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Integrated Thinking Skills

This is an excerpt from Dance Integration by Karen Kaufmann & Jordan Dehline.

Thanks to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a national group of business and education leaders came together as a catalyst to position 21st-century skills at the center of U.S. education. The group determined that "every child in the U.S. needs 21st century knowledge and skills to succeed as effective citizens, workers and leaders. This can be accomplished by fusing the 3Rs and 4Cs." The term three Rs traditionally refers to the basic subject areas taught in schools: reading, writing, and arithmetic. Today, however, the three Rs are listed as "English, reading or language arts; mathematics; science; foreign languages; civics; government; economics; arts; history; and geography" ( Fusing these subjects with the four Cs (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation) represents an appreciation of the integrated thinking skills needed for a complete education. The three Rs serve as the umbrella for core content, and the four Cs are the skills needed for success in college, life, and career.

Students who possess curiosity, imagination, creativity, and evaluation skills are better able to tolerate ambiguity. These skills help people explore new realms of possibility, be more understanding of the perspectives of others, and express their own thoughts and feelings more readily, producing "globally aware, collaborative, and responsible citizens" (

Developing integrated thinkers leads to informed citizens who are able to negotiate and interface with the complex world they are facing. These skills are important parts of the artistic processes of exploring and experimenting, creating, performing, and responding, and they are used to evaluate learning in the arts. The four integrated thinking skills (creative thinking, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration) are part of every school dance experience.

Creative Thinking and Dance

Creativity can and should be taught in school. The creative dance class is centered on creative thinking, as students are continually creating something new. Students are instructed to access their own movement response as opposed to copying the teacher's movement. Because students spend a lot of time finding the right answer in school, an approach that stifles creativity, at first they can hardly believe what they're being asked to do! With a little encouragement, students tap into their own creative ideas, and with practice, their creative thinking expands.

With a little encouragement, students tap into their own creative ideas.

Creative students brainstorm fluently and remain curious and open to new ideas. They are flexible, resilient, and comfortable with ambiguity, and they learn to view failure as an opportunity to learn, understanding that mistakes are an important part of the process. The climate is fertile for creative thinking when children feel that their contributions are welcome and worthy (Gelineau, 2012).

The success of any creative experience partly depends on the atmosphere the teacher has created in the classroom. The teacher sets up a structure for creative thinking to take place by prompting students to find individual solutions, such as "How many different ways can you find to leap and jump lightly like the molecules in gasses?"The open-ended prompt is worded to encourage the learner to invent many ideas. For a dancer, creative thinking means experimenting with novel solutions to a movement problem or discovering new ways to express oneself. Creativity usually occurs thru improvisation, the process of spontaneously inventing movement in the moment. "Improvising puts the mover in touch with the creative flow of the present" (McCutchen, 2006, p. 175).

Critical Thinking and Dance

"Critical thinking is that mode of thinking - about any subject, content, or problem - in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully analyzing, assessing, and reconstructing it. Critical thinking is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking" (

Through dance, students learn that solutions to problems can take many forms. The kinds of critical-thinking skills students use in dance include mental alertness, attention to sequence and detail, and memorization. Students observe, listen to directions, and follow complicated instructions. The dance class involves reasoning, understanding symbols, analyzing images, and knowing how to organize knowledge. Dance making involves composing, evaluating, changing, reevaluating, deleting, and adding (Hanna, 2008).

When students create a dance, they make judgments by selecting one movement over another. Students of all ages who are new to dance usually select the first thing they think of. Through experience, students learn to analyze their decisions and look critically at all the possible choices, weighing the differences and making revisions and alterations. The teacher sets up the experiences that develop critical-thinking skills in dance, such as, "Go back and repeat what you just danced, but this time decide how tightly or loosely to make the movement," or, "Can you make your amoeba movement travel slowly throughout the room? Remember our three directions: forward, backward, and sideways." Critical thinking is related to creative thinking, and these processes are referred to as higher-order thinking and processing skills.

Clear Communication Through Dance

The art of dance is all about communication. Dance can communicate ideas, processes, feelings, experiences, memories, dreams, and hopes. Dance can tell a story and be used for entertainment. Many cultures use it for healing or to communicate directly to the gods.

Dance is abstract, yet it is highly personal to the mover. Whenever we move, we communicate things about ourselves. The movements we select and the myriad ways they are intentionally put together are perceived and interpreted by others. Humans are hardwired to interpret the movements of others. The smallest gesture of the hand or face reveals volumes to the beholder. Every dance integration class enables the movers to communicate their ideas, and the teacher encourages students to communicate their intentions clearly and invites viewers to think critically about what they see.

How Dancers Collaborate

At first, most students prefer to work closely with their friends and with students of the same gender. Collaboration requires working effectively with lots of people, including people who think differently than we do. Working with others in small groups develops respect for a variety of ideas and requires compromise in order to accomplish a common goal. The groups constantly change in the dance class, with new collaborations of boys and girls formed each day. A good collaborator listens well, is open to new ideas, and values the individual contributions made by others. Students learn to share responsibility for collaborative work and make their own contributions to the whole.

Learn more about Dance Integration.

More Excerpts From Dance Integration