Austin Educators Make Creative Movement Accessible to All Students

In Austin, Texas (U.S.), the Creative Learning Initiative seeks to provide a quality arts-rich education for every child, as well as professional development and ongoing support for teachers in arts-based instruction strategies. This work is made possible through a collaboration between MINDPOP, the Austin Independent School District, the city of Austin, and over 50 arts and cultural organizations, foundations, and philanthropists. Krissie Marty and Silva Laukkanen, two Austin-based dance educators, have created a series of movement strategies for the Creative Learning Initiative, along with adaptations so those strategies can be successfully implemented in every classroom and with every student.

Photo of a woman standing in a grassy field wearing a polka dot top.

Krissie Marty

Marty is Director of Education at Forklift Danceworks, a dance company in Austin that makes dances for the masses. She worked in collaboration with MINDPOP to create a series of movement-based creative teaching strategies for the Creative Learning Initiative (CLI) with an eye towards what would be successful in all grade levels and learning stages, from early education through secondary education. Laukkanen, a master teaching artist with VSA Texas and Forklift Danceworks, then worked with Marty to adapt the strategies for different populations, specifically looking at the special education classroom.

Marty calls one of the strategies “Idea and Movement,” in which students are challenged to make movements based on ideas. “This can easily connect movement to a curriculum source,” says Marty. From there, students can take a series of movements and build a phrase, adding their movements together.

Another CLI movement strategy is called “Pathways,” or “Draw Map Move.” Students and teachers make a drawing of their planned movement on paper, then put it in action in the classroom. Marty says this strategy not only encourages gross motor movement in students, but also allows flexibility for educators to incorporate movement in whatever space is available. She says, “Not everyone has access to a dance studio, but that does not mean they cannot use movement in the classroom.”

A woman with short reddish hair wearing a dark shirt.

Silva Laukkanen

In the CLI professional development trainings, Laukkanen works with teachers to brainstorm ways to make the movement strategies work for every student. For instance, she says “Draw Map Move” can be adapted for students who are blind or have low vision by putting rope at waist height and tape patterns on the floor from one end of the room to another for students to follow. She has also put ropes inside of long foam pool noodles so students can experience moving independently in both straight and curvy lines.

Laukkanen offers teachers myriad ways to adapt the strategies, from incorporating props and visual aids to chopping the lessons into smaller segments. She encourages educators to pay very close attention to their students, including those who are non-ambulatory, to recognize any independent movement they make. “Even the smallest independent movement can be a reaction to something, which can then turn into even more creative movement,” says Laukkanen. She adds that allowing students to move as much as they are able is valuable for those with and without disabilities.

Both Laukkanen and Marty emphasize the importance of giving students choices in the movement exercises. “The strategies are designed to allow students to initiate movement and express their ideas and interpretations of curriculum,” explains Marty.

When Marty and Laukkanen train teachers on the CLI movement strategies, they are struck by how excited the educators are to put the strategies into practice immediately. “They feel like they can do this right now,” says Marty, continuing, “…all they need are their students’ bodies!” Laukkanen says the special education teachers she works with express both excitement and relief in the professional development sessions, since the movement strategies are designed to be so accessible.

Laukkanen and Marty will present a session on the Movement Strategies of Austin’s Creative Learning Initiative at the 2017 VSA Intersections: Arts and Special Education Conference, August 6-7, 2017, in Austin, Texas. The session will include opportunities for attendees to learn about the movement strategies, experience them through movement exercises, and ask questions about adapting them for use in their own classrooms.

Check out Silva Laukkanen’s tips for teaching creative movement and dance to students with disabilities, posted on the VSA blog in October 2016.

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