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Author Sharlene George Calliste uses alphabet in dance to teach children

vishannap Sharlene George Calliste reads The Movement Alphabet to students at Tehilah Training Centre, Tunapuna. - SUREASH CHOLAI
Sharlene George Calliste reads The Movement Alphabet to students at Tehilah Training Centre, Tunapuna. - SUREASH CHOLAI


Sharlene George Calliste has been teaching dance and theatre for the last 14 years and continues to do so at the Tunapuna Secondary School and her Tehilah Training Centre, Tunapuna. Now, some of her teachings can be shared throughout TT with her book, The Movement Alphabet.

Earlier this year, her book won the National Library and Information System Authority's (Nalis) First Time Authors programme award. Winning came as a shock to her as she applied to the programme in 2021 with no set expectations.

"Achieving the award was never a goal, but I am thankful for this achievement and the experience. The event was most enjoyable and I even got the opportunity to meet other authors."

The Movement Alphabet incorporates her love for teaching dance and theatre so the activities in the book requires students to follow the instructions and shape their bodies into the letters of the alphabet. She said the idea for her book came as she saw the effects the transition from face-to-face classes to online classes had on her son. Expanding on his fascination for dance, Calliste decided to test her theory of merging education and dance.

Sharlene George Calliste makes sounds and movements with students at Tehilah Training Centre. - SUREASH CHOLAI

"I saw how challenging it was for him to adjust to online learning. I thought to myself how can I bring movement into the lesson to keep him engaged? This is how 'edu-dance' was born."

Calliste explained that using the method "edu-dance" can solidify students' learning experiences as it gives them the opportunity to associate what they have learned with a movement which will prompt them to remember more. She said children generally have more energy and are unlikely to sit still for too long so this method of teaching can help them exert that energy productively.

"For example, a force is a push, pull, twist or squeeze and all of these can be shown through movement. So the teacher can get the students to push or pull an object, twist their bodies into a shape or pretend to squeeze an orange. These movement will help them to remember the types of forces," she explained.

She said with edu-dance, students can find their way of learning since many do not learn with the traditional paper and pencil. She added that introducing this method could pave the way to seeing it included in the schools' curriculum. Calliste said it would also allow the teacher to expose the students to the three main domains of learning – cognitive, affective and psychomotor.

"Cognitive learning deals with the information that is learned in the classroom while affective learning is developing the students' emotions and empathy. Psychomotor deals with the body in terms of developing gross and fine motor skills by controlling movement. For example, how fast or slow the student moves."

Children do movement exercises with Sharlene George Calliste at Tehilah Training Centre. - SUREASH CHOLAI

At her training centre, Calliste demonstrated what edu-dance comprises of to WMN with the help of three students, between the ages of three and seven, on the topic, opposites. She played upbeat music and taught the students dance moves such as up and down, left and right and over and under all of which kept them on their feet and fluttering around the studio. She asked them to make those movements five more times and each time the studio was filled with the students' laughter and the sounds of their feet practising the moves on the floor.

Once she was confident that the students grasped the material, she asked them to show her their favourite movement. Each of them chose differently, but it was clear that they understood what opposites are since there was no hesitation in demonstrating the moves. Calliste's youngest student even surprised her when she used a push and pull movement to show that she knew what opposites are. Calliste commended her for it and touched on another lesson that she teaches – forces.

After the session, she read an excerpt from The Movement Alphabet and showed the students the illustrations done by her co-tutor and content creator Arnetia Thomas. The students dashed to sit around Calliste while she read the book out loud and showed them the illustrations as well as the activities that they were excited to try.

Aside from teaching and being an award-winning author, Calliste also produces school plays and assists teachers with the recitals. She choreographs dances, liaises with costume designers on what each character should wear and consults with stage managers on the placement of the characters on the stage.

"I enjoy seeing students get a better appreciation for the subject. I also enjoy the 'page-to-stage' process and seeing the students come alive on stage," she said.

So far she has produced three plays for secondary schools, but Warfare, debuted in 2017, triumphed over the others for her because she got to see the students perform on a stage for the first time.

"Our production of Warfare was held at the Central Bank Auditorium and it was the first time the students were exposed to a theatre space. It was also significant because we asked parents to share their experiences on life and how they overcame their personal conflicts which was added to the script."

In addition to The Movement Alphabet, Calliste offers a wider range of activities through her training centre and YouTube channel of the same name. She says right now the channel has videos for students in pre-school to primary school on topics ranging from counting and colours to verbs.

"We will continue to add so that students and teachers can benefit from the activities. I believe with the channel students can also build their confidence and learn to manage their time as they would have other subjects to handle."

Calliste's training centre offers ballet, contemporary, folk, hip-hop, modern, edu-dance and pre-school dance programmes to help students find the ways that will help them succeed. She urged struggling students to seek out support as they may not learn the same as others and may absorb information through artistic means.

"Students need to reach out for support in academic learning since it can take place in a variety of ways; it could be through print, visuals or media."

Calliste encouraged students that are struggling both in academics and dance to reach out for help from their teachers and peers. She said that no student should ever give up and should push themselves to achieve their goals.

Teachers and parents can purchase The Movement Alphabet on Amazon or at the training centre for $70. The training videos can also be accessed on Calliste's YouTube channel or for the face-to-face classes, parents can contact her and enroll their children into the classes.