GTC Scotland

The General Teaching Council for Scotland

Comhairle Choitcheann Teagaisg na h-Alba

Dancing through lessons

From pretzels to Pluto: how dance is helping pupils learn and raise attainment.

This article appeared on page 34 of Teaching Scotland, issue 88. Read the full magazine.

Types of bread, owls and the solar system are just some of the topics teachers and YDance have created dance lessons for, to help over 5,000 primary school pupils get creative and learn at schools in Clackmannanshire, Glasgow, North Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire.

Through funding from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, YDance (Scottish Youth Dance) created the ‘Shake It Up’ programme to increase learner engagement through a kinaesthetic approach, raise attainment and create a sustainable legacy of teachers with skills and knowledge to develop integrated curricular lessons.

Innovative practice

The project first started in 2017 in North Lanarkshire and Glasgow, with West Dunbartonshire and Clackmannanshire joining the following phase in 2019. Head of Education at YDance, Linzi McLagan, had been working on the four-year project, which came to completion in 2020. She said: “We knew this project was only going to be successful if we worked collaboratively with teachers and had a strong focus on career-long professional learning. Our dance teachers would spend a full day a week at each school, helping the teachers and pupils to develop their skills and confidence in using dance as a learning tool.”

The programme covered P2 to P6, offering a wide range of topics for the dance coaches to develop creative tasks and lessons around content explored in the classroom. From learning about the planets in the solar system, to grammar and mathematics, no subject was too big to learn through dance.

Christina Hutchison, Headteacher at Aitkenbar Primary, Dumbarton, said: “It was a completely innovative method of raising attainment and it’s something we would never have considered trying.” One of the teachers at the school, who took part in the programme, Kieran MacLetchie, said: “I certainly feel that dance and the ‘Shake It Up’ programme is one of the factors helping raise attainment and lift some of those children – particularly those who find learning difficult or challenging – through kinaesthetic learning. It’s helping them achieve things that perhaps they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.”

Relationships between the YDance staff, teachers and learners were integral to the programme’s success. “Because YDance visited on the same day each week, pupils knew when to expect a dance day and knew they were learning in a safe environment.

“The instructors stayed with the same teacher over a two-year period to build that relationship and confidence in the teacher as well as offer a bespoke experience,” said Linzi. Relationships between learners and teachers also improved beyond dance lessons, with 62 per cent of younger pupils reporting that they got on better with their teacher after taking part in the programme.

Lasting legacy

Around 64 per cent of younger learners reported that the programme helped them feel happier at school, showing that this way of learning promotes physical and mental wellbeing. Lotti Boyle, a P2 teacher at Castleton Primary School, Glasgow, said: “We are really keen to make sure that the kids are not just sitting down and doing worksheet after worksheet. They are up and about all the time and using their bodies is a great way for them to learn.”

Teachers who took part in the programme have been asked by colleagues how they can bring it into their classroom. This was an essential part of the programme to ensure a lasting legacy as well as to promote leadership and confidence in learners and teachers. One headteacher stated that improvements in children’s literacy was observed for those involved with the programme, particularly those learners from SIMD 1 and 2. This had been highlighted in school data collected for their Pupil Equity Funding monitoring.

A dance showcase was planned for parents and the local community in spring of last year, but was unfortunately cancelled due to the pandemic. Instead, YDance put together a short video including footage from schools throughout the programme.