Bulb Archived: Waters SCALE 2016-2017: Johnson & Bean

Due January 27th:

Teacher: Olga Nuñez-Johnson

Artist: Emmy Bean 

School: Waters School 

Big Idea: Storytelling and Drama  

Inquiry Question: What tools can we use to adapt stories for performance in miniature (toy theater) and life-size (story theater)? 

Fall/Winter

Art Content: Improvised scenes, theater games, journaling, storyboarding, imaginary object work, drawing, singing, ensemble music (drumming), puppetry and cardboard-box maquettes. 

Non-Art Content: Reading, comprehension, review

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 learning goals for this year were to engage, explore, and experiment with storytelling through drama by reading stories and adapting them. We also wanted students to be able to think and create with theatrical awareness: how can you use different tools like music, puppetry, and your voice and body to tell a story? These goals would require students to work together and individually to sharpen their listening and group awareness, to problem-s0lve, and to channel their natural gifts of play into performance. 

We began with a book called Masterpiece that describes several famous works of visual art and the artists that created them. We used this book to introduce the students to the idea of a blank canvas, and all the things that can exist in a frame. The students made a collage together of different images they remembered from the artworks in the book. 

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Our Masterpiece collage, week 1. 

At the same time, we had in mind the goal of telling stories about future dreams/achieving a dream and representing those stories with objects and shadows. We quickly found that these concepts were too abstract for our group of students this year, and we reconfigured our plan to include more physical theater, large movement activities, music, and ensemble work. We played theater games like Mirror and Zip Zap Zop, and created still-picture tableaus with the kids to encourage them to connect with each other and work together to perform and respond to each other. We kept the original theme in our choice of storybooks, though, and read A Little Lump of Clay, Dream Something Big, Drum Dream Girl, Josephina the Great Collector, The Little Old Lady Who Wasn’t Afraid of Anything, and Just a Minute. All these stories tell about dreams and in the last two, a scarecrow and a skeleton as puppet/ghost characters. 

Once we had gotten the students on board with these ways of working, we introduced a new process model: the cardboard box maquette. This maquette, or diorama stage, was a tool that students could use in small groups (we divided the class into five groups of 3-4 students each) to design and perform scenes from their favorite stories that we had read, or create new scenes and stories all their own. 

The students have done really well with this so far in their small groups; they are dividing up roles and responsibilities and working hard to focus on the beginning, middle, and end of a story in order to tell it in a short puppet show format. 

We have also worked with music from the beginning of the year, using it as a tool for expression, illustrating a story’s mood or atmosphere, and encouraging call and response and unified full-body engagement in performance. 

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.

At least 85 percent of the students are definitely making progress toward the learning goals. Really, all of the students are making progress of one kind or another, but since they are all at very differently levels developmentally and age-wise, some are better able to show their work in these areas. The things that hold the students back from making progress are excess kinetic energy and a lack of focus. 

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.

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Students practice a clave rhythm after reading the book Drum Dream Girl. In this image, you can see students working pairs to make the two parts of the clave rhythm together, sharpening their listening and awareness of each other to make a beautiful sound together. 
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Students perform a scene at our holiday pizza party. This image shows students connecting in a moment of play that was shared by the audience as well – all three are aware and focused together on a single idea in performance. 
Inspired by the hashtag #mannequinchallenge, we created a still picture of an imaginary ballet class. Students used their bodies to communicate place and action. 
Clave practice as a group, using all rhythm instruments. Some students are more successful than others in playing the rhythm in time, but all are playing.
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Group play as a moment of communication – joy!
This trial run of a maquette-toy-theater scene showed that the students were not yet able to effectively script a scene with a beginning, middle, and end. This was a work in progress. 
This was another scene that the students had created – this one showed more structure in the storytelling (they had adapted the book Dream Something Big to include their feelings about the recent election). They were challenged in controlling their bodies and the position of the puppets, but their work showed promise. 

How did your teacher/artist collaboration work this semester?

We filled in gaps for each other when one could not be present, and checked in about students before and after class and during planning time. It was tricky in the beginning, because we were dealing with a very different class dynamic from last year’s group – this year’s group has a much more diverse set of learning needs and developmental levels. It was hard to keep on the same page with each other as our ideas were challenged and shifted, but when we met in person or spoke about our planning needs, we were able to recalibrate and get back on track.  

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?

Olga and I met at appointed times or spoke on the phone to make plans for the class time and talk about what was working and what wasn’t. One example of a compromise we made was in planning the games – I had lots of ideas about building a long arc of game-playing that would lead the kids to form a more cohesive ensemble, and spending time skill-building through each game. Because of this, I took lots of time with each one, and noticed that the students were not improving in their focus or their ability to connect with each other. Olga pointed out that because of their age, their attention spans are shorter, and they needed more games in a smaller amount of time, transitioning from one to the next and not spending a whole lot of time on any one single game. I continue to work on ensemble-building in the games now, but I spend less time on each one. 

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?

Olga and I used our complementary classroom management skills to keep things running this semester; Olga often provided the voice of inspiration in storytelling as she made the books come alive for the students and encouraged them to experience the stories with their voices and bodies as she told them. I focused more on techniques of theater and storytelling to help the students apply different tools to their projects and scenes: making specific choices, connecting with audience and other performers, and giving constructive feedback to each other about what they saw. Olga also has a presenter’s eye on creating sharing events that really showcase the work the students have done, and using the vision of those sharing events as a way to build the work together and make it happen. 

One recent example is the cardboard maquettes: I spent some time with the students in their groups getting them to understand and create scenes in the boxes, and was getting a little lost conceptually until Olga was able to envision a sharing event where the students could present short summary versions of the books they had read together in toy theater form, using the maquettes and puppets they were making. Once we both agreed on this format, it really united our different approaches in a common goal. 

Due May 31st:

Winter/Spring

Art Content: Improvised scenes, theater games, storyboarding, drawing, singing, ensemble music (drumming), overhead-projector shadow puppetry and cardboard-box maquettes. 

Non-Art Content: Reading, comprehension, review

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.)

This semester we continued in our learning goals to engage, explore, and experiment with storytelling through drama by reading stories and adapting them. We worked with the students in small groups to develop their cardboard-box maquettes and in March, we presented a sharing event in which they performed a puppet-show synopsis of five different stories we had read in class.

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Students perform a toy theater scene. 
Rehearsal of toy theater adaptation of the story The Little Old Lady Who Wasn’t Afraid of Anything
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Families and friends gather for the sharing. 

In April, we started work with shadows, using small lamps and the cardboard maquettes. Each group worked together to create shadows using their hands and paper cutouts, and they experimented with light, color, movement, and music. 

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Students create hand shadows to tell a story. 
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Students experiment using paper puppets and light. 

On April 20, two members of the shadow theater company Manual Cinema visited our class and led a workshop in overhead-projector shadow puppetry. This workshop was a great event and gave the students insight and hands-on experience with storyboarding and creating a shadow story using a new tool (the overhead projector). 

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Sarah Fornace and Julia Miller of Manual Cinema work with students to demonstrate shadow puppet and live-action techniques using the overhead projector. 
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Students perform a scene with Manual Cinema’s puppets and backgrounds. 
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Julia Miller shows a student how to operate a transparent background on the overhead projector. 

After this workshop, the students worked as a group in our remaining weeks to put together a series of scenes from the book Drum Dream Girl, using the overhead projector and live music they made to accompany.

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Students perform a scene with their own shadow puppets on the projector. 
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Dragon dance from Drum Dream Girl
Rehearsal with moving projection
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Student explains some of our work to the families gathered at the final sharing
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Students rehearse a song for our final sharing
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Drum Dream Girl in performance
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Drum Dream Girl in performance

We observed that the students really grew in creative expression over the course of this semester, and that the skills they had developed in group work and in puppetry became a foundation that they built in in our final project. They were able to work together and support each other in making beautiful images and performance using the tools they had developed over the course of several months.

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.

We estimate that about 80% of the students made progress in their learning goals this semester. Those who did not show significant progress were the students who had been performing at a high level from the start and were mostly 3rd graders. Those who showed progress were growing in their ability to manage working relationships with other students, to organize information and present it, and to translate their thoughts and ideas into images and performance. Some of these students were overcoming challenges with literacy, social-emotional issues, or just shyness, and showed real progress according to parents and teachers by the end of the year. We could also see their progress in the result of the final sharing, in which all students pulled together to create, to lead, and to combine their ideas and skills into a multimedia performance.

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.

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Students collaborate in mirroring each other’s body language and gestures – building relationships and communication skills.
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Students take turns using shadows, puppets, and light to create theatrical effects – listening, watching, and performing. 
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Students worked at a wide range of levels and were not always able to focus! 

How did your teacher/artist collaboration work this semester?

We had some challenges this semester but were able to work through them together in the end. As a nursing mother, Emmy had to take time out at the beginning of classes (while kids were having snack) to pump, which, after some time, we worked out by meeting beforehand and checking in about the day’s plan for class. One unexpected challenge was Olga’s absence for jury duty for the month of April. Ms. Papa did a great job filling in and was a big help as Emmy continued to work with the kids, but it was a significant change for the class in those weeks. Olga was able to get time off from the courthouse for the day of the Manual Cinema workshop and this made a big difference in our ability to continue the overhead projector work with the kids. We made it a point to plan ahead of time how the class would proceed and checked in when Olga returned about the progress we had made and how to continue afterwards. We are proud of the way we talked through our challenges, both logistical and in our different approaches to teaching and art-making. We each brought our own thoughts and approaches, and worked to compromise on the projects we undertook in class. 

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?

One specific compromise was when we had a moment in class before our first sharing when the kids were rehearsing; they had some challenges in the scene, getting the narration in the right order and coordinating puppet movement. Emmy thought it was important for them to keep going despite their mistakes, and Olga wanted to help them in the moment to remember the correct order so they could feel more successful in performance. This created a moment of conflict, and we talked through it later, presenting our different understandings of the situation to each other and agreeing to communicate more clearly ahead of time and in the moment if the situation arose again. 

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?

Olga maintains the expectations and familiar practices of a Waters classroom, and helps the students to navigate the literature with lots of great tools and connections that make the reading a really fun and engaging activity for them. Emmy provides musical and theatrical tools that push the students to collaborate in imaginative play, and to bring their reading to life by working together to perform with it. 

One example of this is developing narration for the students in their toy theater plays in small groups. Olga really helped the students to translate the events of the storybooks into dramatic narration and dialogue that communicated clearly to the audience. Emmy worked with those same groups to choreograph their movements and create puppets that would give visual representation to the story.