Books: The New Frontier


Brain-Based Teaching in the Digital Age

by Marilee Sprenger



In a nutshell: A resourceful guide to teaching and understanding students with a “digital brain.”

If students’ talk of wikis, blogs, Skype and Twitter sounds like a foreign language, this book has answers. And even for teachers who consider themselves tech savvy, Marilee Sprenger gives a deeper understanding of how advancements in technology affect students’ thinking and learning patterns. In addition to detailed descriptions of how the “digital brain” functions, she elaborates on less complicated but still enigmatic essentials like decoding abbreviations (LOL, TTYL) and emoticons ( :-> ). While Sprenger encourages educators to embrace the changing times, she recognizes the problems that today’s children face, such as becoming easily overwhelmed and having less-developed social skills. The author explains that striking a balance between digital and non-digital experiences is key. She uses personal anecdotes and case studies to put her advice into context, and she gives activity suggestions, like using music to manage movement within the classroom or creating mind maps to help students visualize. “Instant Messages” and “Text Messages” pop up throughout the 164-page book to offer extra facts and tips, along with a helpful “Glossary of Digital Terms.” —Rachel Zar


The New Teacher’s Companion: Practical Wisdom for Succeeding in the Classroom

by Gini Cunningham



In a nutshell: How to deliver high-quality instruction.

For teachers just entering the field or those bogged down by the heavy responsibility of their job, Gini Cunningham has advice. Through comforting wisdom and humorous anecdotes, the veteran educator shares tips and tools to achieve daily excellence in the classroom. Readers will discover how to coordinate academic standards with lessons, how to prepare for the new school year during the summer, learn students’ names, create lesson plans that excite students (tip: factor in amazing facts and mind ticklers), monitor students’ growth, manage the classroom and avoid stress (hint: get up 15 minutes earlier each day to do something you enjoy). From her 28 years of experience, Cunningham has come to believe that the most successful teachers are those who take time to learn and grow every day. This ideal melds nicely with her book’s format, which allows readers to delve in by topics of interest. —Erica Hochstedler


Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization

by Yong Zhao



In a nutshell: An opinionated theoretical critique of America’s education system.

Yong Zhao believes that American education is at a crossroads—we can either catch up to other countries’ test scores or lead the way in producing innovative and creative thinkers. Zhao argues that the enforcement of standardized testing coupled with a lack of knowledge about the global community does not nurture strong, creative, independent and innovative individuals. He states that reforms like No Child Left Behind “leads to homogenization of talents,” and he fears that schools will become test-prep institutions. His belief: “Education is about helping each and every child to realize his or her potential, not molding them into economic working beings for a state.” Zhao takes a look at the history of educational reforms and how they’ve been misguided, details the damage of standardization, using China as an example, and provides suggestions on how to prepare the next generation of students to be good global citizens. He believes it’s done by expanding the definition of success and how it’s measured, elevating the status of other subjects and teaching global and digital competency. —EH

Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.

"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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