Monday, February 17, 2014

Rainbow Performances/Process-Based Learning Through Performance - Initial Stages

Once the children were invited to think about using performance to tell their rainbow stories, they broke out into groups of their own choosing.  At first glance, the room was chaotic, but in all the excitement, they were actively thinking out loud and generating ideas with one another.  One person’s idea found purchase in another’s, and soon it was a creative chain reaction.  After a period of independent idea-seeking and cultivation, the children returned to our project circle and we checked in with each other. 
What is brainstorming?

J: So you have ideas.  You’re trying to brainstorm things that might be nice to say to each other.  It’s getting ideas that everyone has.

M:  We were talking about ideas.  We kind of thought about what we should do, so that we wouldn't just get stuck with like, "I don't know what we should do."

Brainstorming is about getting all the ideas out first and then picking and choosing what might work and what might not.  You might have many ideas at first.  The beauty of brainstorming is all in the talking it out.  While the initial process may be a little daunting or chaotic, the group understood that in sharing ideas with one another, they could come up with ideas they hadn’t thought of before.  Our plans change over time, and that is okay – they should be flexible as we think and create strategies together. 

Interestingly enough, the stories they brainstormed did fall out along gender lines.  The girls gravitated toward telling their stories through the prism of Greek mythology while the boys wanted to develop their own adaptations of the Thor story in Norse mythology.
While their ideas were similar, the boys chose to work in two different groups (Thor Group #1:  W, R, J, N.S./ Thor Group #2:  I, C, and G). R. was an integral part of Group #1 as he had been reading extensively about Thor and wanted to use this knowledge to help his group develop a story line.  Group #2 wanted to explore the story of how the gods created the rainbow:

I:  [We were thinking about] how the [ice] giants were attacking and how the gods won the war.  C’s going to be Thor.  He’s going to be the one that sends the messages.  The other ones that cross the bridge are going to be the troops.
Meanwhile, among the girls, three different groups emerged. 

Group #3 (P, M, A.C.):
A.C.:  We didn’t come up with a person yet [a main character].  We are just still thinking.  I was thinking of a little leprechaun that has magical powers to make a rainbow.  Wherever he touches a flower, it rains and then makes a rainbow.

P:  I didn’t really want to do that.  I wasn’t really comfortable with that idea.  I guess I might want to do a song.  Maybe.
M:  I was kind of like thinking that maybe we could do something with Iris but twist it up our way, like put a little of the story in the real myth in and then add some of our ideas.  Kind of like an idea mash up. 

Group #4 (L, E.K., A.L., T):
E.K.:  We weren’t really thinking of our parts but more of what it would be.  I think that somebody should be Iris.  And then somebody can be the queen who sends Iris down to earth.  Somebody can be the princess.  And then we kind of go down as a family together to send notes down to earth.  Then we pick Iris to come with us. 

Group #5 (N.B. and E.S.):
N.B.:  We were thinking we could act it out.   One of us could walk behind the rainbow.  Using movement to tell the story.

E.S.:  N.B. will be the rainbow and I will be the one to walk behind the rainbow [and make it].

The process of meaning making is essential to all we do as we intertwine learning and doing.  Performance as a constructivist learning language involves a degree of creative risk, but at its very core is all about problem solving, open dialogue, and respectful collaboration.  While the children were encouraged to use performance as a language to further explore their thinking about what they had learned, the required teamwork that would have to be involved was completely intentional as well.  Stephanie and I had to work as a team too - she worked with the girls on their projects while I shepherded the boys through theirs.  As we let them work independently, we coached the children through the social skills this process would require, reminding them to respect, nurture, and support each other's gifts and ideas - to be open to constructive feedback - and to be flexible enough to incorporate others' artistic visions.  

Working on coming to consensus on these various performance pieces would not be easy, but as subsequent project work progressed, one thing became clear.  Giving the children plenty of time to process their developing ideas verbally allowed them the opportunity to start narrowing things down on their own, as they began to consider the most important elements of their narratives and initiated the preliminary phases of plot and character development.  

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