Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Amanda Newberry, theatre specialist, Lusher Alternative Elementary School, New Orleans, Louisiana

George E. Jackson, III, theatre coordinator, Barney Ford Elementary School, Denver, Colorado

Amanda Newberry
Amanda Newberry studied at Pilgrim College Drama School and the New College of Speech and Drama in England. Her experience includes touring with the Bubble Theatre Company in England, performing at Blackfriars Performing Arts Center in England, and at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre in New Orleans, Louisiana. She also has done a good deal of educational touring throughout the New Orleans area, including in New Orleans Public Schools.

Q. How often do you work with each classroom?

A. This depends on the teacher, the project, the school day and my other commitments. Ideally, I work with each classroom every day for at least 45 minutes. However, usually I am able to do it three to four times a week for a classroom period for half of the school year. In mentoring classes [kindergarten and fourth grade] it has to be for the full school year, because the process of social interactions — learning is a product of social interactions — enables students to go beyond where they would on their own. This can’t be hurried.

Q. Do classroom teachers prepare their students for your visit? If so, how?

A. Before the initial program begins, the teacher and I talk about setting the tone of a drama class. If students are to trust that they can freely express themselves in an exercise, you must set the proper mood. Before each class, I ask the teacher to remind the students of the ground rules: “Today we are going to use our imaginations and play some exciting games. Those who do not follow directions may not be able to participate.” The atmosphere needs to be nurturing, but discipline is essential.

Q. Do you collaborate with the classroom teacher to integrate each other’s lessons? How do you involve a classroom teacher in a lesson like this?

A. I do not have any preconceived lessons. When a teacher requests drama, I ask for a copy of his or her curriculum for the semester. Then I put on my thinking cap and see where drama would fit best. Then I sit down and brainstorm with the teacher.

Drama is a way for students to be motivated, use what they know, learn new information, create new understandings, and apply knowledge. In this way, drama helps students understand how to learn, be aware, and be critical in their thinking. This lesson is only part of the process of “Bringing Writing Alive.” It is another step in building character that can be used in their story writing.

Q. What skills do children learn from the exercise “Sorry, I Must Be Leaving”?

A. The exercise stimulates the imagination, promotes creative thinking, develops critical-thinking skills, promotes language development, heightens effective listening skills, increases empathy and awareness of others, and fosters respect and group cooperation.

Q. How did you develop the sequence that led up to this exercise?

A. The exercise was part of curriculum activities that promoted language and thinking skills in role-play. Anything is possible with role-play, which motivates students to listen, think, and speak. It allows the teacher to bring countless guests into the classroom and change the environment.

Q. What resources do classroom teachers need to do this lesson in their classrooms?

A. What they need most is to be open to experimentation and not afraid to fail. Also important are imagination, energy, risk taking, and teamwork.

The teacher should have two chairs to show the order of the performers and keep the students from acting in a physically crazy way. The emphasis is on dialogue and the importance of questioning.

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George E. Jackson, III

George E. Jackson, III, earned his undergraduate degree in communication and theater arts from Taylor University. He served as the first director of multicultural programs at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania; assistant director of admissions for the College of Performing Arts, Butler University, Indianapolis, Indiana; and director of arts and education for Word of Life Christian Center, Denver, Colorado. Later, he returned to academia as a fourth-grade teacher for Denver Public Schools. In 2001, he accepted an invitation to teach a pilot arts program at Barney Ford Elementary School, a Denver public school with a predominately Hispanic and African-American student population. While a college student, Jackson was featured as a vocalist at the 1984 Olympic Games, and he has continued to perform in local and regional theatres throughout his career.

Q. How do children benefit by having their theatre instruction on an actual stage?

A. The benefits of having the students on stage are mainly visual. By that I mean that students can learn from hands-on experience, such as being able to better understand about projection, upstage, downstage, where the wings are, and so on.

Q. Can you replicate this experience in a regular classroom?

A. Yes, this experience can be replicated within a classroom space. You may want to take the students on a tour of your school’s auditorium or theater first [if one is available] to show them the space and the various areas on and off the stage. Then, go back to the classroom and mark off with masking tape where the stage begins and ends, where the wings are, and so on. In smaller rooms, however, this could prove to be difficult.

Q. Do you expose your students to live performances throughout the year?

A. I do expose our students at all grade levels to various performers and speakers. Most of that is determined by the amount of funding that has been set aside by the principal. We expose students to live plays, dance troupes, black cowboy exhibits, and interesting public figures here in Colorado. I also invite my local friends in the arts to come to my class.

Q. How important is it to expose students to live performers?

A. We live in a world surrounded by sound and fast-moving images. I find that bringing in performers of all types helps students by reinforcing what you have been sharing within the classroom. It lends credibility, allowing students to ask questions of the guest performer.

Q. Please tell us about the interpretive performance, including the mask-making activity, that you developed based on the poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar.

A. The mask-making activity was brought about by two things:

  • the basis of the poem [taken from the text of the Dunbar poem We Wear the Mask] itself and the type of masks we make in life, either to defend ourselves or to protect ourselves or others we come in contact with, and
  • the student who shot students at his high school in California last year.

Q. Are there other classes besides this one focusing on the Harlem Renaissance? How can this topic be expanded into other subject areas, such as social studies or English?

A. There are no other classes at this school focusing on the Harlem Renaissance at this time. There is a great Web site at Encarta Schoolhouse that can help teachers to plan and cover curriculum areas such as English, social studies, art, and so on. Look under “The Harlem Renaissance.”

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