Aerial Curriculum: Examining Structure
In the Aerial Teacher’s Handbook, I talk about different levels of understanding of a single skill (no matter the level that skill is in the curriculum). To recap, a beginning understanding of a skill means the student knows one entrance to a pose and one exit. An intermediate understanding of a skill means the student knows multiple entrances and exits, and advanced understanding means the student is able to use the skill to generate new material.
I recently came across an outline for a classical curriculum, and it got me thinking about how this could bring more clarity to structuring courses in the aerial arts. A classical education begins with the trivium, which is composed of grammar, logic, and rhetoric.
Grammar is the foundation, the alphabet, the building block vocabulary of a subject. In the aerial arts, grammar covers basic components like mounts, inversions, basic shapes or poses, and bases of support (the thing that keeps you in the air - a foot lock is an example). Grammar is also about learning class structure, which includes warm-up, review, new skills, and cool-down. This matches a beginning understanding of skill (one entrance, one exit), and if you’re a fan of Bloom’s Taxonomy, it aligns with the first two levels of learning: remember, and understand.
In general schooling, the grammar phase takes place from kindergarten through 6th grade (ages 5-12), which is also true in many movement classes. It’s important to note that beginner aerial classes must also cover aerial grammar (like foot locks) for both safety and technique. Very young classes (ages 5-7) focus on ground movement skills like coordination and balance for developmental appropriateness.
Logic is understanding cause and effect, how things work, and being able to organize thoughts into logical statements/arguments. In the aerial arts, students in this phase understand the positive effects of a proper warm-up, cool-down, and conditioning program. They become interested in solving aerial theory puzzles and discovering why a skill works, thus reinforcing grammatical concepts learned previously. This phase aligns with an intermediate understanding of a skill, which involves knowing multiple entries and exits. It also correlates with the third and fourth levels of Bloom’s: apply and analyze.
In general schooling, the logic phase shines in 7th - 8th grade (ages 12-14). This means that generally speaking, older kids are more cognitively ready for logic puzzles than say kindergarteners (although I’m sure there are exceptions). In aerial, it is possible to offer logic puzzles on Day One of a beginner class, as long as it is level appropriate and highlights a Day One concept like hand placement.
Rhetoric involves articulating one’s thoughts persuasively, and generating new ideas by re-organizing old ones. It’s about asserting one’s opinion on a matter, or one’s unique point of view. In the aerial arts, students at this phase know how to warm themselves up properly, regulate a conditioning schedule, and cool-down effectively. They know the demands of the art form and what makes their own body function best. In skill development, rhetoric involves creating entries and exits from a skill (mastery). In Bloom’s, it correlates with the highest levels of learning: evaluate and create.
In general schooling, rhetoric is the focus of grades 9-12 (ages 14-18). While it may be easy to see how rhetoric can be part of an advanced aerial class, what about everyone else? I think it’s possible to do even on Day One in a beginner class. For example, the instructor of a low sling class may invite students to use the skills learned that day in a brief improvisation. For younger students, this might be “free dance” time at the end of class. (Notice how a simple change in verbal instruction makes improvisation appropriate for different age groups, but that is another blog post.)
Conclusion: Understanding different levels of learning is useful in structuring a logical, cohesive, and creative curriculum without being restrictive. Each part of the trivium can be addressed in all phases and levels of learning. Different parts of the trivium can be highlighted depending on the needs and goals within a class (a beginner class can still include logic and creativity, but in smaller doses than advanced classes). In Bloom’s Taxonomy terms, getting to higher levels of thinking (like rhetoric) is a great goal to have in every aerial class, even for beginners. Just remember that safety is key, so choose activities that are level-appropriate.
Have you offered puzzles or creative prompts in an aerial technique class to take them up to the logic or rhetoric levels? If so, how did it go? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
The Aerial Teacher’s Handbook by Julianna Hane
The Ambrose School - The Classical Approach:
Julianna Hane traded life on a cotton farm to become a dancer and aerialist. She is the Director of Training at Born to Fly, and enjoys nerding out on teaching and anatomy.
We played add on with the kids mainly to see how they can turn their footlock into an inversion. Level appropriate and building strength and understanding. For the older ones ... Simple question and moving from one place to another without resetting. Level appropriate but not nearly as fun.
1/2/2018 08:57:21 am
That sounds similar to a puzzle I give! I have students stay in one "base of support" (like a foot lock or hip hitch) for 2 minutes and see how many things they can come up with there. Many students think they have to change base of support in order to do the next skill, but there's so much choreography available in those spaces we tend to skip over. They end up surprising themselves!
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