Autobiography with Found Objects

August 2, 2011 1 comment

My found objects

  1. I wear many hats as a teacher

    Artist: playing the 5 of hearts in Alice in Wonderland

    Student: Life long learning ...or just indecisive?

    What do you teach?

    Such a simple question, isn’t it?

    I know, I know

    we don’t teach subjects-

    we teach children

    we teach young adults

    we teach people- not subjects

    Yet it’s a relatively easy question for most, right?

    You know what the easy answer is- math, grade 7, kindergarten,


    It’s like How are you?

    you know it’s easier to just say I’m fine

    well, I don’t have an I’m fine for that question: what do you teach?

    I was the ESL teacher overseas

    not authentic enough

    “but you look just like us” they insisted

    I’m from Canada I repeated

    I’m the primary teacher


    “ to the carpet for calendar in 5, 4,3,2,1”

    I’m the sex ed teacher

    “hold the condom by the tip to squeeze out any air”

    I’m the Special Ed teacher

    the Resource teacher

    the TOC

    When they’re desperate,

    I’m the French teacher

    (Sing Alouette)

    I guess you can tell I’m not much of singer,

    you’re right, I’m not musical in any way shape or form. I can’t play an instrument,  keep a beat, or dance with any rhythm

    I really can’t draw, or paint, or sculpt,

    I guess I’m not much of an artist

    …..although there was Alice in Wonderland…

    I played (pause) the 5 of hearts!

    (show card)

    I had some lines

    “Off with her head! Off with her head!”

    well, of course that was after the Queen said them first,

    and I did share them with the rest of the cards

    I wish I still acted- even a little bit, even little bit parts

    I guess that’s why I’m here,

    people are always surprised I’m still in school

    Aren’t you done yet?? they ask

    I’m a teacher I believe in life long learning blah blah blah

    the truth is, I’m just indecisive

    (music plays: The Zombies: I just can’t make up my mind)

    i just can’t make up my mind

    Someone has to help me

    I never seem to know what to do

    I just can’t decide for myself

    Like a yo-yo,

    up, down, ok just down

    but I really want to be up

    but that part about life long learning

    well, I guess that’s a little true too.

    This autobiography assignment was surprisingly difficult for me;  I really struggled with the “multi-modal” aspect of the assignment. Beyond written narrative you say? but it’s the only way I know. I can’t sing, I can’t play an instrument. Storyboard? I can’t draw- I’m not artistic. I only know literacy- it’s the one I was taught all the time, the one I use with my students all the time, the only one I’m comfortable with. So it’s true, we really do teach the way we were taught? In the end, I did a monologue of sorts with my presentation. It was scary but extremely fun to explore in ways I haven’t been asked to do since high school. I feel like that artist in me just grew a tiny little bit.

    I think about how primary students do this activity all the time as “sharing” or “show and tell” on the day that they are “special helper”. They bring in objects and items that are important or special to them and talk about it. Our learning objectives for literacy still centre around reading, writing, and oral language. Personally, “sharing” time gets pretty boring and monotonous, with the same presentations and questions time and again. I think it would be interesting to see how children embrace multiple literacies (drama, painting, poem, spoken poetry, multimedia presentation, photographs etc). Of course, children always need modelling and it will definitely be difficult for me to come out of my comfort zone of writing, reading, and telling and present/represent through action, embodiment, and other ways.

    In the past, I have done something similar using a Heritage Box filled with objects/items that represented the student’s heritage or cultural background. They loved hearing about each others’ and recognizing items they had as well in their own home, or hearing about unfamiliar things. I think these activities with found objects as representation of identities really allow students to learn respect  for each other and build confidence and community through sharing.

    "Gallery exhibit" with found objects

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Performative Inquiry and Shakespeare in the Classroom

August 2, 2011 1 comment

“On the bus”

  • discuss and share with a partner what you learned from the reading
  • call out one thing you learned from the reading
  • get off the bus at the “stop”
  • new people get on the bus and add to the discussion
So…. what did we learn?
  • drama can and should be used as way to explore curriculum
  • you don’t need to have a arts/drama background to incorporate drama
  • drama is not an added activity, but a learning strategy to effectively engage all students
Shakespeare in the Classroom with George Belliveau and Sue Belliveau
– building community through drama
  3 Stages
  1. Literacy (Writing, reading, vocabulary)
  2. Drama approaches (tableau, hot seat, role playing)
  3. Theatre Sharing ( rehearsal, script memorization, performing)
Resource: Shakespeare Can be Fun! series by Lois Burdett
Burdett’s books are:
  • targeted to primary classrooms,
  • narrative is accessible to young readers
  • books cover more of Shakespeare’s comedies
  •  illustrations are done by children (her students)
The Belliveaus have also worked with Richard Carter and his adapted versions of Shakespeare’s plays
Sue usually takes 3 months in the spring to go through the stages of Process (Word wall, character mask activities), Development (tableaux, scripts), and Production (lighting, set, costume)
“Feeding in”- after initial reading, teacher gets 4-5 students to come play the characters and teacher “feeds in” the characters’ line in a neutral way. The students can then repeat as they wish.
Repeated choral readings of selected passages :
  • read through normally 2-3 times
  •  then again with focus on punctuation (stop at every punctation mark). Add movement/walking, change direction of movement with each punctuation
  • then again, but this time, underline important words that need to be emphasized, really exaggerate the underline words

A Midsummer's Night Dream

I couldn’t help but agree with all the complaints that George and Sue have heard from teachers in protest about using drama in their classrooms. “I’m not a drama teacher!”  “I can’t act!” “It takes up too much time, and there’s so much curriculum to get through!”
So if they were trying to convince us that role drama can easily be done by any teacher, then perhaps talking about a gargantuan task of staging a Shakespearian play wasn’t the best way to do so! (Laugh out Loud)
Not surprisingly, doing Shakespeare will seem daunting to teachers new to using drama. It is Shakespeare after all.  A three month process is indeed a very big commitment and the length of the project could see students losing interest and motivation. On the other hand, I have seen how proud students are at the end of the performance and what an incredible sense of accomplishment they have when it’s all over. I have witnessed colleagues who undertake big productions that consume an entire school term, and often other curricular areas do suffer, and students also have “burn out”. It is imperative that such productions coincide with year end, or an extended holiday/break in the school year. I think it might be more manageable when teachers can collaborate and work on a joint performance involving two classes.
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Vocabulary Parade and Staged Reading

August 2, 2011 1 comment

Wow! what creativity! The class showed up with amazing representations of vocabulary words.

Vocabulary Parade

I have to admit I struggled with mine quite a bit, trying to think of what word I could “be” considering time and cost limits. In the end, I picked an “easy” word, given what I could gather in the house.


This is a very fun and creative activity! I think it would be great to introduce around Halloween time as well, when students are already thinking about costumes. One problem that automatically springs to mind, however, is time and possibly cost. On one hand, we want students to have creative freedom with their costume, but we also don’t want their ideas to be costly in terms of materials, or end up being time-consuming for parents to gather or prepare. One way to avoid it, I suppose, is to have students prepare costumes at school, but that might take the surprise element out of the activity. Also, it can seem a bit random- all these different words. To make it more meaningful, it might be better to have vocabulary words selected from the class reading material or a curricular topic. However, even if we were to choose related topic words (e.g. words that are all related to weather for a science unit), singular words don’t demonstrate understanding on a very deep level. Maybe students could be grouped together to show a concept rather than just one word individually.

I liked the examples from this site too:

Staged Reading

To me, this was very much like Readers’ Theatre (RT) except some of the groups did more action than I normally have students do with RT. Usually, the focus is on expression and fluency rather than movement. If they do movement, it’s on the spot, like walking in place or actions only with their upper body.  The benefits of staged reading/RT are probably well known; its helps with fluency because of the repeated readings and practice, and RT scripts often have repetitive lines. It helps with expression, character building, and comprehension as students have to make the story come alive with mainly their voices.

Some limitations with staged reading/RT is that struggling readers will need a lot of support at the beginning until they know their lines. It helps to give these students the shorter or more repetitive parts. Although lines aren’t suppose to be memorized, some children find it hard to read their lines without having their heads buried in the script in fear that they will miss a line. Also, even with limited movement, some students have difficulty doing movement and lines at the same time. It’s therefore best if students learn their lines well enough that they can look up from the script during their speaking parts. I have had to modify scripts or give students cue cards with their lines because small print on typical letter-size paper is too hard for struggling readers to follow. Many beginning readers still need to track text with their fingers.

Warm up Strategy

Just a last note since we presented our strategies today.It was nice to get our strategy done and out of the way. It’s funny how we get up and speak in front of children all the time, but getting in front of peers and your colleagues can still be a little scary- especially when you don’t know them very well! I am looking forward to having this “toolbox” of drama activity ideas.  (Please check out the “Warm up Strategies” Page).

Collective Drawing Activity

Here’s my reflection on leading the day’s strategies presentation:

Warm up strategies Reflection

When researching for drama warm up games, I found there were so many good ideas out there, it was hard to choose just a couple. I thought the three we chose were a good variety. Look up Dude! proved to be simple, fun, and easy to explain and do. I think it’s a great ice-breaker for new classes as it gets everyone feeling comfortable right away; making eye contact and sharing a smile/laugh when saying “Dude!” seems to have that effect on people. I think it would be better to do as a whole class, especially if the idea is  to use it as an ice-breaker. There was a concern that too big of a circle would make it difficult to tell whether someone was making eye contact with you or the person(s) next to you, but I actually think it’s pretty obvious if someone is looking at you or not. My only concern with elimination-type games is that when the group is too large (30+) or if goes on too long, the people who are sitting down have little to do while they wait for the round to end. I liked Paula’s idea to add movement to the game by having people switch spots rather than sit down as this keeps everyone involved.

For the collective drawing activity, I thought another extension might be to use the drawings to create image theatre. They can either re-create the scene/drawing with a tableau or take the words they had chosen to describe their drawing and create an image of their words. It was interesting to see that most people seemed to continue with the theme/idea of the first artist. There wasn’t an instance where someone completely branched off and drew a different idea altogether, although that would have been acceptable too. Perhaps that says something about our inclination to conform or not want to offend? Someone had mentioned the marker colours influenced what they decided to draw, so maybe we should make it all pencil, or have lots of colours available.

Translator (Gibberish) probably works better with classes where students know each other and are comfortable. For time’s sake and because we wanted more people to be involved, we chose multiple people to replace the actors in the scene. Participation was great today from the class, but there were some people who understandably were reluctant to go up, and you never want anyone to feel uncomfortable and put on the spot because that doesn’t create a very safe space for them to learn. I think if we had allowed the scene to unfold on its own, there might not have been anyone to call freeze, so this activity probably works best when people are already comfortable with improvisation. I also noticed how hard it can be to remember to let the translator speak, because communication is so natural to us, that we immediately want to respond even when we’re only guessing what the other person has said. I think to improve the “flow” of the scene, it might actually be better to allow several utterances in gibberish before the translators speak. That does mean, however, that translators have to really pay attention and keep track of how many lines they need to “translate”. Even though this activity seemed a bit complicated, I think it’s great for ESL students and a great improv game.

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Set Design with Valerie Farlette

August 1, 2011 1 comment

Today we had a guest, set designer Valerie Farlette who started her presentation off with a little inspirational quote from David Hockney:

“Simple things work in the theatre.  Simple things are best.”

Lighting was integral to his set design. See more of David’s work below.

Key points from her presentation:

Elements of Design:

  • Colour – big, bold and bright, limit 3-5 colour palette, group characters by colour, costumes must stand out against background colour
  • Materials – consistency – unified whole , Paper tree is your friend!
  • Space – clean, uncluttered, defined with a focus point for audience- work with what is given.
and our task for the day…..
  • Choose a scene
  • Choose your colour palette
  • Make a paper collage of your set design idea
  • Include a costume design for one character in your play
Here were the results:

Jack climbs up the beanstalk into the clouds

design for Cat in the Hat

Don't let the pigeon drive the bus!

I love this idea of creating your set design as a collage first. It allows students to really think about colours, contrast of characters/costumes and/or props, and placement (staging) before designing the “real thing”. Students can take illustrations straight from the books and simplify them for set creation by choosing fewer colours or objects to make for the stage scene. Valerie’s suggestions make set and costume design simple. I could see from her examples, how de-cluttering the “stage” area, and having actors wear bright, bold clothing will allow attention to be drawn to them…(actually reminds me a lot of the home decor and real estate shows I watch on television; how you must de-clutter and create a focal point in every room e.g. the fireplace, the bed, the piano!)

I have personally never done set design with students, as this aspect of drama has always seem to me only necessary for performance-based drama, where the goal is to perform for an audience outside of the class. My experiences with drama have been limited to the classroom, and although students may have props, we have never done a major “production” on a stage, with lightning and sets, and full costumes. I know not every drama activity needs to be a big production, but I think an outside audience always creates pressure for the “product” to be polished and perfect, and I’m more interested in drama as “process” than “production”. Nonetheless, if we kept materials simple as suggested by Valerie, students could create sets even if they are performed for only their peers. The drawback is of course the colossal amount of paper that will undoubtedly get tossed! The sets will be too big for students to take home, but I suppose we could shred into smaller pieces and re-use for other art projects. I think the benefit of set design, is that it can demonstrate students’ understanding about the story/concept. By seeing what they choose to include in their set can show their interpretation and understanding of the material and ideas being discussed in class. Plus it allows you to integrate drama and visual arts and becomes a more holistic approach to teaching the content.

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Introduction to Image Theatre and Role Drama

July 26, 2011 2 comments

Today was the first day of class. Even after 3 weeks of 8am class, I can’t quite seem to get the hang of going to bed early enough so that the 6am alarm doesn’t require multiple snooze hits . Bleary eyed and completely lost and confused- even though I spent a year in Scarfe- I finally find Room 1005, and stumble into the middle of a Name Game. I haven’t had any coffee, but here we go!

We were exploring Image Theatre today(created by Augusto Boal, a Brazilian who wrote Theatre of the Oppressed; note to self- go read Pedagogy of the Oppressed! more to come about Augusto later…)


1. Think of a teacher- good or bad. Free write about him or her  (3 minutes)

2. Share with a partner what you’ve written

3. Select adjectives to describe this teacher (Sandy was eccentric, inspiring, dedicated, kooky, funny, fun,unconventional, collegial)

4. With your partner/group, create a still image for your word(s)

5. Next, have pairs/groups share their still image in front of the class

6. Others guess/comment what they think the image represents then join in and add themselves to this still image

7. Original actors share their word

Role Drama:

where participants take on different perspectives of an issue/conflict/problem

e.g. BCTF strike in September- what are the causes for the strike? Together, we brainstormed some of the reasons we thought were causes for the looming strike:

Frustration from

-class size

-class composition

-standardized tests

-lack of funding – salary, resources, benefits – teachers are going to be cut

-lack of communication (between teachers, administration, parents) – unwillingness to compromise

-too much control on Proffesional Development choices

-insufficient support for special needs students

We explored this issue by having players take on roles of reporters, teachers, students, administrators; Participants improvise their roles, then we stop individuals to speak out and give their perspective

These two activities were very good, in the sense that everyone was involved right away, but then again, we are adults and better able to act on the spot. As a primary teacher (generally), I wonder how I could adapt these for younger children. I find activities that require improv and thinking/acting on the spot quite difficult. As we say in primary teacher circles, this requires a lot of “front loading”.  I would have to really explore different perspectives with students in other ways before asking them to improvise. My experience so far has showed me that children often find it difficult to take on someone else’s perspective as it requires them to use inferencing and thinking beyond the text or what is said. I think it also depends what the role is, and what kind of background knowledge children already have about a topic/person/character.

Image theatre would be more easily adaptable to elementary grades. I like how we used both think-pair-share  and group work for the activity on image theatre, and I think young children are able to do that easily as well without a lot of pre-teaching.  I think it can be used easily with little or no prep- it could be used to explore new vocabulary (from novels or even textbooks), it could be used to discuss moods/feelings of characters or scenes in stories. However, I do think it’s important to teach body/movement in smaller components. Sometimes, you can ask children to make an image, and the still image doesn’t really convey much meaning, or it’s difficult for the audience to understand the intention because all the students look the same. You may need to do a lot of activities, just on facial expression alone, then move on to incorporating the body and how to hold the body still and freeze in an interesting position. Lots of young students are still working on gross motor skills and don’t have very good balance  or body awareness so this may be difficult for some of them.

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