Monday, February 3, 2014

Performance as a Bridge

It is always a challenge to channel children’s energy productively at the end of the year, between the Thanksgiving and winter holiday breaks.  Naturally, there is a lot of excitement and anticipation in the air, and sometimes this affects the social connections within our learning community.  We noticed that the children’s social-emotional interactions were becoming difficult and (as always) we worked with the class to mediate problems and reminded them of strategies to deal with problem situations.  Beyond this level of support, however, we began to think of other strategies to help foster collaboration and strengthen our bonds as a class.  It sounds counterintuitive in retrospect, but as we thought about offering the children a different narrative language to express their understanding about light and rainbows, we chose a particularly challenging task for children having difficulty getting along – performance.  In creating and performing their own work, all the players would, of necessity, need to stay in connection with one another to see their project through to completion.  Brainstorming, planning, visualizing, co-constructing a narrative piece – all of it would require the children to come to consensus, to support and rely on each other to make their ideas happen. 

Remembering how powerful performance had been in last year’s first grade class, we called in second grader K.S., who had been instrumental in coordinating a performance piece called the Sunflower Dance (she is also our Greek mythology student expert in residence).  While we had learned about the Norse myth of Thor and the rainbow bridge, K. shared with us that there is a Greek goddess of the rainbow, Iris:
K.S./Dressed as the goddess Athena

K:  She is the messenger of the gods.  She has her own path.  Gods and goddesses just make themselves appear and disappear but Iris has her own rainbow path that goes to Earth.  Here is a picture [shows a picture in a book].  You can see the Earth right there and the rainbow path.   She sends rainbow messages.  She can give you a message to the gods but she can also give you a message to other mortals in your world. 

What are they [the Greeks] trying to figure out about rainbows?
K:  Some people think that the rainbow path only appears when Iris is going across it.  Some people think that she’s asleep most of the time, but when rain and light go together, she awakens and goes down to earth.

K:  In a Russian myth I read that when a water goddess marries a sun goddess a rainbow appears…because water and light make a rainbow. 

K. also informed the class that the colorful part of the eye is called the iris:
Why do you think they call it that?
K:  Because your eyes are colorful and the rainbow is colorful.
Maybe because a rainbow is something you can see and observe with your eye?

We then asked K. to share what she learned about using performance as a way to extend her project work on plant life cycles.  While acknowledging its difficulties – having to collaborate, communicate, negotiate, and often, compromise – she stressed the importance of taking the time and exercising patience to create a story together.  You have to be willing to take creative risks, yet support one another’s endeavors.  You have to be open to refining and revisiting your work, and respectfully give and receive feedback.   K. reflected that her performance last year was an effective way for her to think more deeply about science, while giving her a way to connect with her classmates and try on a new expressive language. 

The suggestion was then put to the present first grade class – how would you tell your story of a rainbow, using acting and movement?  We revisited what we had gleaned through experimentation and observation, and processed what we had learned about Greek and Norse myth.  Then we opened the invitation for the children to find others who might want to work with them on a performance project of their own design.  They immediately went to work, seeking out others with whom they might develop their creative ideas. 

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