I have been leading student projects and performances using Devised and Collaborative Theater for awhile, more so in the last five years. It’s exciting to watch the kids go from “Huh?” to going through creating something with me, and then forming small groups where my only job is to observe, comment, and give positive CONSTRUCTIVE critique. I am not the Director/Teacher in this process, but a guide to help them look at their work through their own creative voices.
The students become: director, playwright, casting person, dance/movement choreographers, and the performers. The feedback they get (see Critiquing: Doug Lipman and Liz Lerman) lets them take in different POVs with no arguments or being defensive comments allowed. They then go revise, rehearse, revise again if need be, and present again. Any final tweaks for a performance fall under my domain, but again, they are still suggestions. It does the students no good if I tell them what they are supposed to do every step of the way.
I just finished a nine session project with Fourth Grade students in the NYC public school system. There was some amazing collaborative work happening, creative and critical thinking, ownership of material, taking on new skill sets in communications, and having FUN in school while learning! That is an important component, to me, that a number of people don’t embrace. If I could make the learning fun, interesting and engaging-and the students learn and grow from it-why wouldn’t you want to have fun and want to go to school?
Walking into an ongoing classroom a little more than half the school year through has it’s problems. Trying to introduce theater vocabulary and techniques to get your project moving in the right direction takes time, especially if the students have never had Drama classes. Team Teaching has it’s own sets of hurdles. The classroom teacher could be the supportive partner you’ve dreamed of (and I’ve had many like that) and then there are those who were forced into having you there by the Principal. They may say the right things in meetings, but in actual practice it’s another matter. Luckily, this type does not happen (with me) all that often, but, sadly for the students, it does happen now and then.
Really, that is what this is all about: what do the students get out of the work. We may miss the mark of the goal, there might be variations from what the expectations started out to be, but in the end, the question is: what did the students get out of it that they can use? A true partnership will help shape the work during the time the Teaching Artist is not there, integrating the ideas brought forward, making connections and extending them and using them so that that once a week visit is an ongoing learning experience. When it’s dropped the second the TA leaves the room and not advanced until the following week,well… a TA still has to do the best he/she can do.
It’s about the students. That should not be forgotten at any time.
Tomorrow, I’ll talk more about the work with my 4th Graders.