Archive for the ‘English learners’ Tag

Dance me to the end of term

Dancing Waka Waka (Gillian Howell)

Term 4 2012 finished with flash mobs and slick moves at two of my schools last December. Searching for some straightforward choreography to teach some year 1 & 2 students I came across this dance video, uploaded as a tutorial for a flash mob in Milan in 2010. It was perfect – a song the students would already know and like (‘Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)” by Shakira), lots of repetition, simple steps, and a few more challenging moves that would keep them on their toes (excuse the pun) and give them goals to last across the 10-week term.

For weeks before the end of term, you would hear strange chants and incantations echoing down the corridor from the music room:

“Up, up, helicopter! Down, down washing machine!”

“Clap, clap shimmy back”

I didn’t start with the intention of giving each of the dance moves a label. It was a spontaneous addition one week at the Language School to help the children differentiate between two different moves, but the labels proved so effective I soon included them in the lessons with the grade 1&2s at Pelican Primary School. I’d call the labels out in turn if we were running through the whole dance, or we would work on specific dance moves one at a time, identifying them by the given label. Check out “pick the fruit” at 0’31”,   “up, up helicopter, down, down washing machine” at 01’15”, “clap clap shimmy back” at 1’07’’ in the video above!

For these 6-8 year olds learning a choreographed routine for the first time, there were  many reasons why labelling the dance moves was such an effective strategy:

  • They contained visual information (eg. the word ‘helicopter’ indicated two arms overhead making circles) which helped the students recollect the move)
  • The labels were quite silly and light-hearted, which made the students and the teachers laugh and not take it all too seriously – and this kept them motivated if they were finding the dance steps challenging
  • The labels also gave some of the more hip-swivelling moves an innocence and childishness. Thus, a twisting turn straight out of belly-dancing became more focused in the overhead arm movement, and was given the visual label of “lasso the cow!”, introduced via a description of cowboys catching cows by lassoing their horns,  (see the move at 02’31’’).

We worked a lot with the video tutorial. English language learners (especially some of those from refugee backgrounds) can spend so much of their time being only in the present moment, responding to the most immediate stimuli (or responding to the present while holding anxious thoughts about what might happen in the unpredictable future, or the past), and sometimes they struggle to retain sequences of information in their memories alone. Any kind of visual reinforcement is beneficial, and in the past I’ve used diagrams, stick figure pictures, grid scores and charts to map out how the individual components of a project that they have developed will fit together. Having a video is another way of doing this.

While having students glued to video materials might not at first seem like the most appropriate way to engage them in a dance project (“shouldn’t we be getting them away from video?”), there were a number of reasons why I think this was a big part of the project’s success:

  • It allowed the students to see the whole dance in its entirety. Right from Day One, they could see what they were aiming for.
  • The video included both men and women – demonstrating that this was an activity for both genders (important when many of the students come from backgrounds where men’s and women’s activities are more delineated) and giving so everyone in the class a role model to choose and copy.
  • It reduced self-consciousness and the potential for criticism of each other. They were so busy watching the screen and keeping up with the moves they didn’t have time to think about (a) what they looked like or (b) what anyone else looked like.
  • It also gave the children a visual representation of how to stand slightly apart from each other in rows, or neat formation. Lots of children in Language School find the many variations of standing in lines (e.g. sometimes behind each other, sometimes beside each other, sometimes squashed close together, sometimes spaced apart, etc) quite confusing.

Here is a back-of-heads view of the children at the Language School (all the primary school children) dancing to Waka Waka with me on my last day at the school for the year.

If you’d like the full list of labels I used for this dance leave me a comment below and I’ll send it to you.

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Songwriting with the English learners

Lospalos, Tuesday, day 96

For the last couple of weeks, Tony, Sarah and I have been making fairly regular visits to the local English language classes that are on everyday after school. I suggested to the teacher that we could come in one day as a group and do a songwriting project with everyone. That’s what we did today.

We were a group of 6 – Tony, Sarah and I, and the three ANAM students. About 30 students took part in the workshop. We started with a name song which goes around the circle with each person singing their name, and it being repeated in unison by the rest of the group.

Then, as a rhythmic warm-up, we created word-strings, and clapped these. First I asked each person in the circle to volunteer one English word that they liked. Then as a group we invented three strings of four or more words each. We said these out loud, exaggerating the rhythm of the syllables, and then clapping the rhythms in unison, and then in three separate groups. I conducted groups in and out of the texture to create some variations in the layers, and then cued a tight stop.

Now that we were warmed-up (we taught them the word ‘warm-up), we discussed ideas for a song. Each group discussed their preferences, then we shared these and looked for common threads between the three groups. There were several themes that emerged:

  • A sad song, expressing sad feelings
  • A happy song, thinking about things that make you happy
  • A love song

From here, we chose a narrative arc for the song, with verse one describing a broken-hearted, lost love situation. The chorus needed to emphasise a determination to move on in life. The second verse continued the story into one of new happiness, with the narrator finding a new love and all being well again.

I am sad, but I’m not broken

I am strong

I’m okay with you

Broken heart – no way

Broken heart – away

Tony and Lina worked with the chorus group and once their words were locked in, I sent them outside with the guitar to develop a way to sing their chorus with a good hook or catchy melody. They delivered with a very funky chorus. Meanwhile, the other two groups were developing the narrative focus of the verses.

I love someone but they love another

I cry all day and can’t sleep at night

I try to forget but when I close my eyes

I always see your face.

With the harmony for the chorus, it didn’t take long to find the melody for the verses. A bit of tempo adjustment was needed as initially the lyrics suggested quite a different feel.

I’m happy again because I’ve found another love

We met at the market, buying some bananas

My new love is smart, and has a good heart.

The love of my life!

Excellent lyrics for English language students who have only been learning English (in a remote part of East Timor) for three or six months, don’t you think? We set ourselves up to do a full performance of the song and record it. The performance was great! But in all the excitement we forgot to press ‘Record’ on the recording machine, so have no record of our great song, other than in our memories.

Still, we hope to revise it for this Saturday’s TOKA BOOT so we may be able to get a recording of it there.