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Art travels across borders

Becoming an MYP teacher completely changed my perspective about teaching dance. The MYP arts guide opened my mind to new pedagogical elements that focus on student inquiry and conceptual learning; and how using those elements inspired student’s curiosity and empathy. With the onset of the pandemic and the virtual learning space I initially wondered as to how my students could effectively apply these skills in the new learning environment. But little did I know that the virtual learning had an adventure waiting for me and my students.

I was quite excited at the challenge of teaching dance through virtual learning spaces. I had to constantly tell myself to unlearn, relearn and most importantly adapt to the new change around me.  I was inspired to try and take the learning across boundaries in the virtual learning mode. It is with that intention I designed the unit “Through my eyes.”

Through the unit my students got a chance to explore and analyse the work titled “Murmur” by British award-winning dancer and choreographer Aakash Odedra. The original dance performance portrays Aakash’s journey as a dyslexic child and the challenges he faced through the conventional education system that defined him based on his learning difficulties and not his abilities. Aakash was recently awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) for his meritorious services in dance. Our unit explored personal and cultural expression and our key concepts created a framework for the students to reimagine and recreate “Murmur” through their interpretations and choreographic choices.

The inquiry into the original performance made my students curious about the thoughts and perspectives of a dyslexic child. They empathised with Aakash’s journey in the traditional school system. Through a secondary research activity, they found a documentary by Sky Arts in which Aakash explained the multitude of imaginations he had as a child. This made the young learners more curious.

In open-ended online discussions students shared their understandings about dyslexic bringing in examples of famous icons who were dyslexic including Richard Branson, and some say Albert Einstein who struggled with writing. Through the discussions surprisingly the class stumbled upon the idea of ‘dreams.’ A student posed a question: “What are the multitude of emotions that a dyslexic child has in his/her dreams?”. The discussion later progressed to the types of emotions we have in our dreams. Another student added that by bringing in her prior knowledge about the Navrasas (the nine human emotions from the ancient Indian text, Natyashastra).

In the following week the students had a rough idea about their final performance. The students decided to title their new work as “Musings” which explored the nine human emotions in the storyline of a child’s dream. The choreographers and dramaturg collaborated with the video editors in making the final dance film.

But they needed to understand what their focus areas would be while creating the new work. They used a visible thinking routine through the strategy of ADD- CHANGE- KEEP -DISCARD to analyse the original work and formulate their decisions of changing its original context.

Art travel

Students explored their voice and choice through by choosing their roles of choreographer, dancer, dramaturg, rehearsal director, video editor and costume designer. We defined the tasks and the rehearsal director of the class monitored and documented the process. The process was seamless using breakout rooms and group meetings.

While creating, the students got a chance to develop empathy towards the dyslexic learners across the globe. The collaborations and peer feedback sessions also helped them to gather more information regarding the creative, scientific, and entrepreneurial success that many dyslexic learners had achieved.

They also reflected about how the traditional education system excluded dyslexic learners and how inclusive IB learning was for them. They wanted the work to portray the same feeling they had about dyslexia but through a different storyline.

The entire process of learning inspired me as a facilitator where I saw my students displaying true learner profile attributes. I wanted their work to cross borders now. Our class reached out to Mr. Aakash Odedra and sent the film to him and to my surprise he had replied to my students through a video message.

“The effort and love, innocence has a purity that makes them all look like little stars. I smiled so much, it’s unbelievable! I don’t even think I enjoyed the original that much as I enjoyed this!” said Aakash Odedra.

The pedagogy of MYP Arts continues to surprise and inspire me. It truly laid strong conceptual understandings that the learners could apply and transfer even in the adverse situation like a pandemic. The young IB learners proved that the attributes acquired through the programme has strengthened them for an ever changing and ever challenging world ahead. The story of how these students in India reached out to the famous artist in UK during the pandemic will inspire many young learners ahead.

Vaishak M Raj is an IB continuum educator and has been working in the performing arts department at DPS International Gurgaon engaging both the MYP and PYP students to develop their artistic voice and choice. He is also the CAS adviser for DP. He has been the creative head for the British Council’s project ‘Imperfect Circle’ and has also won numerous scholarships and grants towards his meritorious services in dance.