[And then God made the earth and the sea… and saw how good it was…]
It wasn’t until I had spent three years working with the children in Midtown that I realized that it would be necessary to create videos for content presentation. I had learned from my experience that although there were some well intentioned people who offered to teach, assist, tutor, or direct activities at the little theater most were either elderly grandparents or young teenagers. These people all made a wonderful contribution to the whole program but they were usually not trained in how to present information or teach students of multiple ages (5 to 18) and varying abilities.
Although my background in teaching music was an advantage, I realized that anyone without that background would need some kind of tool or guide to allow them to facilitate the student activities. What I had created in descriptive music tracks and picture guides worked for me, but would essentially be useless to someone without the particular background in expressing, moving, and creating to musical cues. I realized that we needed to create videos to guide the activities. Perhaps God had created the sky and the earth… but I was the one challenged with how to follow through and encapsulate the whole concept in visual as well as aural cues.
It began with the creation of music tracks – designed to build comprehension skills through repeated listening. These patterns of rhythmic sounds that could be aurally discerned helped my students understand how to listen and respond. We began to play a game – something like “red light, Green light” in which they were challenged to listen to the music for directions. This challenge served to guide their actions and participation. Soon, they were competent in their role (as a tree or cloud…) while others listened for their musical clues and assigned actions.
My focus with this group was simply to capture their attention for a period of time in order to provide practice in the activity long enough to gain competence and to understand the challenge presented to them. In order to prevent them from feeling foolish it was necessary for me to enter into the game of activity with them. Asking a student to make the sound of a cat is more reasonable than asking them to “sing.” In addition, it was absolutely necessary that whatever we set out to do, it had to be fun!
The famous psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, explained that “individual development cannot be understood without reference to the social and cultural context within which it is embedded. So, creating a valid social context is essential!
The video called “Stormy Weather” is based on a folk song (of the same name) that extolls the virtue of working together when the going gets rough – like on a sail boat. It is designed to unite the efforts of singers or “trees” as they respond to the singers or “wind” (who blow at varying levels of intensity).
Teachers need to be willing to enter this place of fantasy. Being a tree that moves in response to the ‘sound’ of the wind whistling through the trees is much more palatable to most six year olds than practicing singing. The singing does, however, eventually happen and when it does it can be glorious.
Deborah J. Leong, Ph.D. and Elena Bodrova, Ph.D., specialists in education and learning, state that “determined roles and rules for pretend behavior allow students to learn to consider the perspectives and needs of other people. They learn to represent things symbolically and to regulate their behaviors and act in a deliberate, intentional way.” (This is an “expectation” or “goal” for teachers’ lesson plans.)
Imagining the interaction between the force of the air current and the branches and leaves on the trees provides opportunity for the students to identify with their environment. Pretending to be a tree with deeply planted roots serves a as metaphor for how they, as students, can be firmly grounded while still responding to life in a flexible manner. Becoming familiar with healthy breath support and learning to stay in one’s place promotes both good health and positive classroom management.
This kind of learning promotes SEL (social emotional learning), student engagement, ‘Whole Child’ development, self directed learning, as well as fostering an interest in healthy lifestyles and independent learning skills. The story based structure provides for artistic, musical, and movement expression while practicing academic skills in listening, speaking, and following directions.
When I began this journey I had no idea that these children and I would discover a purposeful way to present content for the children of today. Actually, after the students realized that I wasn’t giving up on them (I kept returning….) they became willing co-creators. It is because of the children at the Royal Theater in Midtown and those that made the videos the following two years that this whole program evolved. It was, I believe, truly divinely inspired!
The late Sir Ken Robinson, author and educator, explained that when children understand that they are part of a whole existence, they also learn to appreciate all things in the context of their lives. He said: “We are all born with extraordinary powers of imagination, intelligence, feeling, intuition, spirituality, and of physical and sensory awareness. When people are in their element, they connect with something fundamental to their sense of identity, purpose and well-being.” Ken Robinson, and Lou Arnica. The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, Penguin 2009. p.21 (para.4)
This is the way that the educational challenges of our current situation can be solved! Teachers are the best individuals to determine the readiness and achievement levels of their students. No one classroom is the same as another. No one student is exactly like another. Through the creative endeavor of creating or reading stories, writing scripts, singing songs, acting out poems, making lists of things needed to support the search for the answers to academic questions, and practicing all the roles in the video within a given structure will support insight.
This kind of whole child classroom environment is encapsulated in a four minute video. Each video is designed to illustrate through poetic meter, evocative sound, and rhyming words what the story expresses! This is the way to meet the need of the contemporary ‘whole child’ learning environment…. This is understanding how we can provide a safe environment in which children can be engaged, supported, challenged, and relieved of stress that is provided along with essential needs such as food and water. All these ingredients are presented in a group setting that builds community so this is a truly holistic experience!
And the goodness of the fruit was brought forth in order to bear fruit…And [God saw how good the new creation was!]