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Dance for All: Differentiation and Inclusion

This is an excerpt from Complete Guide to Primary Dance eBook With Web Resource by Lyn Paine & National Dance Teachers Association.

This is where teachers personalise the learning by setting tasks that meet individual and group needs so that every child is challenged and is able to achieve his or her personal best. Like art, music and drama, differentiation in dance is often by outcome in that all the children in the class are set the same task to begin with. However, there may be times when it is necessary to adapt tasks to meet different needs. Broadly speaking, you can achieve differentiation by limiting or extending the following:

  • Action content of the task (e.g., select two, three or four actions from the word bank to explore and create a sequence)
  • Spatial content of the task (e.g., all stay on the spot, most also add a change of level, some also travel across the space)
  • Group size (some children may find it easier to work in a smaller group or with a partner)
  • Adult support
  • Choreographic complexity (e.g., “Now that you have good unison, can you include canon and action and reaction?”)
  • Performance skills (e.g., “All of you will work on timing, and most of you will also work on focus; this group will also work on extension.”)

Limiting choices can sometimes provide more challenge than offering free choice. In recent times pupil choice and independent learning have been a focus in schools. In dance this can be difficult but not impossible to manage. Whilst starting points and accompaniment are normally selected by the teacher, children with dance experience can make choices about the size of the group they work in, the stimulus for their dance (such as a choice from a variety of pictures or poems) and the form and structure of their dance.

There should be no such thing as a non-participant in dance (would non-participation be allowed in literacy lessons?). If a child is unable to join in for health reasons, he or she can still be involved in composing and appreciating tasks. The child could be given recording or reporting tasks, for example, by making a note of the dance vocabulary or the actions used; sketch the body and group shapes or pathways; or use a video camera to record children's work. Or they could be “artistic directors” to specific groups and give advice or feedback on performance. Children should not be punished by not allowing them to join in (for instance, if they have not brought their kit). Dance is an entitlement for all, and every step should be taken to ensure participation.

On rare occasions, children may refuse to take part because they are unsure of what is expected or lack confidence. This requires a low-key approach. The strategies mentioned previously would be appropriate ways to engage them until they feel reassured. For younger children, sitting close to you for the introduction and joining in with sitting and standing activities often build confidence to participate.

An important fundamental of inclusion is to ensure that each young person is able to participate from a comfortable and safe position that optimises their involvement.
Gargrave and Trotman 2003, p.32.

The terms comfortable and safe include both physical and emotional security. Whether children have physical disabilities or learning difficulties, many of the teaching approaches are the same:

  • Recognise that children develop at different rates and in different ways.
  • Know the children. Find out what they can do, watch how they move and plan accordingly. Seek professional advice and guidance if necessary.
  • Make sure everyone in the class understands and agrees with the rules for taking part and that they share responsibility for safety (emotional and physical).
  • Be clear about the role of other adults in the room (teaching assistants or supporters). Are they there to join in and help, or is independence to be encouraged?
  • Communicate with careful and sensitive choice of language. For instance, if there is a child with impaired mobility, the children could be asked to move around rather than walk around the space.
  • Value the process of creating dance. Focus on the quality of movement and on performing with good focus. Give the children ownership of the work and respect individuality.
  • Adapt tasks to provide challenge for every individual and so that each can achieve success.

Children should feel confident in their preferred way of moving. You can then encourage them to extend their movement range and repertoire by exploring and developing further possibilities. Dance provides an ideal context for the development of fundamental movement skills (body management, locomotion and object control). But you are most likely not a movement or dance therapist, so it is important to find out how best to support the work of physiotherapists and other professionals.

Learn more about Complete Guide to Primary Dance.