Objectives 101

Some of my better ideas in teaching are ones I’ve come up with spontaneously. Today was a day like that. I was teaching my college level Introduction to Theatre students some basic textual analysis skills– choosing objectives being a major discussion point. I make an effort in all my teaching to mix up groupings of students whenever possible, and today after modeling choosing objectives for one of Beneatha’s monologues from A Raisin in the Sun, I split the group up into the men and the women. The men worked on one of Rafe’s monologues from Windshook and the women worked on one of Lily Dale’s monologues from Lily Dale from The Orphans Home Cycle. They had to collaborate to reach a consensus about where they thought each beat in the text was located and on a strong objective for each one. After they did this, an idea came to me, mainly out of an interest to involve as many students as possible in the performing of the monologues at the end, rather than to just have one group member present to the class. I asked each student to take a different beat and perform their section with that objective in mind. So we had 5 Lily Dale’s in a line, each taking their turn to present the collective work of the group. I found it so effective in that the students weren’t pressured to perform all the hills and valleys of the piece, but just to focus in on the notion of a single objective. It kind of exaggerated the notion that each beat is a unit unto itself. Plus it was super-theatrical having 5 people all performing as the same person (definitely want to explore that for directing possibilities some day)… Most of all the structure of the activity required cooperative work and a sense of “product” beyond the heavy process-feeling of studying textual analysis.

Another activity I did recently was to have students create one or two person tableaux demonstrating character who has a particular objective. I find new actors often take a while getting their minds around what an objective is and is not, and just brainstorming potential objectives that could fit any character– and then exploring it from a nonverbal angle seems to help with that a lot.

Question for the World: Do you teach beats (or units), objectives, and superobjectives? How do you do it? What pitfalls have you run into with teaching this content?

Do Kids Read Anymore?

Today I taught a group of elementary school students as described in my previous “tableaux” post. My drama work with this particular group was supposed to connect to literacy in some way, as is often the case. So when we got to the part where the students get in small groups to create a tableaux about a story they’ve heard or read, I found it disturbing how many of them simply could not think of a SINGLE book they had ever been familiar with. “Can’t we do a movie?” they asked. Sometimes I run into groups that have a really hard time deciding on a particular story everyone can agree on, but this group of kids could not even get that far.

When I was student teaching third grade I remember working with a Chinese version of Little Red Riding Hood, and discovering when it came time to compare the two versions it became clear that less than half of the class knew the story. The nursery rhymes and fairy tales that I grew up with are simply not a part of a lot of kids’ childhoods these days. Maybe, as this article considers, books (per se) have less value in kids’ lives today. I think it’s sad that so many children are growing up without stories, and my lesson planning definitely has to be adjusted in light of this fact.

Question for the World: Have you run into this before? Do you think kids read less today than they used to? Does students’ lack of familiarity with nursery rhymes and fairy tales impact your work? What should be done?

Tableaux

This week I’ve been working as a teaching artist for a program that brings elementary school classes from different towns, pairs up the kids as buddies, and  then the buddies do enrichment activities together throughout the year. My assignment has been to “teach tableau,” something that seems to come up often in the life of a theatre educator with this age group. So it got me thinking, are there ways of “teaching tableau” that I have yet to discover?

Here’s the way I’ve been teaching the third graders I’ve been working with this week:

1.  I lead movement activities that highlight making shapes that are “high,” “medium,” or “low.”

2. – I guide students through a game of “Sculpture.” One by one students come into the center of the room to create a frozen shape. I tell the students that a dynamic sculpture will have a mix of high, medium, and low shapes that connect to each other in some way. I ask each new student to find a way for their frozen shape to touch another’s. When all students have joined the Sculpture, I give it a title. Then I pull individual students out of the sculpture and they each get to decide on a title for the evolving new creation.

3. I have partners play Artist and the Clay. One person is the Artist and is charged with creating a sculpture entitled “Angry.” I model their thinking for this project, saying that as an Artist I’m going to have to consider whether I want my “Angry” sculpture to be made up of a high, medium, or low shape, and imagine how I might use the pieces of my “Clay” in an original way. When all pairs have created their sculptures, I have all the “Clay” people gather together and we work together to mold the different shapes into a connecting picture. This is when I introduce the term “tableau”– saying that a sculpture is a frozen picture made up of clay, and a tableau is a frozen picture made up of human beings. Then I let the partners switch roles and the new “Artists” create sculptures entitled “Excited” and we mold those sculptures into a tableau as well.

4. I create groups of 4 or more students and have them decide on a book that they each have read or heard read to them. Each group then creates a tableau representing their particular book. Their tableau may be literal in that each person portrays an individual character or that the picture reflects a particular scene in the book. Their tableau can also be more abstract, reflecting particular themes, lessons, or moods in the story.

Question for the World: How would you teach a group of third graders what a tableau is? How would you use tableaux as a jumping-off-point for other dramatic exploration?