“As I see it, the aims of education are to enable students to understand the world around them and the talents within them so that they can become fulfilled individuals and active, compassionate citizens.” – Sir Ken Robinson, Creative Schools
I have been extremely inspired by the book, Creative Schools, from which the above quote comes.
Recently, my child had the opportunity to participate in a musical as a professional actor and dancer. He is highly motivated by the arts, and is intensely interested in anything that involves putting them all together. This was an amazing opportunity to experience learning in the real world with professionals, an opportunity that many children do not have. The results were astounding. As you can tell, learning about the world through the arts is of the utmost importance to me. Sir Ken Robinson writes:
“The arts are about the qualities of human experiences. Through music, dance, visual arts, drama, and the rest, we give form to our feelings and thoughts about ourselves, and how we experience the world around us. Learning in and about the arts is essential to intellectual development. The arts illustrate the diversity of intelligence and provide practical ways of promoting it. The arts are among the most vivid expressions of human culture. To understand the experience of other cultures, we need to engage with their music, visual art, dance and verbal and performing arts. Music and images, poems and plays are manifestations of some of our deepest talents and passions. Engaging with the arts of others is the most vibrant way of seeing and feeling the world as they do.” Ken Robinson, Creative Schools.
Through this play, based on a book, and the experience of being in the play, my child experienced all 5 sections of the ELA curriculum in detail:
– He read the book first to prepare.
– He had to prepare a monologue, which he practiced many different times and with different people, thinking about the character’s feelings and motivations to be able to represent the character (and this ended up being his part in the show).
– In the ELA curriculum it says to use drama and role play to understand texts and feelings in them… Of course this was exactly what they were doing.
– He is aware of how the music, special effects and dance enhances the ideas in the play.
– He learned new vocabulary from various characters and songs.
– We discussed the clever poetry of the songs, the key concepts of the play, the motivations of different characters.
– He had to work with 2 different texts of several hundred pages: the script and the music score (which, as a music specialist, I will inform you is its own elaborate language) to prepare for the rehearsals. They became memorized (and during the play he had to memorize music and lines for a second show that takes place right after the first one).
– He had to think about and discuss his character with the director and think about how to portray the character in many different situations.
The synthesis of all of this would be clear to anyone watching the play on the stage each day. A clear character with complicated feelings was displayed throughout. He also kept a journal of his experiences, and wrote more than 20 or personal messages to other cast members.
Also addressed through this real-world context of this play were many elements of a Science unit on structures, machines, and forces through the “magic” and mechanics of the elaborate props and sets with which they needed to work during practices and in each show. They would demonstrate their learning through talk backs after the shows when audience members would ask how this or that scene worked. He also made many connections to his class’ Social Studies unit that involved thinking about poverty, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, heros and dictators from the past… In our discussions we made many connections within the play itself, and also to our surroundings and events witnessed, or occurring while commuting to and from the theatre. Working closely with his school team was very helpful to know what his class was doing, and adding contextual connections to the play and daily life brought the learning alive. The power of drama and role-playing heightens the understanding of these other subjects. As you can see in my previous posts, I love to use the arts to learn about important ideas and subject areas like the environment, citizenship, math, etc.
As well, because of his excellent understanding of music, rhythm and movement (dance), I related his math learning to musical and movement ideas, for example with his current learning with fractions and number lines. Check out how music and movement were used to deepen math learning in an extraordinary way:
What was interesting, was that during the whole time, people would say either “What are you doing about school?” Or “Wow! All the amazing learning that must be taking place through this!” The former tended to be those not directly involved in the field of education, and the latter tended to be those who are educators. There seems to be a feeling from those not directly involved in the theory and practice of education that learning must take place within the walls of a school building, and possibly at a desk, with textbooks. This is the type of schooling we have grown up with, that has been around since the industrial era, and was created for the type of labour and workers of that time, and requires conformity. But, as Sir Ken Robinson says in Creative Schools:
“The problem with conformity in education is that people are not standardized to begin with…. Students’ individual talents take many forms and they should be fostered in similarly diverse ways.”
From the same book:
“Personalization means teachers taking account of these differences in how they teach different students. It also means allowing for flexibility within the curriculum so that in addition to what all students need to learn in common, there are opportunities for them to pursue their individual interests and strengths as well.”
As we move more into the 21st century, education needs to change to match the skills needed for this new age: skills of creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration, adaptability, mental flexibility, and more. These 21st century skills were used on a constant basis throughout the run of the play, and used in any play. There are many programs, educators, and entire schools who are moving towards having students experience real-world learning, where skills from subjects are not compartmentalized into 40 minute periods with no context, and taught to students who are divided by age. I encourage you to read Sir Ken Robinson’s book, Creative Schools, to hear of many shining examples.
Here, in our own province, we have schools who are part of networks that favour contextual learning in the real world. Here are a few examples:
There is also the concepts of unschools and homeschools that are becoming of interest. There are also alternative programs and flex programs from which my children have benefitted.
If you look back through my posts, you will see a brilliant example of master teaching … from my son’s alternative classroom… Bela Ferreira is an amazing teacher, weaving curricula together into amazing projects that engage her students, with an emphasis on the inquiry approach:
My son has always been connected to these alternative ways of learning, where curricula are integrated into rich learning … his nursery/kindergarten teacher would have the most beautiful calendars made that had her students dashing to school for “plane trips” to Cuba, or a day in a kingdom… and the incredible art, or experiencing the life of a butterfly through improvisational dance… I was constantly mesmerized and inspired. His grade 4-6 teacher worked with them on a play about the body and all its systems that the students created and presented to us at a family feast… My other son did big learning projects with a play like this in his classes, too, creating boreal forests and longhouses in their room… He was just telling me about how they could do “passion projects”, and that he had done one on wolves and loved it. I’m quite sure “Passion Projects” and “Genius Hour” is mentioned in the Creative Schools book. This type of project is what Boyan Slat was working on when he was 16 in his class, when he developed the idea of an ocean array to clean all the plastic of the world’s oceans. Currently he is in his 20s, and has an organization called The Ocean Clean Up, and his ocean array just launched off of the San Francisco Bay in September 2018 for testing.
Not only are we (in our family) quite familiar with learning through connection with real life, and integration of subjects, but also working with different age groups instead of having students separated by age. We can all learn from various ages and levels of development. This is what my son is learning from his acting peers who are adults and mentors right now. It is amazing to hear about.
My school division had the opportunity to learn from James Nottingham, who shared the idea that we want to encourage students to take the interesting path, even if it means that it comes with a lot of challenge:
When I talked to my child about this he said he would choose the interesting path… and when I reflected on what he does each day, I realized that is what he does… but it is in a much longer day than the traditional school day. He leaves school each day and often goes to dance or acting class. This is not easy; it is physically and mentally challenging, and is his passion. The same can be said of my other child who chooses extra-curricular after school activities that are challenging and take up a lot of his time and even summer. They are both very motivated and curious individuals and their after school extra-curricular lives demonstrate this, even if this learning takes place outside of the school day. I believe that is the goal of the Big Picture schools and the IB MYP programs in our province, and alternative programs etc: find what motivates students and connect to and celebrate that through contextual learning experiences. What if we looked at all of our students and realized that their learning doesn’t just occur in the school walls? What are their passions? What motivates them? How can we connect to that?
I would love to thank the theatre and all of the cast and crew who helped my child learn so many new things, and learn about the world through the arts. I’d love to thank the backstage crew who make props, sets and costumes for showing him around the set and seeing how different props work and the critical thinking and problem solving involved to create stage “magic”. Thank you to his teachers for following him on this journey, and finding ways to support him while he learned about the world in a different way during this play… I enjoyed sharing the connections we were making to those class units, and the dialogue we shared about it!
What an amazing learning experience for all – and that is what we want: learning from amazing experiences that will last a lifetime!