Teaching the Arts in Remote or Hybrid Learning Environments

visual artist shares her workIn the spring, like most teachers, I scrambled to find ways to engage my students. As a dance teacher, students enjoyed my class in the school building. Due to alternate-day schedules, students would run to me and ask whether it was an “A” or a “B” day, looking for confirmation that they would have the opportunity to dance. All of this shifted during remote learning. 

Many students who excelled in my class in the brick and mortar setting, did not submit assignments and opted out of synchronous learning opportunities.  There were a plethora of reasons for their absences and low engagement. Some students had to share devices with siblings and parents, others had low internet bandwidth, still others found themselves with additional familial responsibilities as their parents did not have the luxury of working from home.

Our school was very responsive in addressing these external factors through daily family outreach from our deans and counselors as well as adjusting grading practices to accommodate the trauma of learning during a pandemic. We chose to center “grace before grades” and support students with extended deadlines, office hours, and multiple opportunities to resubmit their work. Students leveraged these opportunities in their traditional academic classes but were slower to avail themselves of these opportunities in the arts and aesthetics. 

Young girl performs for her online classTwenty-first century skills demand that creative experiences abound in students’ educational journeys. However, there still remains a pervasive view that math, English, and other core subjects are superior to the arts. The late Sir Ken Robinson dedicated his life’s work to teaching the importance of arts education and cultivating creative learning environments. In an article entitled, “Why dance is just as important as math in schools,” Robinson noted that “Dance can help restore joy and stability in troubled lives and ease the tensions in schools that are disrupted by violence and bullying.” 

Since March, many students and teachers have experienced “troubled lives” in ways we did not imagine this year would bring. I knew meaningful dance experiences would not only benefit my students physically, but also emotionally and mentally. I was also aware that students who formerly exercised so much choice and independence daily in riding the train to school, buying meals from local delis, and spending time with friends before and after school were now confined to their homes, with limited choices. So I decided to infuse student choice in as many aspects of the curriculum as possible. Here are some examples of how I did that:

Choice in virtual backgrounds:

  • During synchronous learning times, instead of demanding that students turned on their cameras, the dance department decided to offer students options for virtual backgrounds (studios, stages, etc). Once a student chose their background they were required to keep it for the remainder of that class period.

Choice in warm-up:

  • For asynchronous assignments, students were tasked with completing a 5-minute warm-up. In-person, we all did the same warm-up with rotating student leaders. During remote learning, students chose between two warm-up options. After completing the warm-up, students responded to prompts about their physical, emotional, or mental status with a choice of words, gifs, or audio/visual recordings. As you plan for remote teaching, how might you provide choice in the first 5 minutes of a lesson?

Choice in pathways to standards:

  • The National Core Arts Standards in Dance address the performance benchmark of embodying technical dance skills. On the International Day of Dance, students chose between learning choreography from Dutch sister sensations Yarah, Norah and Rosa, an excerpt from Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation or 30 seconds of choreography from their favorite song. Their submissions were mindblowing! How might you provide a choice in pathways?

Choice in sequence: 

  • Students created movement phrases based on various challenges (leaping over furniture or piles of laundry, ducking an arrow, tossing and catching socks). Students then were challenged to perform these sequences without the props and create new sequential orders using virtual randomizing tools. This was so much brainteaser fun!  

Choice in pathways for work submission:

  • Although students are digital natives, they are not necessarily savvy in how to use technology for educational purposes. This was the case in the Spring. Initially, students submitted work in the way they best understood. This meant I received text messages, emails, and Google classroom submissions for the first few weeks. I suggest you offer these choices or more to your arts students.

These were some of the ways I leveraged choice to engage my students in remote learning. Students also chose to dance alone or with siblings, parents, and pets. They dance with props, in kitchens and outside. They danced to songs that healed them or voiced emotions they were not ready to verbalize, and they engaged in the creative process in ways that will impact me for a long time. Through providing choice in remote learning, I heard my students’ voices and they assured me of hope beyond our collective, current experience. 

If you have other ideas or topics you'd like us to discuss in the future about teaching in the arts, please add them on this Padlet.

Here are some additional resources to support you in your teaching:

Dance Remote Learning Resources
Apps Online Classes
Yoga Bar HIIT App

The Dynamite Experience

Dance Maker App

Just Dance Now ($) ($)

Lincoln Center at home Pop Up Classroom

Kennedy Center Dance

Performance Streams
The Joyce Theater

The Kennedy Center’s Digital Stage

Youtube Resources/Unit Ideas
KidzBop Daily Dance Break (3pm EST)

Just Dance Choreography via Youtube

Dance Theater of Harlem Virtual Ballet Series

Trisha Brown Dance Company’s site

Exquisite Corpse (PBS - Mitchell Rose)

Tutting (Mihran via youtube)

Journal Your Day through Dance (Inspired by Ailey’s Ella at home version)

Small space dances + Rhythm

Other Resources:
Teaching Dance in Fall 2020

Sample Choice Board



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