Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum
Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum
Paul Reynaud, first-grade teacher, Lusher Alternative Elementary School, New Orleans, Louisiana
Geralyn Broussard, first-grade teacher, Lusher Alternative Elementary School, New Orleans, Louisiana
Q. Describe the arts curriculum at Lusher. How was it developed? How are artists and artworks selected for each grade?
A. Each grade has a set of arts standards five or six per year at the elementary level. Teachers in every classroom at every level are expected to include comprehensive arts education lessons in their weekly plans, using the arts standards to guide instruction. At the elementary level, there are even suggested activities and units for each standard.
Each grade level has five or six artists (or genres) in visual art, drama, music, and dance that teachers are expected to teach in class sometime during the year. Teachers can do other artists in addition if they choose. There are also about 10 or 15 arts specialists in drama, dance, and visual art who sometimes collaborate or consult with classroom teachers about arts instruction.
Q. How was Lushers arts curriculum developed?
A. About three or four years ago, a group of teachers at Lusher who were interested in broadening and strengthening the arts program were persuaded (with a little arm twisting from the principal) to spend some time creating an arts curriculum. We wanted a curriculum that would be fairly user-friendly, but that would also spell out very clearly what was expected from every teacher in every classroom. We wanted the curriculum to be continuous from kindergarten through eighth grade. We wanted a curriculum that would include a broad range of cultures and media.
We started with the state arts standards and the national ones ... but we had to translate pages and pages of educator-speak into a more usable form of English.
Q. How are artists and artwork selected for each grade?
A. Those four or five teachers who lasted through all those meetings that summer just sat down with long lists of artists and assigned them. We asked for input from teachers as to which artists they really wanted. But for the most part, we just used our own good sense of what might work well, along with a good amount of whim and caprice. Weve always considered the curriculum a work in progress, and every summer we revisit, revise, and retool it. In general, though, its really held up pretty well.
Q. Why did you select the Flood story, Stravinsky, and Brueghel for the year-end project?
A. Just before Mardi Gras, the first-graders went to a concert of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra and heard Stravinskys Firebird. The parents of a child in my class were members of the orchestra (harp and double bass) and they had done a presentation for the first-graders about the upcoming concert. The kids loved that, and they loved the concert even more. They came back to school crazy about Firebird: They wrote stories about it, made pictures, wanted to listen to it over and over, etc. We decided to use Stravinsky.
Over the Mardi Gras holiday, I was going through the Stravinsky music I had at home on compact disc and I found The Flood. The Flood is based on an English mystery play, and mystery plays are one of our drama genres. I sort of remembered there being a Brueghel painting of the animals lining up to get on the Ark.
Pieter Brueghel is one of our visual artists and Stravinsky is one of our composers. I thought that the situation offered us some possibilities. It turned out that the Brueghel painting I was thinking of was by Jan Brueghel (Pieters son, I think), but by that time we were well under way. So we fudged. A lot of our performance pieces come together in this kind of fortuitous way. We always figure that, if they dont work out, we can just start over again and find something else that works better.
Q. How long did the Flood unit take, from beginning (development) to end (performance and assessment)?
A. Mardi Gras was in late February, and the performance and assessment were in late May, so 10 to 12 weeks.
Q. How did the students decide which parts of the piece the flood, dialogue, and so on they wanted to work on?
A. We had about three class sessions during which we explained the project, what it would involve, and what it would probably look like when we were all finished. We divided the drama/opera into four big sections: One was mostly drama with dialogue, the next was to be mostly puppet theater, the next was to be a dance, and the last was to be puppets and masks. Kids from all the classrooms involved would mix together to work on the section they were interested in. We told the kids to think over the weekend about what part they would like to be in. On Monday, we let them go to the group they chose, and we started working.
Q. Describe what the final Flood play looked like. Where was it performed? For whom? Did it have a title?
A. I think that we just called it The Flood. It was performed in our classrooms. The school was undergoing some major renovations last year, and all of the other possible performance spaces had been snapped up. (The performance was part of the schools annual Arts Extravaganza, and a lot of performances were going on that evening).
The way the piece worked [involved these components]:
The audience was supposed to move from classroom to classroom, but the classrooms were all so packed that there wasnt much movement. Actually, the Ark moved from classroom to classroom as well, the audience was supposed to follow it. The audience was mostly parents and family.
Q. What was the schedule for working on the Flood unit? How often did teachers meet to plan? How did you find that time? How many times a week did students work on the project? For how long a class session? Over what time period?
A. We had two planning periods a week when all first-grade teachers could meet and, as I remember, we spent most of our planning time from March through May working on the Flood unit. The common planning time is part of our regular schedule 45-minute periods when the kids are at library, music, or physical education. We created and rehearsed with the students at least two times a week from March through May. That is, we started out with two rehearsals a week and added more as needed as the big performance day approached. The class session we used was our Writing Workshop time, which is about 40 to 50 minutes every day, just before lunch.
Q. What kind of assessment did you do for the Flood unit? How did you create the assessments?
A. We did a lot of assessment through writing. Each child in first grade has an arts journal. After performances we see or after field trips to a museum or as part of an ongoing arts unit, students write reactions in their arts journals. As we were putting the piece together, we would pose questions or ask for suggestions from students about the piece. They would write their responses in their journals. In my class, we also did a little science/social studies unit about the recent archeological finds that link the Biblical flood with the flooding of the Black Sea. At the end of that unit, we had a little test about what we had read and studied.
Q. What are the rest of your classroom sessions like? Are they more traditional than the arts project?
A. More or less traditional... . I think of the day as divided up into
discrete times reading time, math time, etc. But Im pretty
broad-minded about what can go on during those times. Regular classroom
sessions tend to have more of a routine and tend to produce a more predictable
product. But most of the things we were doing as we created The Flood
were things we did as part of our normal school day writing stories
or drama in small groups, collaborating on artwork, researching, etc.
The idea was that we were going to take the stuff we had learned in first
grade and make something fabulous out of it. So, it was supposed to be
like our normal practice but ... better.
Q. Please describe the professional development that teachers at Lusher receive.
A. After receiving an arts grant from the Annenberg and Getty foundations, all of the teachers at Lusher were expected and strongly encouraged to attend week-long summer arts workshops. These workshops were first offered by the Southeast Center for Education in the Arts in Chattanooga, but later the Louisiana Center for the Arts opened and teachers could attend workshops there as well. When we first attended a workshop, the training was in one specific arts area: visual art, drama, music, and dance (a recent addition). After attending a workshop in a single area, we are encouraged to continue our development by attending a multi-arts workshop.
Lusher was not an artistic void before we received this grant, however. We have participated in a program in our school district, which provides schools with artists-in-residence for the specific purpose of training teachers to continue using the arts in their classrooms independently. This program was already established at Lusher when I began teaching there around 15 years ago.
Q. Where did the funding come from for the training?
A. The funding for the training came from an arts grant we received from the Annenberg and Getty foundations. When the funding for the grant ended, the Lusher Parent-Teacher-Student Association provided some help.
Q. What input or influence did arts specialist teachers have on the work in the Flood unit?
A. Arts specialist teachers had little direct input on the Flood unit. The classroom teachers basically planned and executed this unit on their own. However, it was because of our previous work with the arts specialists that we could do this on our own.
Q. Describe the curriculum design for the Flood unit. What were the arts and general curriculum standards the unit addressed? Did the unit meet your expectations in this regard?
A. After several planning meetings, which were mainly to decide what we were doing and how we were going to do it, we got a little more specific, and somebody even brought along a copy of the first-grade content standards. We noted which language standards we were working with and which seemed to be addressed naturally in our unit so far:
Both of these standards were addressed heavily in our unit, as well as many others.
Q. Were all of the first-grade teachers required to participate in the Flood unit? In what way did they participate? Do other grades do similar projects?
A. The first-grade teachers were not required to participate in the Flood unit. Each of us could have come up with our own arts idea for an end-of-the-year performance. However, we tend to work and plan well together. Paul Reynaud, our resident genius, seems to naturally lead the group, but each of us has something to share and participates fully. I would say that no other grade level did a similar project to this one simply because no other grade level has teachers who work as closely as ours. In the Flood unit, each child in the first grade (all 90 of them) got to choose the art form he or she would be working with. This took lots of teamwork and cooperation.
Q. Why was there a first grade and a second grade in the same classroom?
A. It would be nice if I could say that there was a first-second combination
solely because Megan and I thought it would be beneficial for the students
and that we wanted to convince the rest of the staff of the validity of
looping. It would be nice, but realistically the combination was more
due to a lack of classroom space because of our school renovation project.
Megan and I had agreed to share a classroom for a year!
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