Sunday, 8 April 2018

Reflection on Assessments

Assessments of Learning in Dance Education

Over the course of achieving higher qualifications from ISTD and while studying a Master’s Degree in Dance Pedagogy from Middlesex University, I have been applying theories of reflection to review own practice as a dance teacher, including making informed and balanced decisions for my own professional and personal progression. These have included recording and reflecting on my own learning experiences; evaluating the effectiveness of and developing opportunities to improve my professional practice; and analysing the impact of planned activities related to my own teaching.  The following reflections are about assessment in dance learning.

What type of assessment have I been using to evaluate my student’s ability to perform a dance with a specific sequence of movements?   There are a variety of ways assessment can be carried out in a dance context.  I sometimes construct assessments to reflect a student’s level of accomplishment and to demonstrate their understanding of the content.  Assessment can be formative, which happens throughout the learning and sometimes summative at the end of the lesson. 
How do you place this assessment into a plan of learning (POL) for my students and then how is this assessment carried out in lesson plans?

This reflection is an exploration on how I might better be able to assess my own students.  Rather than merely auditing their learning, I want to use assessment to ‘educate students and improve learning’ (Theresa Purcell Cone, 2005).   

Diagnostic Assessment Classes for Learners

I recently carried out a diagnostic assessment class for learners.  I wanted to consider the psychomotor, cognitive, and affective learning aspects in the assessments. Therefore, I was considering the following:

Psychomotor:How is coordination, balance, endurance, and strength in regard to the phrase of choreography that I was teaching the students.
Cognitive:  What knowledge did the students already have about the names of dance steps? Are they able to achieve the movement, repeat it or make adjustments as I give vocal instruction?
Affective:  How is the student’s participation and effort in the lesson? Are the students eager to answer questions? Are they shy? Is performing and expression in the movement new to them? Are they used to working in a team?

I often assess the ability of my students by asking them to respond orally to questions, because this is the most convenient and efficient way to assess my students learning. In the past I would to simply ask students to recall or remember facts through verbal questioning. However, my understanding of higher order thinking and learning has developed my assessment abilities.  For example, some of the questioning that I can use to include a balance of lower- and higher- order thinking include:

1.    Knowledge: Please execute the movement that happens on count 8? Who can show me a ‘cross-turn’?
2.    Comprehension: Why is it important for your arm to be parallel to the floor?  Why it might be necessary for us to use a wide stance at the beginning of the dance?
3.    Application: Create a movement phrase using three steps from the dance? 
4.    Analysis:  What about Kieran’s demonstration of the dance made you smile?  How was Group 1’s demonstration of a ‘cross-turn’ different from Group 2’s demonstration?
5.    Synthesis: Can we create a dance using one movement from each person’s dance? What aspect from watching the video can you add to your performance of the dance?
6.    Evaluation:  What did you like about the performance?  Why did you like it? Are there other reasons you think this performance was particularly good?

Identification and recall describes knowledge. Comprehension is about understanding. Application is how the use of facts and principles are used. Analysis dissects the whole into different components.  Synthesis combines these components into a new whole, and evaluation is the development of opinions or judgements. 

I identified that oral questioning is not only an excellent way to assess, it also engages my learners and allows for a connection to be made between us.  Trust is established and we begin to have a more in-depth experience in our learning process.

A variety of assessment provides an organised and comprehensive representation of what a child knows. Videoing is a way to capture this. Subjectivity is overcome when I can decide with the leading organisation, students’ parents, and students themselves the criteria for assessment.  For example, a rubric can be created.  Rubrics are not being used in my practice very much, but I believe it might be possible for me to discuss the use of a rubric measures to more objectively identify how appropriate a child is for performing on stage.  I often hear my colleagues say things like, “Wow, so cute!” or “It factor…”  and other extremely vague ways of describing the abilities of children when they are auditioning.  It annoys me and I become frustrated as I explain to them in what I describe as a more articulate and objective way of explaining a student’s ability.  

I can monitor my student’s progress during a single learning experience or over time.  These can include my observations recorded on a checklist, written notes, or comments through electronic forms such as video. Journal writing, drawings, or quizzes may help this, but it will be important for me to be mindful of the different abilities of students. Those students who do not read or write as well may not benefit so much from a rubric that requires writing.   In my intensive sessions with students where I am allotted more one to one time with the students, journaling has been very useful in identifying criteria and individual assessment criteria.  

Another assessment tool that I find very useful is peer to peer assessment.   Not only does this enhance communication and collaboration in our environment, but it develops the higher-order of thinking and learning according to Bloom’s taxonomy (Theresa Purcell Cone, 2005).   

Having my learners’ perform for each other has been extremely fundamental in their progression.  They are able to assess each other and check with each other the level of their performance.  Although, we have not written out a definitive rubric for assessment criteria, our understanding and developed language together over the course of several weeks together most often proves to be enough time for us to have come to a shared understanding of criteria.  However, as I write now, I see the error in assuming that there is no need for a definite rubric.  

Self-assessment is used in my lessons so that the students can assess their own learning.  This is done through journaling and discussion. However, I wonder what other ways I can use for the students to assess themselves so they better understand the material.
Some questions that I ask to encourage self-assessment include:
1.    What did you learn today?
2.    What was most difficult for you when you learned the dance today?
3.    Did you learn something different about how to do this step?
4.    Did anything make you feel uncomfortable about dancing today? Why?
5.    Name one or two things you improved about the dance today?
According to Theresa Purcell Cone (2005), a dance portfolio is a like an album of learning that provides a collection images showing growth and learning over a period of time.  Often, parents ask me for feedback about their own children’s learning after they are released from our program.  I feel that my words never really articulate the growth and progress of the students when they are in my class.  However, if I only had some way to communicate to them in others way the leaps and bounds their child made in psychomotor, affective, and cognitive learning, I am sure they would have a much better understanding of the growth and learning that has taken place.  This has really inspired me to really take care and apply more thought into the variety of ways to assess learning and also record the progress.  My only concern is the time that it takes to mange this type of portfolio.   The children are already participating in an activity that carries extra time, rehearsals, and pressure.  We are learning for the potential to participate in a West End show?  In the future I will experiment with how I can properly use time constructively to develop a learning portfolio for my students so that all stakeholders can review and objectively assess the learning of these students over a period of time.  
It is clear that assessment in dance can be challenging to designn and facilitate. However, in order to be viewed as an important component to learning and propell curriculum, I must provide evidence of student learning.  By defining criteria and applying practival rubrics I will better help my learners to understand what I expect from them.  I already use reflection to assess my effectiveness as a teacher. I assess student learning by oral questioning, rubric systems, recording, peer assessment, and self – assessment.  Creating portfolios, using journals, drawing, and video will help me to keep track of learning, educate, and improve learning through assessment.  


Theresa Purcell Cone, S. L. C., 2005. Teaching Children Dance. 2 ed. Champaign(IL): Human Kinetics Association.


  1. Brandon,

    Too many things to comment on at one time. I am so glad someone else writes lengthy blogs.

    You use analysis and critical analysis interchangeably without differentiating when you ask a student what about someone's dance makes them smile. That is personal and subjective and not breaking down the steps of a routine or dance.

    I recently took a workshop in teaching students with differing abilities. While I can't immediately find the workbook to name/define the appropriate word for this type of instruction, I can relate that in these classes students are encouraged to analyze what part of the body is used to learn various concepts. I have ordered two sets of the Body Part Debrief bags to use so students may see and touch rubber replicas of what body part, organ, etc. may be used to relay visual and auditory information into the brain and translated into movement within the body. While this is a tool for teaching students who may have special needs I feel it will increase awareness in all my students from age 3 to the elderly adults over the age of 90 who took my movement therapy classes. My hope is this will increase self assessment by the students without telling them they are learning how to assess progression or lack thereof and how we adapt to improve and do our best. The Body Part Debrief bag also allows me to introduce medical/anatomical/kinesthetic terminology into an otherwise vernacular setting using another form of language training.

    I did find your blog interesting and informative. Thank you.

    1. Thanks for your comments. The Body Part Debrief sounds interesting. I may see about ordering this to use as a tool in my practice. Thank you for the suggestion.

  2. Hi Brandon.
    Great blog - Thanks!
    Such a clear description of assessment and very helpful (examples) for me as I address this also. I am currently working on an accessible assessment tool currently that students and tutors can use. As well as areas for assessment, I am also including 'engagement', as I want to discover at which points (activities) within the class, that engagement peaks or diminishes. Like all, some of my students love discussion and some do not! Thanks,

    1. The 'engagement' element sounds interesting. I have been researching the FLOW theory which might be a topic you'd enjoy.

  3. Fantastic blog- you have encapsulated a year of teacher training and made it seem so accessible. Assessment is key to improvement and progress and using these method you have outlined will help to hasten that process. many thanks

  4. How fascinating! Thanks for posting this; it's really helpful.