This post was authored by David Kelly.
What does authentic student centered learning look like in the performing arts? Theatre is amazing because it can be completely centered on the student experience and bring out a range of perspectives. This is at the heart of learning at St. Andrew’s: student centered and authentic learning.
Imagine five days with a diverse group of twenty elementary students from multiple schools, all signed up to present an all original performing arts camp with singing, dance, and acting. Nothing is pre-packaged, everything created within the week of the camp and a final performance on Friday.
Far from a pre-canned, rinse and repeat experience, day one, we ask: What would you like to have in the show at the end of the week?
The responses included, singing, dancing, and a story with a guinea pig, a dog, a cat, a bunny, astronauts, a wolf, the three pigs, a ghost, a yeti, Santa Clause, tigers, police officers, a donut salesman, a witch, and a crow. Yes, we included all of this in one production with elementary aged students.
What story could this possibly be? Through brainstorming, collaboration, and a lot of imagination, a plot is formed. Four friends find a magic key, the witch and her pet crow want the key. The witch turns the friends into a guinea pig, a bunny, a cat, and a dog and are cast to ends of the earth.
The story follows the friends as they reunite and ultimately defeat the witch with a rock-paper-scissors tournament. The production includes four song and dance numbers that take the production around the world to Ghana with “Che Che Kule,” Mexico with “Live Life,” Italy with “The Tarantella,” and Japan with “Sakura”.
Days two through four: What makes this good education and good fun at the same time? The students made it. The students created the characters. They wrote the production with original dialogue that was improvised through the rehearsal process. They learned the dances and songs and collaborated throughout the process.
Day five: The students arrived with confidence and excitement. Why? Because they owned the show. The final show, attended by friends and family members allowed them to share their collaborative voice.
How do you make theatre relevant to students today? One of the most memorable parts of the show was a surprise song. The characters spoke about giving up and not wanting to go on. As they did one turned to the other and said, “I’m never gonna give you up.” We then played, “Never Gonna Give you Up” by Rick Astley as the entire cast came on stage singing and dancing to the first 16 measures. It’s a common and harmless prank now to kids these days to include the song in a surprise way, it’s called getting ‘Rick Rolled’. We included this in the production and it was a highlight for the students. They also, without knowing it, got to examine the relationship between the performers and the audience in a way that was meaningful to them.
The learning was authentic and lasting. It was a Picasso-esque collage of child creativity and a highlight of the summer – a sure antidote to automated learning and popularizing Authentic Intelligence.