School Name: Telpochcalli
Teacher Name: Gaby Nunez-Crain
Teaching Artist Name: Emmy Bean and Sarah Goeden (Emmy and Sarah are splitting the year of teaching, as Sarah is having a baby in January)
Big Idea: Music and Stories Connect Us
Inquiry: How can music and theatre promote dialogue between generations?
1. Planning: What interests and curiosities were brought to the planning by each of you?
Teaching Artist response: Emmy and Sarah were both interested in empowering students and addressing their social-emotional needs through theatre. Additionally, they are both interested in helping students and their families to feel safe and valued in the current political environment. They are interested in finding public places for their students’ and their families’ stories and music to be expressed in order to help make connections between generations and to validate the voices in their community.
2. The Project: Tell the story of your project. What happened in the classroom? To help us explore our inquiry, for our first project we planned to gather stories from our students and their families and to turn those stories into a performance for other students in SCALE after school and for our students’ families. Our students are in 1st through 4th grade, so to start off, we talked about the idea of inquiry in class and played some games to explore questioning and observing. We also did acting exercises to get to know and trust each other and to explore the concept of nonfiction. We sent out an invitation to the families of our students, asking them to share their own personal stories, and we started to tell true stories in class. We used the book, “Family Pictures/ Cuadros de Familia,” by Carmen Lomas Garza as a launch pad for our stories. We did more exercises in class to work on acting techniques to apply to storytelling, and finally, we created a show from our stories and shared them with both SCALE students and our students’ families. After the performance, we had a discussion with parents about connections that they had to the stories that they saw, and we also recorded the parents telling some additional stories, inspired by their connections.
3. How did you check in throughout the project to plan and adjust plans as the project unfolded? Gaby and Sarah had weekly meetings together, and Sarah, Gaby, and Emmy came to a number of meetings and classes so that the three of us could collaborate together. When we needed to adjust plans in larger ways, we talked about it at the meetings. Sometimes with a class of 1st through 4th graders bringing their energy and experiences after school, we also needed to adjust our plan in the moment. In those cases, we would find a moment while teaching to talk together to readjust, or sometimes we would talk about our plan in front of the students and figure it our all together. We have been conscious this year of the fact that we are role models for our students and have been working to model a constructive collaborative environment. Because of this, we believe it can be beneficial to have discussions with our teaching partner and students together about problems as they come up and where we want the class to go and about how we can all work the best as a team together to do that.
As the year continued, Emmy came in with some project ideas involving shadows and small cardboard-box theaters, but it turned out this was not a workable project for the group. We changed direction and began to work on a cantastoria – a story with painted pictures and music that is performed for a group. This change of plans was a good move, and we were able to take our cues from the students and their interests, needs, abilities, and preferences. We still kept our family stories theme throughout, using the kids’ ideas about how families celebrate birthdays to incorporate in our cantastoria.
4. What are the conflicts, contradictions or challenges of your teacher/artist collaboration?
Teaching Artist response: One challenge this year is the age of our students. Gaby and Sarah have taught together for years, but they haven’t taught a group that was this young before. Additionally, Sarah and Gaby and Emmy are all collaborating together. We fortunately have a lot of overlap in terms of our interests and what inspires us to be teachers, but I think we are all stretching outside of our comfort zones in order to create a class that comes from the ideas of all three of us. Sarah and Gaby haven’t explored nonfiction with students of this age before, and that has lead to its own discoveries and challenges- challenges like how to collect and share true stories from students when many of them are writing at an early education level, how to explore the concept of inquiry and non-fiction together, all while keeping students engaged and interested in an after school environment after a long day of learning. I think it has lead us all to think and adapt on our feet more this year and to invent new games to help us explore stories and concepts.
Also, coming in midway through the year, Emmy was challenged to adapt her ideas and ways of working to a new classroom setting that was already underway. Some challenges arose because of the age level and diverse abilities of the kids in the room – a project or task that might take one student 20 minutes to do could take several class periods for another. Emmy’s limited Spanish also created some gaps in the learning environment, where Gaby and Shaina filled in very generously. It was a learning process to adjust to the pace and rhythm of the class, but Gaby and Emmy found their groove as a partnership before long.
5. What are you learning as a result of collaborating with one another in terms of teaching and art making?
Teaching Artist response: Through discussions with Gaby and Emmy, Sarah is inventing more adaptations in theatre games in order to teach and explore the concepts in their program. She has found that teaching the students through play first, then through reflection, engage these particular students best. She is also creating some new games around the ideas of inquiry and non-fiction in order to engage the students and she and Gaby are exploring how to create a culture to help students grow in the roles of both storyteller and listener.
Emmy’s entry into the class brought new games as well as songs and music-making, which Gaby welcomed and supported. Gaby’s strong practice of leading the students with consistency and also listening and incorporating their thoughts and opinions really influenced the direction of the class as well. Gaby’s leadership made room for the students to help each other and show their own talents and strengths through the projects that Emmy introduced. This was especially apparent in the painting stages of the cantastoria, and when the students voted to make masks for a play as their final project.
6. How has the community-focused component of the project contributed to or challenged your teacher/artist collaboration?
Teaching Artist response: The community-focused component of our project lead to changes in our plan for our first project. We assumed that when we asked parents and families to write a story to share with us or to come in and record a story that we would get a number of responses. Only one parent responded with a story for us, and that was after we followed up with parents on a number of occasions. We are not sure exactly why this happened, but we came out believing that it was even more important to collect and share these families’ voices. We had been planning on using these stories for our first project (where Sarah was the teaching artist) and to launch into our second project (where Emmy will be the teaching artist), so all three teachers needed to come together and form a new plan. We decided to make the first presentation out of stories from our students alone, and to try and collect some parent stories while the parents were still there after our presentation, and after they had been discussing connections to stories together, in the hopes that we would be able to get some more responses. We emerged from the presentation with three additional recorded stories from the families of our students- which will hopefully inspire our second project and will hopefully lead to even more stories and connections within our families’ community.
In the second half of the year, we did not make direct use of these recorded stories in our continued project. Instead we focused on adapting our project to the students needs and abilities by including lots of games and physical play in our teaching time, and creating components of the project that involved music, painting, drawing, and cardboard construction, all of which made use of the students’ interests and talents in tactile, kinesthetic forms. We also played theater games that made use of improvisation, storytelling, and emotional literacy, finding ways to help students communicate through humor, silliness, and listening.
We were happy to involve the families and our classroom community in our final sharing, where students shared their masks and talked about the projects they enjoyed throughout the year.