Five Tips for Creating Accessible Conference Sessions

By Diane Nutting

Conferences are a vital part of our professional development. The opportunity to learn more about innovations in the industry, share new insights and approaches, and network with our colleagues provides inspiration and often results in new ideas, new work, and new partnerships. Creating an accessible conference session ensures that ALL our colleagues are included within these learning communities. The five tips below can aid in your planning facilitation.

1. Consider the room layout. Think about the environment you want to create for your session, and how you want your attendees to engage and/or share information with each other. Use this information to decide how you want tables and chairs arranged—taking into account the physical accessibility of the space before, after, and during the session. Once you are in the space, plan for the positioning of service providers such as sign language interpreters and real time captioning as well as the attendees utilizing those services, and keep an eye to lighting, glare, or other visual distractions in the room.

2. Create a safe space. Set the tone at the beginning of your session so that attendees feel safe to explore new ideas without the fear of making “mistakes,” or saying “the wrong thing.” Provide and accept a wide range of participation levels depending on comfort level. Encourage the use of “I” statements during discussions to frame opinions or thoughts. Create and encourage a session environment where attendees can ask for the support or clarification they need.

3. Facilitate accessible activities. Provide various entry points and participation strategies for your session activities. Make sure that hanging or displayed materials are at an appropriate and accessible height and distance for your attendees. Provide materials that can support engagement (examples: if using tennis balls for an activity, consider bean bags which can be easier to catch and grasp; provide markers that are both large and small). Make sure any handouts are designed for accessibility* (font, layout, etc.), and provide alternative formats of the materials (digital access, large print, etc.).

4. Support your slides. Design your PowerPoint so that font sizes, color schemes, and formatting aligns to accessible guidelines.* Throughout your session, be sure to audio describe any images or photos on slides, and spell out any web addresses. Avoid putting large amounts of text on the screen for attendees to read on their own; instead, read that text as part of your facilitation.

5. Make sure everyone is “heard”: Encourage one speaker at a time during discussions. If amplification is available in the room, ensure that everyone uses a microphone (including you). Repeat comments and questions, and clarify any acronyms or industry jargon/terminology that is used. Take note of participation that is only perceived visually and describe it verbally (examples: if you ask for a “show of hands,” be sure to indicate the percentage of response; if attendees are nodding their heads in response, share that information— “I see many of you nodding in agreement”).

Accessibility within conference sessions is about thinking ahead, maintaining a “read” of your session attendees, and being a flexible and creative problem solver in the moment. Even more importantly, when you take steps to ensure accessibility for your own session, your actions might very well influence the ideas of inclusion and accessibility within the overall conference environment as well!

 

* Resources for creating accessible materials (courtesy of Sina Bahram)

 

A woman with shoulder-length, wavy brown hair, wearing a red and white scarf around her neck and a red shirt.Diane Nutting works as a consultant at the intersections of disability, arts, and education—specializing in training design and facilitation, project coordination, and strategic planning. She has worked with artists and K-Adult students of all abilities as a teacher, administrator, and artistic collaborator; and also has extensive experience in conference settings as a conference coordinator, staff member, and avid session presenter.   She served for nine years as the Director of Access and Inclusion for Imagination Stage, working to provide accessible and inclusive performing arts experiences for all students, patrons, and artists.   

Advertisements

Five Tips for Using the Arts to Introduce Job Skills to Youth with Disabilities

By Damon McLeese

Young adulthood is a time of wonder, exploration, and often the time a person lands their first job. For teens with disabilities, this first paycheck may be rather elusive. At VSA Colorado, we use a commission-based project to strengthen their skill set, expose them to the concept of a job, and do amazing things for their self-esteem. The following tips are based on the concept of Commission-Based Creation or creating art for a client.

 

  1. There is no I in team – Very few jobs in this world are done in isolation. We all work in teams and must learn to cooperate, interact, and support one another. Many teens with disabilities have very little opportunity to work in teams, so at VSA Colorado we engage students in a team project. When the work is finished, everyone shares in the success.

 

  1. One coach – Creating art collaboratively is a new experience for many youth with disabilities. Creating art for a specific client is often a more alien concept. At VSA Colorado, we hire a lead artist that is the coach or boss for the team. The job of this coach is to make sure everyone is represented and the work is of the highest quality. It does no one any good if the work is not well presented.

 

  1. Research – Youth with disabilities often have no knowledge of corporate workplace culture. At VSA Colorado, we find visiting the client’s worksite to be critical to understanding the culture of an organization. By visiting the client, teens are able to see a workplace. We focus on the feel and look of the place, the colors, and furniture. Then ask the client what type of art they are looking for and develop ideas collaboratively. When possible, we have the client visit our studio during the creation of the piece.

 

  1. Money matters –A basic understanding of money is one important job skill to develop with youth with disabilities. At VSA Colorado, we create a project budget and share the budget with the team. We address questions like, “How much do you have to work with? What might the materials cost? Where are we going to get the materials?” If possible, we pay each participant to continue the lesson in financial responsibility.

 

  1. Expect professionalism – When teaching job skills, it is important to clearly outline the expectations of the work sessions. Who is responsible for the set up and clean up? What are the behavior expectations? At VSA Colorado, we hold the team accountable and check in with everyone at the conclusion of each session.

 

When the work is completed at our studio, we have every member of the team reflect on the piece and the experience. When possible, we have the team deliver the artwork to the client. Celebrating the teens’ success is important and encourages further use of the skills they have developed.

 

Damon McLeese is the executive director of VSA Colorado/Access Gallery. He has created and manages several innovative programs including the ArtWorks Program, which supports youth with disabilities as they transition from high school to young adulthood. Most of the programs Damon has designed aim to bridge the gap between disability and economic opportunity through the arts. 

Five Tips for Using Universal Design for Learning to Promote Arts Integrated Literacy Instruction

By Heather Francis

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework for curriculum design that supports students with and without disabilities in becoming expert learners.1,2 By proactively applying UDL, teachers can better support diverse learners in their classrooms as they engage with arts integrated literacy curricula. 

  • Integrate the arts into the representation. Through drama-based pedagogies (DBP), students represent shared stories by acting them out in class. DBP is a research-informed practice that supports the development of reading, social skills, expressive/receptive language, and creative thinking.3,4 Students take the lead as they use gestures, movement, and visual cues to convey meaning. This representation provides students with and without disabilities with additional opportunities to develop oral language and vocabulary skills.5
  • Use the arts to drive purposeful learning. Teachers can guide students as they engage in dance or movement activities to build both their social and academic vocabularies by incorporating movement into the heart of any lesson.5 Rather than using decontextualized movement breaks to promote self-regulation for students with and without disabilities, teachers can help all learners to develop foundational literacy skills while supporting their persistence across the school day.
  • Move beyond action and expression. The visual and performing arts may be logically added on to the end of a lesson or unit. After students have engaged with traditional approaches to literacy learning, teachers may support students in the dramatization or visual representation of what they have read. However, by proactively integrating the arts into how they engage students and represent literacy content throughout the lesson, teachers help students with and without disabilities to make more substantial academic gains toward their individual and grade level goals.3,4
  • Enlist local support. General and special educators may not think they know enough about the arts to integrate practices into their literacy curriculum. By collaborating with local theater groups, businesses, and parents who value the arts,3 students with and without disabilities will have opportunities to develop literacy skills in specific contexts while fostering collaboration and community.1
  • Support expert learning. The goal of using the UDL framework is to support expert learning.2 We want to help students become purposeful, motivated, resourceful, knowledgeable, strategic, and goal-directed learners.1 Infusing the arts into literacy instruction provides rich opportunities for interdisciplinary work while helping students with and without disabilities to develop flexibility, critical thinking skills, metacognitive abilities, and self-efficacy.4

 

Photo of a woman with shoulder length blonde hair, smiling and wearing a blue button-down shirt.Heather Francis is an Implementation Specialist at CAST, where she supports educators in infusing Universal Design for Learning (UDL) into their practice. Prior to her work at CAST, Heather worked as a special education teacher, focused on supporting students’ language and literacy development.

 

 

 

__________________________________

References

1CAST (2014). Universal design for learning guidelines version 3.0. Wakefield, MA.

2Rose, D.H. & Gravel, J.W. (2009). Getting from here to there: UDL, global positioning systems, and lessons for improving education. In D.T. Gordon, J.W. Gravel, & L.A. Shifter (Eds.) A policy reader in universal design for learning (pp. 5–18). Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

3 Carney, C.L., Weltsek, G.J., Hall, M.L. & Brinn, G. (2016). Arts infusion and literacy achievement within underserved communities: A matter of equity. Arts Education Policy Review, 117(4), 230–243.

4 Robinson, H. (2013). Arts integration and the success of disadvantaged students: A research evaluation. Arts Education Policy Review, 114(4), 191–204.

5 Brouillette, L. (2012). Supporting the Language Development of Limited English Proficient Students through Arts Integration in the Primary Grades. Arts Education Policy Review, 113(2), 68–74.

“How Can I Help?” – A visual art lesson plan from the VSA’s Teacher Resource Guide

A robot made of clay with a red top, square body, and striped legs.

A clay sculpture inspired by the “How Can I Help?” lesson.

In this lesson, students investigate possible solutions for concerns and/or needs in their community. They will design and create a machine to serve their community by addressing this need. The machine sculptures will be made out of clay or from found objects.

NOTE: This is an abridged version of the “How Can I Help?” lesson plan. To view the complete version, including in-depth adaptations and modifications for students with disabilities, example artworks, and a vocabulary list, see pages 9-15 of VSA’s Teacher Resource Guide.

GRADE LEVEL: K – 12
EXPECTED LENGTH: 2 – 3 class periods

MATERIALS
For clay sculpture:
Clay tools – simple tools such as plastic knives and forks
Clay mats
Acrylic paint
Newspaper

For found object sculpture:
Recycled materials (cardboard tubing, plastic bottles, cardboard)
Embellishments
Glue/Glue gun
Scissors

LEARNING OBJECTIVES
Art Making: Students will create a machine that can solve one of the world’s problems using found objects or clay and exemplifying the artistic principle of unity.

Critical Inquiry: Students will investigate how the title character of Wall-E was designed and created to solve a problem in the fictional society created in the movie.

Art History Inquiry: Students will reflect on the art- making of Michael Rakowitz and Tim Rollins + K.O.S. and how the artists talked and listened to the individuals they worked with (in other words – did research) in order to create their art.

Aesthetic Inquiry: Students will uncover how art can be an agent for social change through their examination of the stories behind the creations of Tim Rollins + K.O.S. and Michael Rakowitz.

PREPARE/DISCUSS
Show a clip of Wall-E that establishes the reason for Wall-E’s existence. Point out the vast and lonely landscape. Ask: Where are the people? Why would Wall-E be alone? Who created Wall-E and why?

Begin to generate ideas of problems we need to solve. What are some of the challenges that you or others must face each day? How could these challenges be made easier? Consider investigating topics being covered in other academic areas (e.g. if science class is addressing climate change). Make a brainstorming list on the board. Be prepared to pepper the list with suggestions to expand ideas. Record (or have a student record) this list for future reference.

Share the work of Michael Rakowitz and Tim Rollins + K.O.S. Highlight the research aspect of their work. Both artists asked questions and honored the voices of community members in their artistic process. In advocacy communities, this approach is embodied by the slogan: “Nothing about us without us,” which implies that people doing services that affect others (for example, policymakers) should do that service with the people it affects, not for them. Have students share times when things have been done “for them” but “without them.” Has someone ever helped you with your chair when you didn’t need it? Or answered a question for you without asking your opinion?

Revisit the brainstormed list created at the beginning. Who do we need to talk to and what do we need to ask in order to find out what is really needed?

A sculpture made of plastic cups, pom poms, and styrofoam balls.

A found object sculpture inspired by the “How Can I Help?” lesson.

METHODS/CREATE
Students should begin by identifying the problem they wish to address and thinking about a machine that could solve it. They should focus on how the machine would work, and what this will tell them about its design. For example, if the machine is designed to plant wild flowers on highway medians to support the Monarch butterflies during their migration, it might need something to rough up the soil to prepare for the seeds, something to sprinkle the seeds onto the dirt and something to water the seeds to help them start to germinate.

Choose the studio—clay construction or found object. Base your decision on either your access to the materials (clay construction will require access to a kiln), or the issue being addressed. For example, if investigating the concern for the excess trash that has created the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the use of recycled materials for the artwork would be most relevant.

Clay Construction

  1. Construct slabs of clay. Using a rolling pin, roll out clay with even pressure until it is 3/8” thick. Consider making the slabs in advance so the clay begins to dry out, which will make it easier to construct the machine.
  2. Create a base. Cut out shapes from a slab in the shape students want their machines to be: a square, rectangle or circle. If a square or rectangle is selected, then sides can be cut out using the base as a guide for the width of the pieces (2 for each dimension). If a circle is the base, a slab can simply be cut into a rectangle the length of the circumference of the circle.
  3. Prepare clay slabs to be connected. Have the students score the slabs by scratching the surfaces of both edges using a plastic fork or knife.
  4. Spread slip over the scored edges.
  5. Press the pieces together and smooth out the seams for a firm bond. Sides can be supported while drying with wads of newspaper.
  6. Once the frame of the machine is built, additional elements can be added using the slip and score process.
  7. Allow the work to dry, then fire in a kiln.
  8. The fired piece can be painted with acrylic paint to add details.

Found Object Construction

  1. Select materials from found objects, such as cardboard, toilet paper or paper towel tubes, or water bottles.
  2. Cut, tear or bend the selected material to match the students’ plans.
  3. Using glue or a glue gun, assemble the objects.
  4. Add embellishments, using glue for details (eyes, feathers, pompoms, etc.)

REFLECT
Have students write artist’s statements about their work. What does the machine do? How does it work? How does it address the identified need?

Watercolor Fountain Painting: A Visual Art Lesson Plan for Students with Disabilities

Created by Darren Thompson

Creative Arts Specialist Darren Thompson teaches art in a fully inclusive setting, which includes many students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). His goal is to provide a rich environment that supports creative exploration for all students. Many of the art experiences he designs that are especially effective for children with ASD involve motorized devices that he creates or adapts from common objects. Here, Thompson offers a visual art lesson plan utilizing a battery-operated tabletop fountain.

Grade
Preschool, ages 3 – 6 years

Materials

  • Battery-operated tabletop fountain
  • Semi-moist watercolor set (such as Crayola or Prang)
  • Heavy white paper

Goals

  • Become acquainted with watercolor as a medium for self-expression.
  • Demonstrate that the marks a person makes can represent a thought or a feeling.
  • Provide an opportunity for social interaction.

Procedure

  • Fill fountains with water and turn them on.
  • Demonstrate the sequence of first dipping the brush in the water, then in the paint, and then touching it to the paper.
  • Tell the children they can paint whatever they choose.
  • Express interest in and remark upon what you see in a child’s piece and ask him or her to share thoughts or feelings. For example: “I see you’re using red and you’ve made some straight lines and some circles. Tell me about it!”
  • Ask if you can share their painting and words with their friends.
  • If the answer is no, respect the child’s choice. If the answer is yes, then make an impromptu announcement to the group. For example: “Hey everyone, Fatima has painted a picture of her mom and her ” Show the painting to the class. As you hand it back, speak loud enough for the class to hear you say, “Thank you, Fatima!”
  • Make your way around the room, interacting with each child in this manner.

Notes
A tabletop water fountain immediately engages children. They are eager to explore it and are delighted that they are allowed to do so. The sound and feel of water has a regulating effect for everyone, but is especially effective for individuals with sensory processing delays, including those sometimes associated with ASD. Children should be allowed to paint with their fingers if they choose.

I recommend using relatively small-sized paper, as it requires finer movements of the hands, which helps to calm and focus the children. I use 5” x 8” blank index cards.

Children always welcome positive acknowledgment from a caring adult. When they are asked to tell you about their work it sends the message that what they are doing, thinking, and feeling is important. It also gives them practice in reflecting on their actions and recognizing that actions have causes. When you share their work with the class, you are helping each child feel connected to their peer group. You are also demonstrating that every child has something to offer.

 

This lesson plan aligns with the following Early Learning Content Standards in the state of Ohio:

  • Use imagination and creativity to interact with objects and materials.
  • Express individuality, life experiences, and what he/she knows and is able to do through a variety of media,
  • Express interest in and show appreciation for the creative work of others.
  • Demonstrate understanding that symbols carry meaning and use symbols to represent thinking.
  • With modeling and support, explore the properties of objects and materials (e.g., solids and liquids).
  • Use language to communicate in a variety of ways with others, to share observations, ideas and experiences; problem-solve, reason, predict, and seek new information.

 

A headshot photo of Darren Thompson, man with light hair and a beard, wearing glasses.Darren Thompson is a Creative Arts Specialist employed by Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities in Columbus, Ohio. He teaches art at The Early Childhood Education and Family Center in a fully inclusive setting. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art, a Master’s Degree in Education, and is a licensed Early Childhood Educator and Intervention Specialist. He is a frequent guest speaker at The Ohio State University College of Social Work and College of Arts and Sciences. Thompson presented at the 2016 VSA Ohio Arts and Autism Conference and is on the planning committee for the 2017 convening.

Five Tips on Using Picture-Based Visual Supports for Students with Complex Communication Needs During Music Instruction

By Lisa Pierce-Goldstein, M.M., M.S. CCC-SLP

Visual supports are an integral part of the day for all of us, from street signs to calendars to scrawled reminders on Post-it® Notes. Visual supports in the form of pictures can be an effective and integral part of music instruction for students with complex communication needs, who cannot rely on speech as their primary means of communication. Unlike manual signs or verbal cues, which are transient, pictures provide a stable form of support, as they are fixed and can be referred to repeatedly. This is especially helpful for students who need extra time to process information. Picture symbol software is not necessary. Some assembly is required. So fire up your smart phone, Google Images, or your favorite word processing and presentation-making software to make:

An image with two columns: the left side is labeled

1. Visual schedules: A visual schedule uses pictures to show the sequence of activities that will take place during a class. For example, for a chorus rehearsal, a visual schedule might consist of pictures representing welcome, warm up, pass out music, practice song 1, practice song 2, put music away, all done.

Five side-by-side images showing where to place fingers on an oboe while playing Mary had a Little Lamb.

A visual sequence for the fingering of Mary had a Little Lamb.

2. Visual sequences: The cousin of the visual schedule, the visual sequence uses pictures to depict the steps necessary to complete a specific activity. This can be useful for showing steps for instrument fingerings, changes in body movements for a physical or vocal warm up, or setting up and putting class materials away.

This image contains pictures of instruments in small yellow square boxes. The instruments include egg shakers, triangle, maracas, sand blocks, rhythm sticks, bells, xylophone, tone block, boomwhacker, and sound shape.

3. Choice boards: A choice board has pictures of choices available for a specific activity. For example, pictures of several instruments may be presented to a student, from which they could make their choice. A choice board could also consist of pictures of the covers of pieces to be practiced during class or rehearsal, from which students could choose the order.

4. Scripts and social stories: Using PowerPoint or Google Slides is an easy way to pair pictures with sentences. Putting several pages together, you can create a script to help a student know what to say and do at an audition. A social story can show and describe what is expected in a specific situation, such as being an audience member at a live performance.

A two column image with the word first and a picture of a person singing on the left, and the word 5. First Then boards: A ‘first then’ board consists of two columns with the headings ‘first’ and ‘then,’ with a picture beneath each word representing the present activity and the subsequent one. It might show a non-preferred activity (practice scale), followed by a preferred one (sing ‘Alexander Hamilton’). This is useful for helping students manage transitions.

To see examples of all of these visual supports, head to Google Images and search. There are hundreds of examples to fire up your imagination. Now have fun downloading, formatting, printing, laminating, and using in class!

Lisa Pierce Goldstein croppedLisa Pierce-Goldstein is a speech language pathologist who has spent the past 15 years working with students on the autism spectrum, first in New York City’s District 75 and now in the Boston Public Schools.  She is a classically trained singer and a guest lecturer at Boston Conservatory’s program for Teaching Music to Students on the Autism Spectrum.  She is a frequent presenter at conferences on the topics of augmentative and alternative communication, autism and adapting arts curriculum for students with complex communication needs.  

Five Tips for Preparing New Teachers to Work with Students with Disabilities in the Arts

by Rhoda Bernard, Ed.D.

Many of the strategies for teaching the arts to students with disabilities are components of what is widely considered to be good teaching practice for any student population. The critical difference is for teachers to magnify, deepen, and personalize these aspects of their teaching when they work with students with disabilities.

  1. Learn as much as you can about each student. Read IEP (Individualized Education Program) documents, and meet with Special Education staff members at your school, other teachers, administrators, and parents. If time permits, observe your students with disabilities in other settings. Use what you learn to personalize your teaching for each student. For example, a drama teacher learns that a student who has difficulty with expressive language is more successful when she writes down responses to questions asked aloud in class. The drama teacher can incorporate opportunities for the student to answer questions by writing rather than speaking.
  2. Provide structure and schedules. Arts teachers should use a similar structure to every class session, and should put the day’s agenda on the board and go over it with the students. A typical structure for visual arts classes could be to begin with a whole-class demonstration, followed by student work time on individual projects, with a whole-class wrap up during which students share their works in progress at the end of the lesson.
  3. Use simple, clear instructions. When working with students with disabilities, arts teachers should use specific words and instructions whenever possible. For example, a student with autism spectrum disorder may not understand when his music teacher speaks about a note being “on the line” in music notation. The teacher could shift the wording to “with the line through it,” which is a more literal explanation of how the musical note looks on the staff.
  4. Engage multiple modalities. Sometimes arts teachers give more emphasis to the modality that dominates their art form—for example, music classes may be more focused on the auditory modality, or visual arts classes may emphasize the visual modality. Arts teachers who work with students with disabilities should engage two or even all three modalities in their lessons. For example, a dance teacher can incorporate visual cues in her instructions by using diagrams or color-coded charts to illustrate the form of a dance.
  5. Remember that fair doesn’t always mean equal. Rather, fair means giving each student what he or she needs to succeed in your class. Some students with disabilities require modifications to tasks, assignments, expectations, or the environment in order to succeed. For example, a music student might need to play only certain notes or sections in an ensemble piece. A visual arts teacher might offer all students a choice of materials, such as playdough or clay, so that options are presented to students of all abilities to set them up for success.
A woman with dark, wavy hair in a gray short-sleeve shirt.

Rhoda Bernard

Rhoda Bernard is the Director of Autism Spectrum Programs and Chair of the Music Education Department at Boston Conservatory at Berklee. As of 9/1/17, Bernard will become the Founding Managing Director of the Institute for Arts Education and Special Needs at Berklee College of Music. She is the author of many essays, articles, and book chapters.

Five Tips for Submitting a Good VSA International Young Soloists Competition Application

vsa_2017iysa_620x349
Each year, a select number of outstanding young musicians with disabilities, ages 14-25, are recognized by the VSA International Young Soloists Competition. These emerging musicians from around the world receive a $2,000 prize, professional development activities, and the opportunity to perform at the Kennedy Center. If you or someone you know is interested in applying for the 2017 VSA International Young Soloists Award, check out these application tips before submitting your entry:

  1. Upload high quality, live recordings. Professional recordings are not necessary. Video recordings are recommended but not required. If you are using accompaniment, it should be live and not pre-recorded.
  2. Submit pieces that showcase your proficiency as a musician. Please choose selections focusing on your primary instrument regardless of whether you play multiple instruments.
  3. Variety is encouraged. We encourage you to submit selections by different composers showcasing facility with different styles or eras of music.
  4. This award is for excellence in performance, not songwriting or composition. Original compositions may be submitted, but will not augment your score. Select pieces that showcase your technical skill, artistry, and musicianship as a performer.
  5. Carefully review all elements of your application before submission. Applicants will not be notified if components of their application are missing.

You can find more information about the 2017 VSA International Young Soloists Competition on the Kennedy Center’s website. Application materials should be submitted no later than February 8, 2017. Questions about the VSA International Young Soloists Program can be sent to VSAinfo@kennedy-center.org.

Six Tips for Submitting a Winning Playwright Discovery Script

1617_vsa_playwrightdiscovery_email
Do you know a budding playwright or screenwriter? The annual VSA Playwright Discovery Program invites young writers with disabilities and collaborative groups that include students with disabilities, in U.S. grades 6-12 (or equivalents) or ages 11-18 for non-U.S. students, are invited to explore the disability experience through the art of  writing for performance: plays, screenplays, spoken word poetry (for single performer or a group), or music theater. Writers are encouraged to craft short works from their own experiences and observations, create fictional characters and settings, or choose to write metaphorically or abstractly about the disability experience.

Selected winners in the Senior Division (grades 10-12 / ages 15-18) will receive exclusive access to participate in the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in Washington, D.C., and the opportunity to participate in staged readings and workshops alongside the nation’s premier collegiate playwrights as well as participate in the festival’s award ceremony.

Before your students apply online at www.kennedy-center.org/PDP, encourage them to consider the following tips for creating a winning script.

  1. Address the topic of disability in a meaningful way. Be thoughtful about how you incorporate disability into your script, and try to avoid clichés. Check out the playwriting resources available on the Kennedy Center’s website, including a series of short essays on the disability experience written by theater professionals with disabilities.
  2. Thoroughly develop the plot. Vary the stakes throughout your story to increase the sense of mystery and interest. Incorporate plot twists and subplots, but remember to resolve them.
  3. Pace the action well and sustain interest throughout. Many scripts have promising starts, but convenient or rushed conclusions. If the plot unfolds throughout your script, you will keep the audience on the edge of their seats.
  4. Make your characters believable and compelling. The characters in your play should elicit an emotional or intellectual response from your audience. Work on making them relatable and give them opportunities to learn and grow throughout the story.
  5. Use dialogue effectively. Dialogue is the playwright’s tool to further character development and express a range of human emotions. It should also reflect the writer’s language skills and a sense of natural speech patterns.
  6. Make your script your own. Tell a story that is unique, complex, and surprising, and your script will stand out!

The 2017 VSA Playwright Discovery Program is accepting applications until 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday, February 1. For more information or to apply, visit www.kennedy-center.org/PDP.

5 Tips for Working with Literature Artistically and Inclusively

by Susan Snyder, Ph.D.

Literature, whether a book text, oral story, poem, or script, provides a springboard for work on comprehension. You can explore the text through ears, eyes, bodies, and minds. You can use sound/music, image/visual art, movement/dance, storytelling/theater, and media arts/film. When considering adaptations for students with disabilities, remember that one disability does not impair other abilities.

  1. Establish routines and patterns for working with literature that provide options for expression, with a goal of comprehension.
  2. Use repetitive structures to provide students many chances to improve and succeed. The brain seeks pattern to learn, and repetition is a characteristic of many literary forms. Think of repetition in songs, visual art images, dances, and stories you know and love. Books have these repetitive patterns as well, whether a picture book or a passage from a chapter book.
  3. Provide choices to address student needs, and to challenge students to perceive the message through different lenses. Have students read or listen to the text four times, isolating the sounds, images, movements, and sequence. You can create a retelling with each student choosing to elaborate with either sound, gesture, or image.
  4. Help students learn writing mechanics with artistry. For example, imagine the shapes of punctuation, and how they might be visually organized on a page to emphasize the purpose of each. Victor Borge was a master of matching punctuation symbols with sounds for emotional effect. Add a movement for each, and you reinforce the concept visually, aurally, and kinesthetically.
  5. Be flexible about whether students write stories first, or read the stories of others. Some students do better when they write first, then read. Others prefer to read first, then pull out key words or phrases to inspire their writing.

For some students, our adaptations allow them to achieve in one modality when they cannot through traditional strategies. For those who succeed in traditional classrooms, they sometimes find that they are lacking the skills to think and learn through music, visual art, dance and theater. For all students, exploring literature through multiple modalities enriches learning and increases understanding.

 

A photo of a woman in glasses and a pink top.

Susan Snyder, Ph.D.

Susan Snyder, Ph.D. is an arts-integration teacher and consultant, and president of arts education IDEAS: a company supporting the art of exceptional teaching and learning. Susan creates curriculum designs that place the arts and artistic processes at the center of inclusive learning strategies. She has developed Total Learning, an arts-integrated professional development program www.aeideas.com.