Bulb Archived: Telpochcalli SCALE 2016-2017: Nunez & Goeden

Teacher: Gaby Nunez-Crain

Artist: Sarah Goeden

School: Telpochcalli

Big Idea: Identity

Inquiry Question: How can we explore our individual, group, and community identities through theatre, song, and dance?

Fall/Winter

Art Content: Mask-making and dance

Non-Art Content: Exploring our Identity

Describe how the project unfolded. (What were the class learning goals, what were your teaching or artistic explorations, what were your students’ explorations, student reactions, any changes in plans, what worked well and what didn’t work well, unexpected outcomes, how your future project planning was impacted, etc.)

Our academic goal was to explore our identity and study Dia de los Muertos. Our artistic learning goals were to make calavera (skeleton) masks and to explore creative movement and dance. We hoped that through this exploration that students would successfully make a mask showing individual expression, would become better dancers, and would reflect on their identities and would emerge with deeper self-knowledge and deepen a sense of pride in who they are.

We began the unit by playing theatre games about identity and exploring identity through writing and diagrams. As the vast majority of the students in our program are of Mexican heritage, we decided that our first project should culminate in a celebration of Dia de los Muertos, a way to explore our historical cultural identity. We studied the holiday and its significance. We made our own calavera (skeleton) masks and a classroom altar. We also started to explore creative movement and dance. While making the masks and moving creatively, we talked about self-expression and reflected on how that related to identity. Finally, we invited the other CAPE after school classes to see our altar and to learn about and celebrate the Dia de los Muertos in a sharing event. Our students had worked together to create a skeleton dance, and we taught our dance to the other CAPE afterschool programs. We taught about the history of the holiday, and we shared pan de muerto (bread of the dead) with the audience at the end of the celebration.

Do you think that students made progress toward the learning goals that were set for this semester? Please estimate the percentage of students who made progress toward the learning goals. Please explain the basis of your assessment.

One hundred percent of students made masks, demonstrating individual expression, and one hundred percent of the students executed the dance for their peers and lead their peers in a demonstration on how to do the dance. From conversations and reflections with students, we can also say that students’ knowledge of the holiday Dia de los Muertos grew. All students knew about the holiday going in, but most students did not understand some of the finer details of what the offerings on the altar represent and did not know the history of the holiday. Some students had not tried pan de muerto (bread of the dead) before, and only a few of the students had participated in or seen dancing as related to the holiday. By the end, all students had a better sense of the history and more of the details around the holiday. When we asked the students how they felt after the sharing event, they said they felt happy and proud.

Please upload photos and/or videos of student work or classroom artifacts that demonstrate student learning and/or provide evidence that learning goals were or were not achieved. Describe how the artifacts, images or videos illustrate students achieving, partially achieving, or not achieving the learning goals.

See images below

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Students performing the calavera dance in their masks (the student at center without a mask chose not to wear hers for comfort)
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Our altar- with papel picado and paper flowers, created by the students
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After school students from other classes learning our calavera dance together

How did your teacher/artist collaboration work this semester?

We started out by identifying our big idea together- identity. This is a topic we are both interested in, and one that we think is important to our students’ development, and a topic that we thought could sustain explorations throughout the whole year. We thought that singing and dancing could open up some more explorations of Mexican culture- which seemed important when exploring a unit about identity. We decided to start with an exploration of Dia de los Muertos, as that seemed to fit in well with identity as well as dance and theatre. Based on the timing of the holiday, it would also give us a good goal to strive for early-on. Gaby did come to this particular unit with a strong knowledge of the Dia de los Muertos holiday and its traditions, and Sarah came to this unit with a background in dance and mask-making. Despite this, due to their long history and planning, sometimes Gaby ended up teaching acting exercises, and sometimes Sarah ended up teaching some of the academic content.

Describe how you and your partner planned together. How did you compromise when there were conflicts or differences of approaches or ideas? Can you cite a specific example?

We planned for each session together. Generally one of us brings an idea to the other about a portion of the lesson we’d like to lead and uses the other for a springboard to get feedback and to trigger more ideas together. When we have differences in approaches or ideas and if we don’t get where our partner is coming from right away, I think instead of shutting the idea down, we generally ask the other partner questions: “How do you think this relates to our big idea?” “How do you think this will help students get from point A to point B?” “Can you help me understand how you see this specific part of the exercise working?” etc. This sometimes leads to the questioner emerging with a new, broader understanding of how to teach, and sometimes it leads to the one who offered up the idea to realize that they want to let go of the idea. If at this point we still don’t agree, we usually say something like, “I would love to see you teach that, and I would love to learn how you do it.” If the idea is something we do not feel confident doing, we can learn and grow stronger through observation of each other.

Our most recent difference was over where to go next with students. After the Dia de los Muertos unit, we created and filmed a music video, based on a song the students selected and incorporating the students’ own dance moves, as an exploration of dance and individual expression of identity (you can see it here).

Can’t Stop the Feeling! Our second project

Next, Sarah wanted to create a longer film- where students wrote scenes and also sang and danced, all somehow around the idea of identity. As Sarah and Gaby talked and Gaby asked good questions, Sarah realized that this might not be the best way to go deeper into an exploration of identity. The identity question started to feel sort of tacked-on to the project. Through the discussion, Gaby and Sarah agreed to continue with more inquiry first- to next interview the students about their roles in life as student, friend, son, sister, etc. and to be open-minded and see what sort of artistic project might emerge from the exploration. We think it might lead to a documentary or filming of reenactments of true stories, but we don’t know for sure. We’ll keep you posted.

Describe how you teach together in the classroom. Who does what? How do you understand each other’s roles? Can you cite a specific example?

We have been teaching partners for 8 years, so at this point our relationship is very fluid. Gaby sometimes teaches acting games and exercises, and Sarah sometimes teaches academic content. We will often decide who will take the “lead” on teaching a particular exercise or lesson, but we both tag in very easily without needing to talk about it. We are both good at noticing when the other could use help and filling in without much discussion as well. This comes from our long relationship together. Both of us work on classroom management together and have picked up strategies from each other. Gaby is also fluent in both English and Spanish, while Sarah is fluent in English and a Spanish language learner. We have some students in our class that are very English-dominant and some that are very Spanish-dominant. We try to teach in both languages and encourage our students to speak in both languages as well. Gaby is very comfortable teaching in both languages. Sarah is more comfortable teaching in English but will also teach in Spanish as well but looks to Gaby for help when she needs it. Students can see a model of a language-learner who is willing to try and make mistakes in Sarah, as well as have exposure to fluency in both languages with Gaby.

Winter/Spring

Art Content: Film and Documentary, Improvisation, and Dance

Non-Art Content: Identity

Describe how the project unfolded. (What were the class learning goals, what were your teaching or artistic explorations, what were your students’ explorations, student reactions, any changes in plans, what worked well and what didn’t work well, unexpected outcomes, how your future project planning was impacted, etc.)

Coming out of our reflections from the fall, we took a shift into uncharted territory for this winter and spring. The students had expressed their wishes to learn how to film and edit movies, and the teachers wanted to delve deeper with the students into identity. A natural place to go seemed to be documentary-making- even though we started this year thinking we would be exploring dance, and Sarah and Gaby had not taught this art form before. Students each created a 3-7 minute documentary where they asked family and friends about their relationships, exploring questions about identity. We all treated it as a learning experience, and the movies we created were definitely works-in-progress, but we had very rich reflections at the end. Some of the students’ reflections were very practical—I need to make sure I keep the ipad in landscape so we don’t have to turn our heads sideways to watch the movie. I should make sure my interviewee speaks loud enough to hear them. And some reflections were more profound. I should listen more to my friends. I should play a lot because when I’m a grownup I’m going to have to work a lot and have lots of responsibilities. I should ask my friends more about what they like to do.

After the documentary project, we thought that the students wanted to move on from dance and explore some other artistic endeavors. They specifically told us they would like to make a movie. However, around this time, during the 8th-grade benefit, we played the students’ music video from the fall, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. When we asked the students to help us figure out how we could include our exploration of identity in the movie, the students came up with a narrative about a dance competition where they have to learn to ignore bullies and listen to themselves. They thought that showing that they weren’t afraid of the bullies while dancing would show confidence in creative expression, and that would inspire people to be more themselves and said that people should be able to dance however they want. The teachers were really surprised and excited by this idea. It seemed to show that the students were gaining more confidence in themselves both as people and as dancers.

We spent some weeks learning improvisation in order to be able to improvise our movie, and then we created characters, made a story board to map out major events, and filmed our movie. We have a link to our movie in the next section.

Do you think that students made progress toward the learning goals that were set for this semester? Please estimate the percentage of students who made progress toward the learning goals. Please explain the basis of your assessment.

I think all students progressed toward their learning goals. 100% of students created their own documentaries exploring identity. 100% of students participated in improvisation exercises, and 100% of students improvised scenes, showing commitment to character and relationship, in order to create our final movie. In addition, through reflection, we learned that students had achieved a deeper knowledge of themselves and their identities during class this year.

One way, however, that our goals did change from the fall, is that the students became more interested in a personal exploration of identity, rather than exploring the identity of their school and community. As we progressed, it became clear that the students were the most interested in exploring their own identities, and because of their excitement, that is the direction we ended up taking with them.

Please upload photos and/or videos of student work or classroom artifacts that demonstrate student learning and/or provide evidence that learning goals were or were not achieved. Describe how the artifacts, images or videos illustrate students achieving, partially achieving, or not achieving the learning goals.

One student had been very shy at the start of our program. While interviewing a friend for her documentary, our student got mad at her friend for saying that our student was shy. We talked about her feelings and worked things out between them. And then an amazing thing happened. The “shy” student started taking a lot more risks. During the movie that we worked on next, she was very loud and confident. She wrote in this reflection at the end of the year that she had overcome her fear of stage fright.

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Another student identified qualities that made up his identity in the fall. There are some details- likes thinking, drawing, and dancing, likes friends and to talk and chill and hang out, however the picture is very limited.

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This spring, we did another exercise to identify qualities that make up our identity, and here was his response. It is much more rich and full. It includes qualities that we worked on in our program—like choreographer, improviser, and artist. But it also includes many other rich ways that he engages in his own identity—teacher, teen, likes/loves to be a friend, loves to be in program, perfectionist, challenger, likes to color, Michael Jackson imitator, likes to be in roles—among his many responses.

Here is a link to the first half and second half of our movie, “The Dance Competition.” For both links USE THE PASSWORD: Telpochcalli

Here is one of the documentaries that the students worked on as a learning project.

How did your teacher/artist collaboration work this semester?

Again, like the fall, it was pretty fluid. Sarah and Gaby both bounce between roles in the classroom and give-and-take the lead during activities. Gaby has been teaching improvisation with Sarah for so long that she often demonstrates and takes the lead teaching exercises.

Both Sarah and Gaby lead during documentary-making, as both were figuring out how to teach it as they went. Sarah took the lead on filming the movie, and Gaby took the lead on designing props and adding visual art and costume elements to the movie.

Describe how you and your partner planned together. How did you compromise when there were conflicts or differences of approaches or ideas? Can you cite a specific example?

We talk though each lesson together, and we do longer-term planning as well. One area of challenge this winter and spring was that Sarah did not feel very confident in her abilities to teach documentary-making. However, when Gaby and Sarah reflected on the students’ exploration of identity in the fall and realize that we wanted to go deeper, and when we learned that the students wanted to make their own movies, Gaby thought that documentaries about identity could be a great way to explore those ideas together.

We were able to resolve this challenge through discussions that helped Sarah to re-frame the idea for herself. She had been thinking that she had to help the students produce a polished product in a limited amount of time. Once Gaby and Sarah had articulated that this would be a learning-project were we were less concerned with a polished end-product but that we would all be learning and exploring documentary-making and identity together, Sarah felt much better about the whole idea. And the project turned out to have a lot of value.

Describe how you teach together in the classroom. Who does what? How do you understand each other’s roles? Can you cite a specific example?

Honestly, it can be difficult to describe our roles because they are so fluid at this point after so many years of working together. Sarah sometimes manages the classroom, and sometimes Gaby does.

Sarah sometimes teaches art-content, and sometimes Gaby does. Both take the lead on reflection activities as well. Both have been teaching improvisation for many years together and understand the larger goals within that art form, and both go back-and-forth in their planning and teaching of those exercises. Both were learning how to teach documentary-making and planned and taught together. Sarah did take the lead on filming while Gaby took the lead on creating props with students in the classroom, but that was about the only clear division.

I think that one of the strongest parts of our relationship is that I believe we are both able to see when our partner is getting loaded-down- either by helping a individual student- or with an activity that requires more help in-general, and we both quickly jump in. It is rare that we even ask for help any more. The question that gets asked more is, “Can I help you with that?” Or often, there isn’t even the question, and the help just happens.