A Curriculum-integrated Dance Programme in the New Zealand Primary School Context: Observation, Evaluation, and Recommendations

Sharma, Geeta
Duncan, Scott
Nikolai, Jennifer
Stewart, Tom
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

Movement constitutes an integral component of children’s early learning and development. Dance is one form of movement which involves the amalgamation of physical, mental, aesthetic, and creative components and is likely to aid in the holistic development of a child. Literature has suggested that dance may benefit primary children’s academic performance, social bonding, creativity and neurocognition. As such, when embedded into school teaching it is likely to create a synergy for deeper learning among children.

In Aotearoa/ New Zealand, dance is not applied as a modality of teaching in primary schools and is taught to few children as an optional art form, with limited class teacher involvement. This may be due to teachers’ lack of exposure towards dance-embedded teaching. Dance Education itself is an under-researched area and there is a dearth of empirical evidence on the impact of dance on primary schoolchildren and teachers. By utilising a mixed methods approach, this thesis aims to evaluate a curriculum-integrated dance programme across four New Zealand primary schools by determining (1) programme logistics, feasibility, and acceptability and (2) the effects on children’s academic performance, wellbeing, classroom behaviour and physical activity.

Chapter two explains the design, development, and delivery of the curriculum-integrated dance programme across four primary schools in Auckland (New Zealand). The dance programme involved the participation of 101 primary schoolchildren and four teachers, lasting six weeks in each school. The programme was delivered by a dance educator, wherein most of the sessions centred around curricular learning. These sessions covered topics such as bar graphs, plant life cycles, handwriting and Māori legends through dance and creative movement. Such a learning module was envisaged to not only benefit children, but also serve as professional learning development for teachers. This study also discusses the feasibility and logistics of embedding dance and creative movement into New Zealand primary school teaching.

Chapters three to six constitute the evaluation part of the curriculum-integrated dance programme, by comparing a Dance Group (DG) class with a Control Group (CG) class from each school. Chapter three evaluated the curricular learning outcomes of the dance programme through the triangulation of two academic performance questionnaires (mathematics and reading), teacher interviews, children’s focus interviews and children’s journal writing. There were no significant intervention effects in children’s Mathematical abilities; however, the intervention had positive effects on reading for DG children with special needs and those of Asian descent. Moreover, exploration of qualitative data suggested that DG children drew connections between curricular learning, dance and creative movement.

Chapter four presents the wellbeing outcomes of the curriculum-integrated dance programme by triangulating findings from a wellbeing questionnaire, children’s focus interviews and children’s journal writing. Quantitative findings revealed significant intervention effects for DG on overall wellbeing and in health and lifestyle subdomain of wellbeing. Furthermore, qualitative findings complemented quantitative findings and themes related to wellbeing and fitness overlapped with curricular learning and creative movement.

Chapter five presents the behavioural outcomes of the dance programme, evaluated through a teacher-reported questionnaire. Although there was no significant intervention effect on total difficulties, the programme resulted in significant reduction in hyperactivity and increase in prosocial behaviour among DG. The conjoint findings of chapters two, three and four suggest that dance-embedded learning may be beneficial for children’s curricular learning and in turn may have cumulative effects on their wellbeing and classroom behaviour.

Chapter six evaluated the dance programme on physical activity outcomes. Children were requested to wear an accelerometer device as a belt for one week at baseline and post-intervention timepoints. Sedentary, light, moderate, vigorous and moderate-to-vigorous intensities of physical activity were compared between the CG and DG at post-intervention. There were no significant intervention effects on step counts or PA levels between the two groups. Possible factors for insignificant results are discussed with implications for future research.

This body of work demonstrates the feasibility and benefits of a curriculum-integrated dance programme, through a comprehensive discussion of qualitative and quantitative findings across four primary schools. This thesis is posited to make novel contributions on the effects of a curriculum-integrated dance programme on (1) teachers’ professional learning development and (2) children’s learning, behaviour and wellbeing. It is hoped the original information contained within this thesis will contribute to the field of dance education in the primary school context, and deepen the value of embedding dance and creative movement into primary school teaching. The recommendations provided within each study may provide inspirations for further research and application of dance in primary schools.

Dance Education , Primary school , Dance-embedded learning , Academic performance , Wellbeing , Classroom behaviour , Physical Activity , New Zealand primary school curriculum , Mixed methods evaluation , Teacher professional learning development
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