The only bad thing about loving your job is that it really cuts into your blogging time. It’s been a long time since I’ve updated so I’m going to highlight a few of the bigger happenings in the last few years. We’ve done some amazing shows, and the drama curriculum is going strong. I was selected to be on the advisory committee to rewrite and revise the Illinois State Theatre Standards for K-12. It’s been great, but let’s talk boxes. Specifically, this box:
Here’s the story.
Three years ago, our school had an overabundance of new students. This meant that the classroom space I was using needed be used for other things. I became a traveling teacher. Many arts teachers know the woes of traveling from class to class. It’s not fun pushing all the things you might need for a day’s worth of classes around a building. Especially an old building with 4 floors and no elevator. You can either work for the cart or make the cart work. I chose the later.
As a drama teacher, I hold myself to a very high standard of ‘not-quite-normal.’ So I took an old foot locker that carted my stuff in my early twenties and made this beautiful beast.
It had wheels, shelves, room for supply bags, a mini-projector, and a tricked out bluetooth audio system powered by a car amplifier and a cell phone battery pack. I was pretty proud. With a little effort, I could hoist it on my shoulder for stairs, and wheel it down the hall to rest my back. Fast forward two years and some really strong shoulder muscles, and I got a classroom back! It was a little small, and there are pipes and duct work on the ceiling, but I love it. Thanks to DonorsChoose and an incredibly generous community, I was awarded a grant to turn the humble little drama room into a black box studio theatre space!
Over the summer some great drama students came in and helped paint the room from white to black and we installed some small, cheap, amazon dj LED lights that work perfectly for the drama curriculum. We can develop performances in class and invite audiences to showcase our work. It doesn’t hurt that it will be much harder to give the room away in the future. At any rate, I’m super excited about this year and all the places we will go!
We work in an old building. The students create, plan, design, and execute performances in what is arguably the oldest school on the north side of Chicago. We share a stage with the school’s gym as well as cafeteria, so clearly there are some issues.
Well, many issues. As we have upgraded the quality of our performances, one particular issue kept rising to the top of our “to fix” list. Whether we were putting on a full play/musical, a quarterly showcase, or even hosting a touring performance, the backstage crew had no way of communicating with our light and sound crew across the cafegymatorium. Walkie talkies could work, but the ingoing/outgoing tone wouldn’t be able to be masked for the audience. Headsets are expensive and have the same problem, as the students would have to vocally speak to each other (the light/sound booth is in an open loft space above the gym floor). So we were left with the question of how to make sure the crew can communicate with the least amount of disruption to the audience as possible.
Enter the chromebooks!
A few years ago, I applied for a DonorsChoose to get 10 Chromebooks to use in my classes for research, documentation, and assessment. If you’re not familiar with Chromebooks, they’re amazing. Simple, inexpensive and can do 98% of anything you might need a regular laptop to do and they connect to each student’s google account.
Anyway, I had an idea to use the Chromebooks to allow the students to chat with each other during the show to make sure cues could be called, and problems solved beforehand. I had hoped to use Google’s chat platform, Hangouts, but sadly, our school district blocks that service.
I then decided to go with Google Docs. Here’s the great part, a doc can be shared to multiple people where they can collaborate and edit it. So I made a template of a document with columns for each of the areas that I wanted to stay in communication and voila!
Each time anyone updates something, it automatically appears on the document in real time. So, each section of the document can type cues, issues (generally praise) for the whole group to see. I can even keep track of all of the communication on my phone. I have to say, it works like a charm and has for a number of shows. Google to the rescue.
Through the characters in the story, the kindergarten class has been learning about the culture of an entire country! In drama we have been focusing on this folktale to help enhance the Inquiry work they are doing in the classroom as they learn about the people, places and cultures of Brazil. While this type of arts integration is not at all uncommon here at Ravenswood, the scale at which the art teacher, dance teacher and myself dive into such integration can mean only one thing....IT'S THE WORLD'S FAIR!
Every year Ravenswood holds a grand event in which each class or grade level chooses a country and studies the culture of that country through guided inquiry units led by the classroom teacher. Each class, from pre-k to 8th grade, studies the people, history, environment and stories for weeks on end. The students then take what they have learned and synthesize their knowledge into presentations, artifacts, or consumable items for the rest of the school. Then, on one magical day, the classrooms open up their learning for all to see and the students and teachers travel around the school and experience the best of what each class discovered, carnival style. It's pretty awesome and I love it.
So, for the past few weeks, the Arts Team has been gathering materials and resources, and guiding the classes through our own units of Inquiry as we talk with the teachers and find ways our methods and information can elegantly combine. There is a constant hustle and bustle of energy as we learn, create, build, paint, perform, reflect, re-create, etc. It's a lot of work, but it's even more fun.
In drama, we use the stories from the class' culture of study and combine it with a theatre skill. The end result is a collaborative and educational experience that allows the students to dive deep into many levels of subject matter through all of their many intelligences.
This brings me back to the beetle. Kindergarten was studying Brazil, and it just so happens that there is an amazing folktale describing how the Brazil Beetle came by it's many colors. If you're so inclined, you can check out the story here. This opened up a fantastic opportunity to engage in the social-emotional aspects of the story, but also to introduce the concepts of design to the kindergarten students.
After analyzing the characters' choices in role, we asked ourselves, "what would my beetle coat look like?," and "how can I turn my ideas into a costume?"
The students were given a blank picture of a beetle, they they designed the type of "coat" they would want the beetle to where. They were tasked with explaining to me and the class, why their beetle character would display the colors they chose? After that, the students took their designs and transferred them to wearable costumes! It was an exciting process and seeing their creativity come to life is always a highlight of my day!
Just another of the many reasons why being a drama teacher is the best job in the world!
For anyone interested in using this unit, or just reading it for fun's sake, you are welcome to download it here and use/change anything that might work better for you. If you'd like to use any of the documents (face template, historical documents, etc) you are more than welcome to message me through the website and I would be happy to share whatever I have.
All in all, I was really excited to do this unit with the students for a number of reasons. First of all, I love theatre make up. It is actually the first thing I was involved in for a play and introduced me to the magic of the theatrical process! Second, it emphasizes the process of design which has so many connections with skills they use in other subjects that Common Core would bust at the seams with joy if it had seams with which to bust. I was also really excited to introduce the students to a new (to them) form of group work that I felt would push their collaboration skills to the next level.
For this unit, the student worked in groups to learn about the history, origin, and traditions of Dia de los Muertos. They also learned some of the main tools of make up application and design. To do this we used a grouping technique called Jigsawing, which you can learn more about here, which has the students break into two types of groups. The learning group and the subject group. In groups of 4-5, the learning groups all choose a different subject to study (in this case: Origin, Tradition, History, Make Up Technique, and Script Reading). Then the learning groups break up into the subject groups (where everyone in that group is learning the same thing) and they study the material together. They take notes and quiz each other on content. The next step is the most fun for me to watch. The students meet back in their learning groups, but now each member of the group is an "expert" on a different topic, and it is their responsibility to teach the rest of the learning group what they know. It was amazing to see the groups working together so collaboratively and taking such ownership over their own learning!
For the remainder of the unit, the students worked on make up designs based on the candy skull concept. After their designs were complete they were finally able to begin practicing the application portion of the unit, which is probably the most fun for them but I still like the part where they are at the height of the learning and collaborating. What can I say, I'm a nerd like that. Below are some pictures of the classes at work. Enjoy and thanks for reading!
amazing to see so many people coming together to show support for a school. That was a Sunday. The very next day, a few drama classes looked like this!
The students were all incredibly excited to try out the new classroom/performance space. Our lesson in the pictures above revolved around the concept of making observations with our ears. Artists observe the world around them and use those observations with their own imagination to create something. As the year progresses, we will explicitly practice observing with all of our senses in order to become more keen observers and more effective theatre artists. In the mean time, I'm going to use the amphitheater as often as humanly possible. I'll leave you with a tableau vivant (living picture) from a fourth grade class.
Welcome back everybody! It has been an amazing summer and a wonderful first week of school. I am so excited to get the year going full steam. There is a lot go know about what Ravenswood Drama has in store so hold on to your hats.
First of all, I would like to cordially invite anyone who can come to our new playground opening on September 14th. From what I understand, it is going to be quite a spectacle. The newly constructed playground has plenty to show off just by itself. From softer turf covering more of the space than before, to really tempting climbing structures and even an amazingly eco-friendly water run-off and re-use system. However, the main attraction (in my opinion) is the stunning new outdoor amphitheater embedded in the playground itself.
I can't wait for spring to do some Greek plays with the 5th graders. It will also make an excellent outdoor classroom when I have to leave my drama space and travel from class to class as the students take a computer based test three times a year.
In other news, the year has begun and things are off to a great start! I couldn't be happier with our middle school electives schedule. For three of the four quarters, the arts team and I teach specific classes to a mixed middle school group. The middle schoolers get to choose their courses for the year on the first day of class. My first quarter class is going to produce, rehearse and perform this year's fall play! The hope with this is to allow some of the students that have very busy after school schedules a chance to participate in the play. It also gives us a chance to have more consistent rehearsals in the mornings four days a week. I think it will work out great and I have to admit that I have an amazing group of students. The next two quarters will be: Intro to Design (Costume and Set) and the Puppetry. Have I mentioned how excited I am for this year?
I also have a DonorsChoose going right now to help drama get some chromebooks to use for research, online portfolio making, and much more. I frequently use Edmodo with the older classes to help us keep track of assignments, journal, and collaborate. I love it. As I mentioned above, I also travel from class to class for about two weeks, three times a year because I share a space with the computer lab and I'm sure the students taking their tests wouldn't be able to do their best with a loud playreading or drama game going on 20 feet away. It is certainly not the ideal situation for anyone, as it is tricky to move all of my materials around, but we do what we must until a better option comes around. The chromebooks would help during these times by giving me a mobile station that I can bring to the classrooms loaded with resources for our lessons. If you have a chance, click the DonorsChoose link above and check out my page!
Ravenswood also welcomes our new Dance teacher, Ms. Christine Reed into the arts team. I have been able to see her teach a few times and I couldn't imagine a better teacher to join our team. The students are going love her classes and she will help bring Ravenswood to a whole new level. It is also incredibly exciting to see how many teachers have embraced the notion of integrating their curriculum with Ms. Reed. As a school that focus on arts integration in general, we strive to make sure that the arts are a part of each student's learning process. The art teacher, new dance teacher, and myself work tirelessly to create academically connected experiences in our classes, while at the same time, the classroom teachers work to create artistically connected experiences in their rooms. Having such an amazing staff that is ready and willing to collaborate with the arts team is amazing.
Lastly, I wanted to give a brief description of what a drama class looks like at the beginning of the year. At the beginning of every year, the main focus for my (and I'm sure other) drama class is to create a sense of ensemble. After the students know where I keep the markers and how to appropriately ask to go the restroom or line up, we work extensively on creating an environment in which the students feel safe (emotional, psychologically, and physically) , creative, and collaborative. In Theatre we call this an ensemble. This is the ground work that makes a classroom a team and without it,there can be no authentic process or production.
So, how do we create that sense of ensemble? Well, sometimes we put sticks on our heads.
I promise this is completely pedagogically sound. In this activity, the students are given the task walk around the room while connected to another student with a meter stick. The goal is to talk to their partner to keep each other from running into anyone or anything. The best part for me is watching the students become so comfortable communicating that they are able to maneuver under other students meter-stick-bridge. After a few minutes, we stop and discuss the challenges and connections of the activity, then the students must repeat the activity without using the meter stick but still keeping the same distance between them and their partner. It is an entire different feeling to have no physical contact but try to maintain a connection! After a brief discussion again, we then create more distance, going from one meter to two, then four, the EIGHT (guesstimated of course). The activity is for experiencing, the reflection is understanding.
There are many books with many more activities devoted to the same purpose, and we spend the first few weeks doing as many as I think it will take to create a cohesive group that can collaborate throughout the year. Once the students are effective collaborators, there is really no limit to what we can achieve. In the words of Sir Isaac Newton, "I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." Together, we make each other giants.
Well, it has happened again. I've managed to put of blogging for so long that all I have time for now is quick review. So here it goes.
As a school we have welcomed two new administrators into our Ravenswood Family and I couldn't be happier. Our new principal Mr. Manaen began last fall and hit the ground running. Shortly after his arrival we got a new assistant principal, Mrs Underwood. It was a difficult time dealing with all of the transitions. Previous principal, Mrs. Connolly was a wonderful supporter and advocate of the arts and it was hard to see her go. As tricky as transitions can be, I can't imagine a better team of administrators to take on the mantle of leaders as we received with Mr. Manaen and Mrs. Underwood. I am certainly excited to be a part of the bright future with our new Ravenswood family.
As a drama class, we have had some exciting times as well. The middle school electives program we have implemented this year has been amazing. In the second quarter we focused on monologues and acting. For those of you who don't know, it is TERRIFYING performing for an audience all by yourself. I was so proud of all of the students in the middle school electives class as they gave their final performances at the end of quarter. They each did a phenomenal job. Next we have been working on directing. I have to admit, it's a hard enough thing to teach, but learning how to direct a scene/play is even harder. There is so much that goes into the process from choosing a text, to developing a concept, to creating a ground plan, creating blocking (the stage movements) for the actors, then implementing that blocking and changing it all when you realize that it doesn't look right, all the while maintaining communication with the actors, designers, and producer (yours truly). It was a monumental feat for the students, but I am very happy with the results.
It has been wonderful to watch the students learn and impressive to see them think in a completely new modality using so many skills at once.
Early elementary has also been on a roll. Recently we have incorporated costumes into our drama class. The objective was to create characters using a costume piece and collaborate with a group to make a short scene.
So how is this different from playing dress up? Great question! In this unit we focus on two things: the story (this is were the experience takes) and the reflection (this is where the learning takes place). The costumes provide an external inspiration for the story, as well as being totally fun. After each performance the students reflect on the process for the rest of the class and the class then asks questions. Right now, this is just a kindergarten unit, but costumes will begin to be used in drama centers later in the year.
I know I say "Stay tuned for more" quite a lot. There sure is more amazing drama tales to tell. I can only hope that time allows for more blogging. But before I go, don't forget to come out to the school (as you are able) on April 10th for our Spring Musical Performance of Charlotte's Web! Till next time.
First of all, I have to compliment and thank everyone who had a part in making the Fall production of Boo: Thirteen Scenes From Halloween a huge success. From the cast and crew to the teachers, and parents, the play was wonderful because of the help of this amazing learning community. Especially the set design elective class that worked incredibly hard to finish up all of the last minute details for the play. To the left you can see a student finishing a portrait of a character that was used onstage. We were able to find ALL of the props we needed for the show! Which reminds me, if you donated props and would like them back, just shoot me an email through the contact form and I'll be sure to find a way to get them to you.
Along with the play, the rest of the first quarter has been phenomenal as well! So how have the students been learning about and through drama? I'm glad you asked! One the first things we started off doing this year was increasing our awareness of the five senses. The goal with this is to come to a deeper understanding of how our senses work together to observe the world around us. This increases our Aesthetic Perception which will lead us into more meaningful portrayals of characters, stories, and designs.
Fourth and fifth grade went on a sensory walk in which they closed their eyes, or were blindfolded, and were guided around the room with a partner and experienced different senses. Some students were able to quickly guess what they were experiencing, and some came pretty close. The interesting point here is that all of the students were able to relate certain senses with emotions and memories!
Creating those sensory experiences really helped the students with the next steps from this quarter. We moved on to spatial awareness and movement with kindergarten through second grade and character development and pantomime with third through fifth. One lesson that sticks out in my mind at the moment involved one of the classes that created short scenes based on the theme of a poem. In order to do this, the students needed to 1) Understand what theme means, 2) Analyze and dissect a poem to discover the theme, 3) Synthesize that theme into a story, 4) Collaborate with their peers in small groups, 5) Rehearse, 6) Perform their scene. Have I mentioned how brilliant these kids are? I was too enthralled in watching them process this to take any pictures, unfortunately, but trust me- it was AWESOME!
Third grade has been diligently creating plays based the Native American tribes they have been studying in their social studies class. It is really interesting to see how their drama skills have progressed over the years. If you remember, or have read previous blogs, these third graders learned how to write and perform their own short plays last year. I was very pleased to hear from their classroom teacher that those skills have translated into some impressively sophisticated drama pieces this year. You should have seen my face when one of the groups KILLED OFF A CHARACTER due to starvation! What floored me was that the students didn't do it jokingly, but rather addressed the issue with as much gravity as the characters would have in the story.
There is so much more to tell about this last quarter, I don't think I would be able to blog about all of it one sitting. I would, however, like to leave you with a video of a second grade project. This will be blog in and of itself, but the teaser is this:
Science + Drama + Shadow Puppetry + A Projector =
The show is coming fast! Thank you to the students, parents, faculty and staff that are helping us put this fall play together. As we are finalizing the set and gathering props, there are a few items that we still need. I am sending this letter to see if anyone has, and can donate/lend, some items for the play. We need
All items were found! Thank you Ravenswood Community.
As donations come in, feel free to let me know if you would like the items back and I will set them aside after the last performance. You can send items with the students to rehearsal, leave them in the office, or bring them up to the drama room before or after school.
Again, thank you all so much for helping us put up the fall play! We couldn't do it without you! Sincerely,
It's no surprise to those of you who have seen Ravenswood in action that our school is amazing. Now, there is documented data to support what we all knew! In as brief a way as I know, I'd like to explain a little bit about what all of this data means.
Last year, CPS came out with it's Arts Plan in which great steps were made to ensure that all students in CPS get the dynamic and essential arts education that they deserve. In order to track the progress of schools giving this education, CPS came up with a rating system to determine how schools are doing. On a scale from 1 to 5 (1=Excelling, 2=Strong, 3=Developing, 4=Emerging, 5=Incomplete Data) each school in CPS was given a category to describe where they are in the process. I'll give you 3 seconds to guess how Ravenswood did. 3.....2.....1.....
This means that Ravenswood Elementary School is dedicated to the full, diverse, and rigorous arts education of every student that walks through our doors. We strive to provide a meaningful and creative experience day in and day out. We look to our community, arts partners, faculty and staff to push our practice and pedagogy to be the best that it can be.
So, here is the information all of this comes from.
That, as they say, is that.