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.

 

 

 

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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.

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“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.

5 Tips for Teaching Theater to Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Acting from the Outside In

By James Lekatz

Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) present challenges for a typical theater classroom: possible deficits in communication, sensory processing, social skills, and fine motor control. However, students with ASD can also have wonderful strengths for a theater classroom: honesty, attention to detail, and creative thinking. Approaching a theater class from a physical theater pedagogy allows students with ASD to focus on their strengths, build confidence, and develop social skills. Here are 5 tips to start acting from the outside in.

  1. Adopt routine and structure. Begin classes with the same routine: conduct a verbal check-in with each student so everyone has a chance to share what’s going on in their lives; follow with a centering warm-up exercise (introduce a set of skills that students can improve on over time); then a student-led warm-up exercise (this improvisational process incorporates a repeated structure and lets students take ownership of their class); and finish by going over the schedule of the day. Always end class with the same structure: review what was completed and go over what will be accomplished in the next class. Routines and structures help foster a safe and welcoming atmosphere for the students.
  1. Create an atmosphere of playfulness. When playfulness is explored and expressed, the room is allowed to relax. Students are willing to take creative risks and make big choices. Usually, students don’t have a fear of failing or of doing the “wrong thing” when there is an atmosphere of playfulness. Often times, starting an improvisational situation, scene work, or other exercise by doing it the “wrong way” allows all students a chance to fully engage in what they are doing. Nobody can fail, that is the purpose! From this place of playful “failure,” students are able to fully participate and laugh at themselves and each other in a supportive way. Being playful does not mean being disrespectful, chaotic, or unfocused. Playfulness is structured, focused, and allows space for creative freedom, supported peer interaction, and a desire to try again. It also invites full body movement and a physical response with the voice.
  1. Use body, movement, and gesture. Typical theater is based on psychological realism, or memory recall of emotion—acting from the inside out. This is an absolutely valid way of creating theater; however, if we take a physical route to create theater, using physical representations of characters, spatial relationships, and whole body gestures—acting from the outside in—students are able to dive deeper into their creativity. They no longer rely on representing feelings; they can be active and actually show, not just tell, what they are feeling.
  1. Remain open to possibilities. Give students the choice as to who or what they want to represent on stage. The protection of a character lets students’ self-expression evolve in a way that is not possible if they are acting as themselves. It is the job, and joyful challenge, of the teacher to figure out how to put characters together into a story. When it comes to pre-existing scene work, let the students cast the scene as well. This not only sets in motion an interest in the work they are about to begin, but it gives them an ownership of the process.
  1. Ask, “What did you notice?” Leave time for observations and discussions. This allows the teacher to recap what has been accomplished, but also offers time for the students to synthesize what they have experienced. It gives ample opportunity for students who have minimal language skills to express their observations. Prompting the students with the question, “What did you notice?” takes away the personal opinion of a student’s work; the “I liked it when…” is thrown away. An actual critique occurs as students specifically noticed a particular moment. The follow up questions are, “How did it make you feel?” or “What did it remind you of?” These questions help the students bridge the gap from the classroom to their personal lives.

 

A picture of the author holding a colorful string instrument behind his head.

James Lekatz

James Lekatz is an Education Associate and Arts Access Specialist at Stages Theatre Company. He continues to be instrumental in leading the charge for Stages Theatre Company’s outreach and access efforts, and brokering new partnerships with community organizations. He is also a resident teaching artist in many Twin Cities school districts and is the lead teacher of CAST (Creative Accepting Sensory-friendly Theatre), a program for students ages 7-17 with ASD.  

Five Tips on Exploring Transition Theatrically with Students with Disabilities

By Lisa Golda

As any actor will tell you, theatrical practice is a very powerful tool for self-transformation. The very act of embodying different roles in a cooperative context provides socially reinforced opportunities to realize the dreams and conquer the obstacles of one’s inner landscape in the physical world. Traits of characters played can, if invited, linger in the actor’s psyche long after the curtain comes down. Scripted character interactions allow opportunities to both share and assume perspectives in rehearsal for more spontaneous real-life conversations. Obstacles conquered onstage prove less problematic offstage. Here are five graduated ways to explore and empathize with the inevitable obstacles and unknowns of transition with students, teachers, and families entering life after high school routine.

1. Start small and safe. Actors simultaneously utilize literature, movement, speech, interaction, self-assertion, and physical tableau, but those elements are easy to tackle one by one while still offering effective opportunities for rehearsal of real-life skills. It’s important to build a sense of comfort and mastery into graduated assumption of the role one wishes to assume after transition from high school to adult life. It is also important to reassure parent and teacher participants that they can indeed apply theater to their own lives despite any potential lack of acting experience. Ask students and teachers to choose words they associate with transition, such as “birth” or “sunrise,” then invite them to create silent statues or ten-second tableaus of these concepts with their bodies, with a partner. This is a very non-threatening, failure-proof, and beautiful way to embody change and begin considering all that transition implies.

2. Embody and overcome metaphorical obstacles to transition before exploring interpersonal scenarios. Theatrical work can be very transformative, but most non-actors need to build trust and safety with each other before jumping into the emotional deep end of their imagined realities and relationships. Group participation in both being and navigating an obstacle course—for instance, cooperatively and safely guiding a blindfolded participant through an improvised classroom maze with vocal directions—can give the guided actor the experience of dependence, frustration, and trust. This activity also leads the guiders to an understanding of their own tendencies in helping situations: What tolerance do they have for watching their students and children struggle with obstacles? What can a student learn about their parents’ challenges by helping them navigate in the metaphorical dark?

3. Improvise an applicable interaction with secret agendas. Give two participants transition-applicable, opposing unknown agendas to explore in improvised dyad in front of the group. For instance: two teachers are partnered. One teacher is given the objective of staying out after group home curfew to see their only friend—it’s life or death stakes. Another teacher is told that they must not acknowledge the “resident’s” risky rule-breaking desire, but only repeat: You may not break curfew. In embodying this and other authentically applicable transition scenarios, participants can gain a better sense of what their students, parents, and teachers are experiencing, as well as rehearse positive potential responses and outcomes.

4. Collect and incorporate narratives to feature in a transitional showcase performance. It has been said that good acting is merely being present and listening to your scene partner with 100% focus. Foster the art of listening by having students, parents, and teachers gather narratives from each other about aspects of transition and its real, imagined, feared, and desired outcomes. Condense the narrative material into poetry, song lyrics, or simple monologues addressing the participants’ inner transitional landscapes. Then perform the original material in theatrical format. Embodying this personal source material further enriches the conscious processing and experiencing of transition.

5. Prepare and perform a relevant text, play, or book excerpt pertaining to the issue at hand. Our participants have now moved from simple frozen tableau to metaphorical obstacle mastery to perspective taking to experience sharing to the actual art of acting; that is to say, embodying an experience that is not literally one’s own, but which becomes one’s own through the art of acting. Having practiced presenting material and situations that are truly our own through gathered personal narrative, our final objective as actors is to take the perspectives of others alien to ourselves by rehearsing and performing plays. Students who choose to perform roles that may seem impossible to parents and teachers may end up embodying positive aspects of those characters in their actual lives, or successfully avoiding them, if negative.

 

 

A headshot of Lisa Golda

Lisa Golda

Lisa Golda spent seven years teaching for Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education and Chicago Opera Theatre. She is currently the Business Manager at Skylight Music Theatre in Milwaukee, WI. Her resume includes professional acting, singing, music directing, voice teaching, and arts integration consulting for orgs including Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Ravinia Festival, and the Chicago Symphony. www.lisagolda.com

 

Lisa Golda and Michelle Parker-Katz will present “Embodying Transition: A Theatrical Approach to the Transition IEP” at the 2016 VSA Intersections: Arts and Special Education conference on Monday, August 1, 2016.