New favorite blog in arts education. Holy awesome the classroom management stuff is fantastic.
New favorite blog in arts education. Holy awesome the classroom management stuff is fantastic.
One of the projects I’ve taken on this summer is to finally get a cross-endorsement to teach English grades 7-12, something that I was 2 classes short of for several years. The short version of that story is that I started out thinking I needed English certification to teach theatre in Connecticut, but when Connecticut finally added a “unique special endorsement” in theatre I jumped to add that instead. But I DID spend all that money on Praxis tests in English and a course in the History of the English Language (mind numbingly dull, if you were wondering), so I’ve always wanted to get it done. I took an Advanced Composition class in the spring, which was doubly beneficial because it got me finally getting into a draft phase of TWO articles I think I could eventually develop for publication– hopefully I’ll be posting more on those later on.
So now I’m well into my final course, on a subject I adore, Children’s Literature. I’ve tried to use the course to get acquainted with more books that I could use in my teaching work, and also to get a better sense of what works in children’s books and whether and how that connects to children’s dramatic literature. I’ve been thinking lately about what it is that draws me to theatre for young audiences and I know it’s roots are in my experiences with books as a child. Great children’s literature, whether it’s dramatic, poetic, fiction, or nonfiction, is great literature, first and foremost. Maybe it is the simplicity of the vocabulary or the limited length most picture books work within, but I’m taken lately with the realization that so much good children’s literature is so close to poetry. Story stripped to its most essential parts somehow catches the heart more often.
I’ve read quite a stack of children’s books for this course but one thing that I’ve really enjoyed is being exposed to so many outstanding children’s literature websites. It’s great to see what others recommend, and it occurs to me that there’s room for book recommendations on this blog. So, for your reading enjoyment, here are a few of the best children’s books I’ve read this month, maybe for a later post I’ll brainstorm some lessons around them:
Earlier this week I went to Boston for Promoting Universal Access for Theatre and Out-of-School-Time Educators, a free event presented by Partners for Youth for Disabilities, Inc. Access to Theatre Program in collaboration with Wheelock Family Theatre, VSA arts of Massachusetts, and BOSTnet. The program featured a dance performance by Access to Theatre featuring a combined cast of dancers who required wheelchairs and those who did not in the morning, and a short workshop in the afternoon.
I am glad I went to this event, although I felt some of the activities were on a too-basic level for where I’m at right now. The majority of the attendees were teachers or administrators for generalized after-school care programs, and only a few were teaching artists or other theatre professionals. The workshop activities were focused very closely on dance more than theatre per se, and while I’m always glad to add another movement activity to my repertoire I had hoped to come away with more that I could apply directly to some of the freelance work I’m doing these days. The Artistic Director of Access Theatre was kind enough to talk to me after the event and answer some of my questions about working with children with blindness and/or sensory integration challenges. Overall the people at the event, presenting and attending, seemed very friendly and insightful– in some ways I think I would have preferred more networking and group conversation time to get to know people and share knowledge.
Some great thoughts and activities I got from this experience:
I know, it’s been a month since the AATE/ATHE conference, but it takes awhile to unpack it all!
The keynote speaker at the conference this year was Howard Gardner– the architect of Multiple Intelligences Theory, proposed in 1983. Basically MI Theory is an argument against the more traditional notion that Intelligence is a fixed entity– something that can be reduced to a simple IQ, but rather one’s overall “Intelligence” is a hybrid of competencies and talents in several key categories. The Intelligences currently accepted by Gardner are: Bodily-Kinesthetic, Verbal-Linguistic, Logical-Mathematical, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Naturalistic, Musical, and Visual-Spatial. Gardner’s work is considered revolutionary by many, and is cited often in arts education circles especially. For myself, reading about MI Theory as a junior high school student trapped in a failing inner city school system is probably one of the great inspirational moments that led me to become an educator.
Frank Episale tweeted his response to the keynote: “Underwhelming if occasionally charming,” which was more or less my reaction as well. In the “charming” category my favorite moment was Gardner’s explanation of traditional IQ measurements as ways to find out “who would do well in a Parisian school 100 years ago.” I found the keynote “underwhelming” in that in a room of theatre instructors, the vast majority of whom I am certain have had more than a passing introduction to MI Theory, I don’t think most walked away with anything new. Gardner was a great choice for a Keynote Speaker– I’m sure there are people who had his presence on the agenda on their list of Reasons to Come. I’m just not sure that his presentation added as much to the conversation that is Conference as it could have.
That said, here are some Interesting Points and Insights Gardner Made, with some of my thoughts after:
I went to two sessions at the AATE/ATHE conference that dealt with this subject (specifically with students on the Autistic Spectrum) and I wish there had been more! The first session addressing this subject that I went to was Autism: Strengthening Social Skills Through Drama. Special thanks to Lauri McCleneghan and John Muszynski of Maine South High School for sharing their work in a classroom that is purposely mixed with students on the autistic spectrum and those who are not, and sharing their strategies for creating social and theatrical challenges for both groups. The other session I attended was Autism Action: Drama Classes for Young People with Autism, presented by Brian Guehring, Sue Gillespie Booton, and Michael Harrelson of Omaha Theater Company, and focusing on drama classes coordinated by a professional theatre company. I’m glad that more schools and theatres are experimenting with ways to reach kids with autism– in my former position I had several experiences where I felt rather isolated in trying to adapt drama programs for students on the autistic spectrum, and I know there are many theatre education practitioners out there who’ve had the same experience.
When I was in grad school I had a friend who pointed out to me that the “Special Education” professors often had better syllabi than the regular “Education” professors. It was one of those things I never noticed until it was pointed out and thereafter noticed everywhere I went. Somehow the training to work with students with special needs seemed to translate to a better ability to put together an organized syllabus, and to be able to differentiate instruction on the college level in a way that I otherwise have not encountered. Perhaps this is why I would say the best resource I have found has been VSA Arts— so many of the presenters have strong special education backgrounds. I’ve only been to one conference of theirs, in 2006, but it was fantastic– every workshop filled with practical use-tomorrow strategies and outstanding handouts. I wish they had conferences more often, I would go all the time!
I am interested in hearing about anyone’s favorite resources, books, activities, and/or websites for adapting drama instruction for any of young people with special needs. I’m especially interested in any insights into adapting dramatic play activities for students PreK-Grade 3 who are on the autism spectrum and/or multiple disabilities, but any and all experiences and insights are welcome!
I purposely didn’t bring much money to the AATE conference this year, because the vendor area tends to suck me in and then not only have I spent all my money but I’m stuck trying to figure out how to transport all these new books home. I was very good and tried to just take notes about books I want to look into, publishers that seemed interesting, etc. And yet somehow I still ended up with a suitcase full of books– people were giving them away for free! The two that I actually got at conference that I think I will actually use are a collection of plays that Coleman Jennings handed out at his Jose’ Cruz Gonzalez session of his, and a book of theatre research sites in New York City.
Here’s the list of reading materials I didn’t get at session but am going to be seeking out at libraries everywhere very soon:
Playwrights I Want to Be More Familiar With
Journals I want to Read More Of
The Journal of Aesthetic Education
Books I Need to Read
Talking Hands: What Sign Language Reveals About the Mind by Margalit Fox
Multiple Intelligences Around the World, edited by Jie-Qi Chen, Seana Moran, and Howard Gardner
Good Work: When Excellence and Ethics Meet, by Howard Gardner, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and William Damon
Studio Thinking: The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Education, by Lois Hetland, Shirley Veenema, Kimberly M. Sheridan, and David N. Perkins
New Tax Guide for Writers, Artists, Performers, and Other Creative People, by Peter Jason Riley
Plays I May Check Out
9 Plays by Jose’ Cruz Gonzalez, edited by Coleman Jennings
The Hundred Dresses by Mary Hall Surface
Children’s Books I Really Should Have on My Bookshelf
Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters (already read but want to go back to it now)
Rough-Face Girl by Rafe Martin
Glass Slipper Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella by Paul Fleishman