Each morning we have 30 minutes of movement, and after lunch, another 90 minutes. The students are responsive and so uninhibited in their movement. They follow Valerie like young children, playing, laughing and experimenting in a child-like way.
In the three days I’ve participated in and photographed Valerie’s classes, I’ve had an opportunity to observe the students, the movement and the teaching. Movement teaching stands apart from academic teaching. Movement education is social and the academic classroom, by nature, is not. The academic teacher must make it so, or the students will do it themselves, to the detriment of the lesson. Valerie’s movement work creates immediate relationships among the group. She uses students to help her demonstrate, and in the first minute of our work, she is literally in contact with the students. Through movement, she guides the individuals to meet each other, not with an introduction, but by engaging them in paired activities, like wrestling with a partner in a variety of ways. Our students here easily engage with the activity and with each other.
The students are careful mimics of Valerie’s beautiful movement. I have never seen such a large group able to effortlessly imitate. They follow her instructions and her movement. They listen to her corrections and implement. They are precise with the Bothmer Gym and Spacial Dynamics that epitomize the ninth grade experience of polarities: gravity and levity, the frontal plane, differentiating the head, trunk and limbs, meeting the world with feet on earth.
Through the flow of the activities, Valerie is able to provide an active experience of the polarities between precise gym exercises and the wild hilarious fun of group ball games. What joy! The students learned the rules quickly and they were unstoppable, hurling a ball around the court, tagging, running, jumping, leaping and laughing. Everyone was sweating. The class played for a good half hour or more, fast and furiously.
As a teacher of English, and a teacher of teachers, I find such inspiration watching Valerie teach. I am reminded of how essential it is to create a space for personal contact—not just straight up lecture presentations. Valerie gives emotional energy to each individual meeting with the students. An academic teacher can hide behind the content, or the concept, or the words. A lecture is a kind of shield. This is especially true teaching ideas which need to be translated. Valerie is teaching movement- no translation needed. Doing and showing is more social than talking and thinking.
In the curriculum portions of this course, I have designed significant time for personal sharing in small groups, then for reporting our main ideas to the whole group. We are seeing a need to make even more time for individual presentation and personal stories.
It has been a challenge to find a middle ground between order and form and complete chaos. Near mayhem can break out over an irrelevant detail or some minor correction of the translation. Not fully understanding the language is a major deficit in leading a class and maintaining order, or in simply understanding what is going on among the students. Our students do respond to clear directives. One at a time. Quiet please. Raise your hand. These commands are familiar to most teachers in the high school classroom. It’s surprising how much we use them with these adults! But the students’ enthusiasm and gratitude make our experience all the more gratifying. Valerie and I are working and learning along side our students. Learning and Growing.