I had the amazing privilege to teach with one of the best teachers in the world last year. While we taught together, she provided me with inspiration – for my classroom and my blog – like no one else I’ve ever taught with. Luckily for you guys, she has agreed to periodically share with us what is going on in her classroom. Today is the first edition of Checkin’ in with Courtney. For more of Courtney’s awesomeness, you can check our her class Weebly.
I have both attended and taught in schools that value that final, glittery production far over the process of theatre. Being that my first true love is theatre, this pains me. Luckily, I decided to change the course of my life in April of my senior year in high school. I broke the news to my parents and auditioned for a conservatory program in theatre arts. Although I later went back to school for teaching, I spent years performing (and plan to continue) before, during, and after the start of my teaching career. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that productions with parent-made costumes, purchased props and premade sets aren’t enjoyable, but you have to ask yourself, “How much of this was created by the kids?” and “Are the children enjoying it, or are they stressing over remembering that one line they just couldn’t memorize?”
I heard a drama teacher once say to young students on the stage, “You can’t start acting until you memorize your lines!” From that day forward I vowed to empower children with the love of and culture of theatre. This year I am teaching Y5-7 (grade 4-6) drama. I wanted their first performance to contain all of the theater elements, to be stress free and most importantly to MATTER TO THEM. I decided that we would focus on The Rights of the Child and that we would perform during our morning meeting on United Nations Day. Additionally, I planned that the kids would write their own scripts, make their own props and use their scripts on the stage. From the beginning I told them it would be a staged reading. With this, they learned that not all productions have to be memorized. (My first paying gig was a staged reading, in which I held my script on stage). This lesson also helped them to understand:
1.You indeed can act with a piece of paper in your hand.
2. You must hold the paper low so that it does not hide your face and muffle your voice.
3. You can lose yourself in the character and not worry about which line comes next.
Over four 40-minute lessons, the students worked in groups of 2 or 3. They each selected one of the children’s rights to focus on. They created roles and cast classmates in their skits, made necessary props, wrote a 2-minute skit and practiced basic blocking and acting on the stage. From this came some of the best work I have seen. Today was the first day everyone held the scripts on stage and we practiced for the meeting later this week. We just needed one 40-minute rehearsal! Not only did they act without nerves and insecurities, they constructively critiqued each other as audience members.
This group focused on the right to have a birth certificate (they went to sign their five year old up for Kindergarten and were rejected for not having a birth certificate).
The next group set the stage with three students typing on kid-made, paper laptops, two evil teachers lurk behind them and throw two of the students into “the vault”, the third student researches on the computer and finds out that children should not be punished in a way that hurts or humiliates them, they call the police, and the skit ends with the students teaching the audience the rights of the child.
The last group set their skit in the Ukraine where two children are playing outside. Soldiers come and take the children. A policewoman near by sees what is happening, frees the kids and tells the audience that children have the right to play.
In the end, I think their performances were far more profound than some can be. It is not always about the glitz and glamour…sometimes it is about kids- learning, processing, creating….and HAVING FUN!