A better approach to syllabus? RAD responds

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In our October 26 e-news, we published an article by esteemed ballet teacher and examiner John Byrne, in which he questioned the present approach to teaching syllabus to students. Below is a response from Gerard Charles, Artistic Director, Royal Academy of Dance.

Gerard Charles.
Gerard Charles.

Open Minds

It is a sign of good health that new initiatives stimulate discussion, debate and re-evaluation of the core values in any sector, but particularly in dance and education.

The RBS offering is an affirmation of the same values that the RAD and many others wish teachers to embrace. Although the RAD, as an awarding body, does offer examinations our focus for over 100 years has always been on improving standards of dance teaching. I feel this is a good opportunity to reaffirm that inspiring teaching is, of course, at the heart of happy and successful dancers of all levels.

All RAD teachers are independent and as such, are free to teach how they wish. Our most successful teachers take a student-centered approach, focusing on the student’s personal development and only work on setting the syllabus closer to the time they may take an exam. As a useful comparison, when learning a language, it is important to first understand what the words mean and how they link together before trying to have a conversation; so in dance, we wish our dancers to fully understand how they engage with the movements before they perform the choreography. The process of repeating the same set of exercises over and over throughout the year is far from what I or the RAD would advocate for, and is indeed counterproductive.

Examinations may not be right for all, but for many students they do provide needed goals to work towards, a chance to show their work to others (a performance if you will), and a sense of achievement when accomplished. Dancers entering RAD examinations are marked on the demonstration of a wide range of skills and learning including placement, musicality, artistry, and technical skills, with little or no value placed on rote memorisation. When the new RAD syllabus was launched some years ago, it intentionally removed the rigidity of previous syllabi, freeing teachers up to focus on the specific needs of the students in front of them, and to build up their strengths. Updates to our exam syllabi are intended to free up more time for teachers to work on dance training.

Beyond syllabus, class content, or teachers’ skills, the reality is that many students do not attend with the regularity that is needed in order to achieve what is expected. With all the best strategies in the world many teachers still have to make hard decisions about the most important things they have time to work on.

At heart we are all striving for the same end, to assist our students, whatever their abilities, to become the best that they can be – to unlock their potential and ensure they have a positive learning experience. Teachers are as varied as their students, so although there is no single best way to approach the transfer of knowledge, having a wide range of skills at your fingertips is an absolute asset. And certainly, as teachers, regardless of our experience, we should never stop learning.

Read the original article here.

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