Tag: arts learning

Thoughts on Teaching and Connecting and Change

By Alex La Torre

Posted on Friday, May 15, 2020

This blog is a part of the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable’s new blog series, “Teaching Artists Speak Out: Blogs from Quarantine.” As schools remain closed, we’ve invited some “Teaching Artists of the Roundtable” to help us curate a series of blog posts written for and by NYC teaching artists. We’ll be posting new blogs each Tuesday and Thursday for the next several weeks. 

Starting a class now means clicking “start meeting” and then staring at my own face for a little while. There’s this moment in that silence that I can only compare to the sensation of being a kid and fearing that no one will show up to my birthday party.

I make sure my lighting is okay. I glance over at my windows to make sure they’re all the way shut so I don’t have to deal with unexpected background noise. My brilliant co-teachers log on and we chat the way we would before any class, I suppose: making sure the flow of our lesson plan still feels right, looking over the roster of students, etc.

Our very normal conversation makes me forget how different everything is for a few seconds. Of course, we also have to talk through the Zoom-version of our theatre game and wonder if it really will work on screen. I never thought I’d miss asking students to make a standing circle in the middle of the room so much. And then names start appearing in the waiting room. Another reminder of how so much has changed.

 

Things that aren’t the same:

  • I’m never really sure if I’ll see these students again. I don’t have the luxury of long-term curriculum planning and the knowledge that I’ll watch them grow through a whole semester or the full length of a class. Old models have gone out the window.
  • I can’t check in with students in the same way. I may notice someone seems distracted but there’s no discreet way of having a one-on-one conversation with them to see how they’re doing. I can’t use the chat function to connect with one student and continue to lead class for everyone at the same time – I am not that skilled a multi-tasker.
  • It takes an entirely new type of focus. Breakout rooms are cool. But I can’t stand in the middle of all the small groups and soft focus and go in and out of all of their conversations and ideas; hearing one group deciding they’re creating a hero with the “super power of silent farts that can paralyze a villain in their tracks,” another dreaming up a “magical gemstone that will grant their wishes.” Instead, I have to figure out whose mic is making that noise so I can mute them and keep an eye on the chat for questions.
  • I don’t know how to care for students in an individualized way when I’m staring at 20 faces on one screen. In those same breakout rooms, I can’t keep an eye on the student who has a hard time speaking up and pop into the group to make sure they feel safe. I can’t remind the idea person with one knowing glance to make sure they’re leaving space for other people’s thoughts.
  • I can’t casually assess how students interact with each other during drop off and pick up or transition moments. It feels impossible to get a feel for their comfort with each other in the same way. 
  • I can’t high five them. I can’t have a student come up and ask for a hug on the last day of class. I can’t take a moment to walk a student to their car and tell their parent or caregiver that they came up with some brilliant ideas in class that day.

 

Things that are the same:

  • I can look around the “room” and try to discern where my students are at. The information I receive is different, sure. But it’s there. How are they feeling? What does it mean to them to have a space in which they get to be creative? Is it an escape? Is it a release? Is it a way to get the sillies out? I can still meet them where they are to the best of my ability.
  • We can find common ground. Someone makes a Harry Potter reference (I adore that this has not changed since my own childhood), everyone laughs, they ask to know what house I’m in. (Hufflepuff, and proud of it.) 
  • Students support each other. If one student struggles with their lines as they adjust to Shakespearian language, then another chimes in with words of encouragement. 
  • We can create a true ensemble. One that is committed to working together and cheering on each member. A kid tries out a funny accent they’ve created for a character. The Zoom room gets filled with thumbs up and applause emojis, some kids unmute themselves so we can hear their laughter. It’s different, sure. But it’s also the same. It’s kids showing up for each other in whatever way they can. 
  • It gets messy. Sometimes you try out a new warm up or game and it’s a dud. I still invite kids into the process, “Listen, they can’t all be winners! Thank you for trying that experiment with me.”
  • There’s still emails from parents. They still include both heartwarming thank yous for the class and the more banal questions about registration and can my kid have more lines in the next class and so on. 
  • We still reflect. I still linger at the end of classes to check in with my fellow teaching artists. How did that feel for you? Should we try something different next time? Did so-and-so seem quieter to you today?
  • Personal expression shines. There is still seemingly always a student rocking something with a unicorn on it. Or a cat ear headband. Now there’s the bonus of seeing that they’ve got a matching rainbow bedspread or an actual pet cat. They are the coolest kiddos in my eyes.
  • We make art. There’s still characters to be created, stories to be told, and laughter to be had.

 

I miss so much. My heart physically aches for all the things that have changed. It is a terrible lump in my throat, welling up of feelings that doesn’t seem to go away no matter what I do.

But I see names fill up the waiting room. I look at my co-teachers faces, we take a deep breath together. I hit “admit all.”

 

*****

Alex La Torre is a bilingual teaching artist, arts administrator, and stage manager. Her various hats have allowed her to teach, create, and supervise programs at McCarter Theatre Center and throughout a variety of school districts in central New Jersey, working with students of all ages. She holds her BA in Secondary Education, English, and Educational Theatre from Boston College.

The Click

By Renata Townsend

Posted on Tuesday, May 5, 2020

This blog is a part of the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable’s new blog series, “Teaching Artists Speak Out: Blogs from Quarantine.” As schools remain closed, we’ve invited some “Teaching Artists of the Roundtable” to help us curate a series of blog posts written for and by NYC teaching artists. We’ll be posting new blogs each Tuesday and Thursday for the next several weeks. 

I miss the click. Do you know what I’m referring to? The feeling in a room when the game clicks in – the energy shifts and the focus is palpable. The feeling where the circle gets tighter, participants’ posture starts to lean in, faces start to change, protective shields start to melt away. There may be laughter or impenetrable silence or nonsense words being said in a quick order. 

I miss this – this is one of the reasons I became a teaching artist. 

I have always loved games. So much so, that I facilitated a session at the 2017 NYC Arts in Education Roundtable Face to Face Conference sourcing and sharing games that we know in our arts education community (shout out to my co-facilitator Paul Brewster). Facilitating a game to build ensemble, reflect on the world around us, break up the day for students, build SEL skills, have fun – is my jam. I love it. I’m fascinated by it. But now that we are living in a digital world, how does this transfer? How do we play games online that were originally created to connect people in space? How do we create the click, digitally? 

Like the majority of teaching artists I know, my work has been significantly cut. I have been able to maintain an afterschool gig teaching middle school students in Brooklyn (now dispersed all over the city/state/country). Parents at the school shared that more than anything else, they believe their kids need to connect to their friends. The kids are bored, scared and lonely. A few weeks ago the normally boisterous, giggly, sassy 6th and 7th graders revealed to us during a check-in that on a scale from 1-5 they were feeling like 2’s and 3’s, using words like sad and tired to describe their moods. They were shells of themselves. It broke my heart but didn’t surprise me. After that experience my co-teachers and I decided that we were throwing the previously decided on curriculum out the window and were going to focus on three things: 

  1. Fun 
  2. Connection 
  3. Play  

This past week I facilitated a session comprised of games. I modified tried and true theater education games that I have played countless times in the classroom, to the digital space. I was nervous to try them and was transparent in the beginning of class that I have never played these games in this way and they might completely fail. I introduced the first game verbally and put the instructions in the chat. At first it was clunky and I had to repeat the rules. But then something magical happened. The game started working and I started to see smiles, students leaning into their computer cameras and bright eyes. At the end of class one student said, “Can we please do this again?”. The click happened. 

I’m re-ignited to find the joy in teaching online and discuss the pedagogy of arts education in the digital space. Here are the games that I played:

Facilitator Note: All of the games take significantly more time to introduce in the digital space. Be patient. I also modeled all of them with a student, wrote the instructions in the chat box and checked in that everyone understood the rules with a thumbs up to ensure that everyone is on the same page before starting. 

 

3 Differences (adapted from the Boal Game, taught to me by Helen White) 

  • I partnered students up and wrote their names into the chat. (ie. Maria, John)
  • I told students to pin their partner so their partner’s box/window could always be seen. 
  • I set a timer for 30 seconds and told students to observe everything about their partner’s box/window (what they’re wearing, how they’re sitting, what is in their space)
  • After the timer was up I told the students whose name I typed first in the chat that they would be turning off their cameras first. I repeated the student’s names that were in the first round. When their cameras were off they had to change three things about themselves or their environments. They had 1 minute to make the changes. 
  • After the minute was up everyone turned their cameras back on and they had to write their three guesses into the chat. Partners communicated using the chat function. 
  • At the end of the round we reflected full group on the experience. 
  • After reflection, switch partners for round 2. 

Facilitator Note: Students were changing clothes, bringing siblings and pets into their screens and running around their homes in the minute’s time – I was shocked by how fun this game became! 

 

Story Seedlings (adapted from Story Words, taught to me by Ben Johnson)

  • This game is done with two people. 
  • One person will be the storyteller and one is the gardener. The storyteller’s job is to begin a story using the phrase “Once upon a time”. While the storyteller is telling their story the gardener is writing words into the chat box. It is the storyteller’s job to incorporate the words into their story. 
  • This is a great exercise in flexibility and collaboration. 
  • It is a lot of fun for audience members (other students in the class) to watch how the storyteller incorporates the words. 

Facilitator Note: Depending on how many students you have participating you may want to set a limit on how many words the gardener types and/ give a countdown when the student should end their story.  

 

15 Crosses (adapted from 4 corners, taught to me by Peter Musante)

  • This is a physical game! Encourage students to stand during this game, if they are able. 
  • The goal of the game is to cross the screen in 15 unique ways. Do not over think it! 
  • When you are finished with your 15 crosses, sit and watch as people finish up. 

Facilitator Note: There is no wrong way to play this game! The goal is to get out of your head and move your body. It is fun to record the game while playing and then watch it back. 

 

For even more ideas of games that particularly work well in the digital space check out the previously recorded TYA/USA webinar: Zoom Zap Zop: Virtual Theater Game Slam  and please share games that are working well for you!

 

*****

Renata Townsend is a teaching artist, theater maker and content creator for young people. She has performed and taught with The New Victory Theater, Lincoln Center Theater, St. Ann’s Warehouse, The Park Avenue Armory, CENTERSTAGE, Co/LAB, Marquis Studios, Opening Act and Circle in the Square Theatre School. She works with the World Science Festival on finding ways to engage families while they are waiting in lines and writes Teacher Resource Guides for Broadway shows. She is the Head of Enrichment for Trusty Sidekick Theater Company, a theater for young audiences company that creates immersive experiences that encourage kids and adults to imagine and play together and has served on the Teaching Artist Affairs Committee and Face to Face Panels Committee of the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable. Renata is a SUcasa Grant recipient and New Victory Theater Labworks Artist in Residence and is currently working on an original show that will push into early-childhood classrooms. She holds a BFA in Acting from UMBC and a Master’s Degree in Applied Theater from City University of New York, SPS.