driven from pre-given concepts – determinative judgment, and driven from experiences – reflective judgment. Determinative judgement implies that a person is reflecting on the manner and outcome in which he/she has applied a pre-given concept or principles to his/her practice. Reflective judgment entails that a person is reflecting on the manner and outcome of a concept or principle, which he/she has developed based on his/her practice. Accordingly, to reflect means both to compare and hold together one’s conceptions and experiences in order to act in a self confident way. In brief, there are three different perspectives on reflection in education, embedded in the philosophy traditions of Pragmatism, Critical Social theory and Kant. Accordingly, the focus, purpose and process of reflection are different in each tradition.
The main research question for the current study is: how to describe the pedagogical practices of reflection in tertiary dance education? In order to answer this question, the following sub-questions will be addressed: Can different types of reflection be distinguished in the context of practical dance classes? How can categories of reflection be conceptualized in a practically useful way?
Data collection and procedure
To answer the research question an empirical study was carried out, which focused on the perception of dance teachers, who teach practical dance courses in dance academies in The Netherlands. The choice to focus on teachers’ perceptions was made because the main focus of this part of the study was to develop further understanding about the pedagogical aims of reflection and reveal the basic focus of reflection in the pedagogical context.
Data for developing a descriptive model of different types of reflection in dance education was collected in two stages as described in figure 1.
Figure 1. Overview of the data collection
To gain insight in ideas on pedagogy in dance education seven practical dance teachers, four technique teachers (one female and three males) and three choreography teachers (all female), from four different dance academies in The Netherlands were interviewed. Since reflection is a confusing concept and teachers may not be aware that they encourage their students to reflect on or in their practices, teachers were not asked directly to elaborate on how they encourage students’ reflection in their classes. Instead, teachers were asked to give an overview on their teaching practice on a general basis. The themes of the interview were: teaching aims, methods and assessment. The descriptions of the practices given by the teachers were then analyzed by the researchers focusing on the evidence of teachers encouraging students’ reflection in their classes.
Based on the teachers’ ideas on pedagogy and findings from the literature concerning the practices of reflection an initial model of the pedagogical practices of reflection in tertiary dance education was created, describing five types of students’ reflection.
Next, a content validation study was carried out in order to obtain feedback from earlier and new informants as a procedure for corroborating findings from qualitative studies (Miles & Huberman, 1994). In total, thirteen teachers were interviewed during the content validation study.
First, the seven teachers whose ideas had formed the basis for the initial model were interviewed again. It was asked whether they recognized the five types of students’ reflection described in the model and whether they could provide examples of how it is applied in their classes. It was also asked whether they find the model relevant for their teaching and if there are additional activities, which are carried out with their pedagogy to support students’ reflection, which were not described in the model.
Second, six new dance teachers were interviewed using the same questions. These teachers were found after contacting two dance academies to find volunteers for the content validation study. Of these, three were dance technique teachers (all female) and three were choreography teachers (two females and one male).
The data collected in the first stage of the study were analysed in a qualitative manner, using a systematic set of procedures to develop an inductively derived descriptive model of reflective practices in tertiary dance education.
First, the author of this paper assigned open codes to fragments related to the practices of reflection in all interviews. For example, the following fragment was coded as: developing meaningful ideas/stories and applying them to their artistic work. A choreography teacher:
I work a lot with text and movement, and one of the things that I always ask my students to do is either bring their own texts, or develop their own texts in the workshops. For instance, I might ask them to write about someone in their family or something close to them. In that way I really bring in their own individuality and their own story, because for me it is really about their own stories, both movement-wise and also in the text, and how they apply these stories and these texts to their own artistic work or their choreographic work.
These open codes were intended to summarize the content in a given fragment. During this procedure, the differences between supporting students’ reflection in the dance domain and supporting students’ reflection in the domain of one-self were also noted, since teachers tended to separate these two in their descriptions. The fragment presented above was associated with the domain of one-self, since the teacher emphasizes that students need to develop and apply ideas for their choreographic work which are personal and meaningful for them. However, for example, while teachers described how they encourage students to reflect on the extent they have applied a particular predefined principle of a dance technique or theoretical concept, the fragment was associated with encouraging reflection in the dance domain.
Second, the fragments coded using open codes were organized and grouped under more general categories or code families. These code families represented different reflection types. Since it has been shown that sensitizing concepts taken from existing research are often relevant as interpretive devices for a qualitative analysis (Bowen, 2006), the following three sensitizing concepts to interpret the practices of reflection were used. The first concept was encouraging students to carry out the determinative judgment and reflective judgment to connect concepts and principles with practice from the Kantian perspective. The second was fostering students to carry out a linear procedure of reflection steps to assess and improve current practice from the pragmatists’ perspective. The third was encouraging students’ engagement in critique and doubt by questioning existing societal assumptions, values, and perspectives in order to open up a horizon of liberation concerning the social critical view of reflection.
For example, the fragment presented above was associated with the Kantian notion of reflection, since the teacher indicated that students need to develop meaningful ideas for choreographic work and reflect on how they applied these ideas to their artistic work, the fragment indicates encouraging both reflective judgement (students need to develop meaningful ideas) and determinative judgment (how they applied these ideas to their choreographic work).
In addition, to identifying the fragments from the three theoretical perspectives, a distinction was made between the domain of one-self and the domain of dance to identify different types of reflection. This procedure was carried out independently by two researchers. Both researchers had identified fragments related to the pragmatists’ and Kantian notions of reflection with a further distinction between the domain of one-self and the domain of dance.
Third, the procedure of consensual validation was carried out. In this procedure, the initial categories developed by two researchers were critically compared and discussed by the two researchers until a consensus was reached. Consensus on the organisation and grouping was reached for all fragments. One of the discussion topics was the relevance of distinguishing the domain of one-self and the domain of dance among the fragments associated with the pragmatists’ notion of reflection. Owing that the two domains were highly interrelated in these instances two researchers decided to merge all fragments related to pragmatists’ notion of reflection into one category. As a result of this analysis, a descriptive model of the pedagogical practices of reflection containing five types of reflection was developed. The five types are: (1) determinative judgments to connect the theory of the domain of dance with practice, (2) determinative judgments to connect the knowledge of one-self with practice, (3) reflective judgements to connect practice with the theory of the domain of dance, (4) reflective judgement to connect practice with the knowledge of one-self, and (5) a circular reflection process related to pragmatists’ notion of reflection for analysing one’s improvements over a period of time.
The interviews conducted in the content validation study were initially summarized by a researcher, resulting in separate documents of examples and frequencies for the five types of reflection, and suggestions for improving the model. Subsequently, in each document, the answers of the teachers were organized under themes and sub-themes. This analysis procedure resulted in cross-case matrices (Miles & Huberman, 1994) for each type of reflection, and a separate matrix containing teachers’ suggestions for improving the model. Finally, three researchers discussed and weighted teachers’ suggestions for improving the model; based on this, minor changes were made to the initial model.
Below, the descriptive model of pedagogical practices of reflection in tertiary dance education (see Figure 2) is presented. The model incorporates five types of reflection. Four of the reflection types are related to the Kantian notion of reflection where students are supposed to connect their kinesthetic experiences with concepts and principles related to dance disciplines, and concepts and principles derived from awareness of one’s self and bodily possibilities in order to be able to act as a self confident person in a professional practice. The connections should appear in two ways. Students are making determinative and reflective judgments to relate concepts and principles with practice. The fifth type of reflection is related to the pragmatists’ notion of reflection; here students are encouraged to elaborate on their development over a period of time, point out what needs further attention during a next period and plan the activities for enhancement. The latter type can be characterized as a circular improvement cycle.
Figure 2. The model of pedagogical practices of reflection in tertiary dance education
Following, each type is described in more detail.
Using the first type of reflection, students should analyze their kinesthetic experiences in the light of predefined concepts and principles related to a dance discourse. These concepts and principles can be related to different dance styles, composition theories or general notions, e.g. post-modernism, related to social, cultural and historical context. Students are encouraged to elaborate in what manner they apply certain principles, and understand why they are not able to carry out certain combinations. For example a choreography teacher explained how she teaches the concept and principles about the sight specific walk:
I show them videos about sights specific walk and discuss things about that before they go to practice. They have to reflect on their walk and how far we are in this walk in this assignment on the theory.
Using the second type of reflection, students should analyze their kinesthetic experiences in the light of the concepts and principles related to themselves, such as personality, which includes the social and cultural background of the student; preferences, which point to the interests student wishes to share and express in dance art; and bodily possibilities, which form unique means for carrying out dance concepts and principles and those of the self. A dance technique teacher elaborated how students should reflect on how they apply their bodily possibilities in an exercise:
…let’s take a few minutes try it for yourselves, for a few minutes. Let’s see if you can now, find it for yourself, if you have more questions. Then we stop and we look at one by one. So I give them little bit time and then they can see if they can get the full physicality of the movement with their own ability.
Students are also expected to discover concepts and principles based on their practice using reflective judgment. The third and the fourth type of reflection are related to these judgments. The third type of reflection aims to create new dance concepts and principles. It appears in two ways; first, learned concepts become more meaningful through practice as they are embedded in practical experiences or based on the experiences students perceive a concept in a new way. Second, students develop new concepts or principles while practicing. The following illustration was given by a dance technique teacher:
I just ask them to roll down and then on their knees and then to come up…From there we come to different levels and they are exploring levels and things like that and then we explore differences in levels and they get a very small exercise to make a choreography about the different levels.
Using the fourth type of reflection students develop awareness about themselves, discovering personality traits, meaningful themes for choreographic work or learning about their bodily possibilities and limits. A choreography teacher gave the following example about how she applies this type of reflection in her teaching.
I do a lot of exercises where they have to work together in pairs and that will tell them a lot about how they communicate with other people in dance. Because for instance you can be someone who likes action-reaction form like in a conversation but you can have also a conversation in dance. Like I do a movement and you react on that movement and then I do one and you react again, so you get action-reaction. Or it can be possible that you like follow somebody, the other person, like he or she takes the initiative and you follow. Or, you could be someone who copies, who does not have a lot of ideas of yourself, but like to copy the person you are working with. Those are things that you can reflect on, how does this works for me?
Circular improvement procedure
While these activities, related to the four types of reflection, were mainly associated with the pedagogy of students’ reflection on their daily practice, the fifth type of reflection was associated with evaluation moments taking place once a semester or at the end of the course. One of the aims here is to make explicit aspects, which can be improved in one’s practice. A more linear procedure is applied for this type of reflection, which is in line with the Pragmatists’ notion of reflection. Students are expected to carry out reflective writing on a previous period where they give an overview of their developments, point out the areas of improvement and aspects which need to be developed further, based on the latter they are asked to plan goals for a next period of study and carry the plans out. During mentor meetings students should be able to motivate and further elaborate their viewpoints on their development. Mentors pose questions during the discussion and provide their view on matters under discussion. In addition, semester reports and teachers’ evaluations are also discussed at these meetings. Finally, professional identity of the students is also discussed during the mentor meetings, this is essential for grounding the choices regarding specialization and choices for future career.
Conclusion and discussion
Five types of reflection practiced in tertiary dance education were found and organized in a descriptive model. Four of the reflection types are related to the determinative and reflective judgments of Kantian notion of reflection. The fifth type of reflection contains a more linear set of procedures related to improvement, which is in line with the Pragmatists’ notion of reflection.
The Kantian notion of reflection in the current model differs from the original notion of Procee (2006), since, based on dance teachers’ views, the domains of the subject area and person area were distinguished. The reason for such view can be that in dance education, physical education, and other studies of human movement the personality and bodily uniqueness of an individual are at the very heart of the learning process and its outcome. It is simply crucial to learn about the very personal and subjective characteristics of an individual besides the more objective principles of a subject area. This view is in line with the researchers and practitioners from previous studies, who, for example, have called for more attention to the inclusion of somatic techniques such as the Feldenkrais Method, Alexander Technique, Ideokinesis (Kovich, 1994) and Body-Mind Centering (Cohen, 1993) in dance education. In brief, the model of practices of reflection is a general framework, which can be adopted based on the content and aims of the class. Although the specific levels of self are not shown in the model, I acknowledge that matters related to a student’s personality can be viewed in a more detailed manner. Similarly, depending on the focus of a class, the principles related to the domain of the subject matter can be far more specific than presented in the model. In addition, I admit that the domains of dance and self are closely related in students’ development and complementary to a large degree. However, for meta-analysis of one’s own practice and development it may be helpful to consider them separately and look for relationships between the two.
Hardly any evidence on the practices of the Social Critical notion of reflection in tertiary dance education was found in this study. Although evidence suggested that teachers encourage their students to discuss issues related to social, cultural and historical context of the dance disciplines, the main aim of these discussions is to develop understanding of the wider context of dance and appreciation of dance as an art form and other disciplines of art. Further research is needed to find out how relevant this notion of reflection is in practical dance classes. The limitation of the current study is that the data was collected from the teachers’ description of their practices and not based on observations of pedagogical practices.
The model presented above focuses merely on the focus and the pedagogical aims of reflection. In a follow-up study the author of this paper describes which specific processes students are engaged in while carrying out the different types of reflection and touched upon some of the obstacles students can experience within the processes of reflection. The reported obstacles, similarly to the pedagogical aims of reflection, are based on dance teachers’ perceptions and experiences. The findings showed that in teachers’ view students can encounter several difficulties within the processes of reflection. The last study of this research aimed to find out how streaming video can be used to overcome some of the reflection difficulties and support dance students’ reflection activities. The study focused on students’ and teachers’ perceptions of the usefulness of streaming video for carrying out students’ daily reflection activities in a composition course and a ballet course.
This article is part of a PhD study
The Reflective Dancer: ICT Support for Practical Training
IVLOS Institute of Education of Utrecht University
Promotor: Robert-Jan Simons; Co-promotors: Ineke Lam, Liesbeth Wildschut, Wilfried Admiraal
Defence: 20 juni 2008
- Bowen, G. A. (2006). Grounded theory and sensitizing concepts [Electronic version]. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 5(3) http://www.ualberta.ca/~ijqm/backissues/5_3/html/bowen.htm
- Cohen, B.B. (1993). Sensing, feeling and action. Northampton MA: Contact Editions.
- Korthagen, F.A.J. (1985). Reflective teaching and preservice teacher education in the Netherlands. Journal of Teacher Education, 36(5), 11-15.
- Kovich, Z. (1994). From intention to action: somatic education and the dancer, in: W. Schiller & D. Spurgen (Eds). Kindle the fire: proceedings of the Conference of Dance and the Child International. Sydney: MacQuarrie University.
- Leijen, Ä., Admiraal, W. F., Wildschut, L. & Simons, P. R. J. (2008). Pedagogy before technology: what should an ICT intervention facilitate in practical dance classes? Teaching in Higher Education, 13(2), 219-231.
- Miles, M.B. & Huberman, A.M. (1994). Qualitative data analysis: an expanded sourcebook (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
- Procee, H. (2006). Reflection in education: A Kantian epistemology. Educational Theory, 56(3), 237-362.
- Rodgers, C. (2002). Defining reflection: Another look at John Dewey and reflective thinking. Teachers College Record, 4(4), 842-866.
- Van Manen, M. (1995). On the Epistemology of Reflective Practice. Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice, 1(1), 33-50.