From stage to page
By Leon Van’t Veen-Gibbon
Issue: Volume 93,
Posted: 28 October 2014
Reference #: 1H9csR
Some might assume that the performing arts don’t have a lot of relevance to core subjects. Manurewa’s Alfriston Primary School begs to differ, as deputy principal and performing arts teacher Leon Van’t Veen-Gibbon explains.
During term 3 this year, students learned about ancient Egypt within integrated programmes of learning. Our school production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat became sort of like a showpiece for the total learning package. One of our goals at Alfriston is to strengthen and enrich all areas of curriculum by making them relevant to each other; we have found that a performing arts production really helps to achieve this and can help to bridge the gap between subject areas.
The classroom study was part of our term 3 inquiry learning theme. Students were able to consolidate this learning when they came to production rehearsals, when we spoke about the setting of the show (biblical Egypt), landmarks, features, vocabulary, and links to rituals that took place in the Egyptian world. It was great to hear students using correct terminology when discussing the set, hieroglyphics, and Tutankhamun.
Students were also involved in a wide range of visual art experiences, including the design and creation of canopic jars, hieroglyphic art work, and cartouches.
The theme was echoed in other aspects of the curriculum, including maths, where one of the intermediate maths classes developed independent inquiries and workshops to explore mathematics in ancient Egyptian culture.
One of the objectives of learning in the performing arts space was to teach students how to use a language specific to a learning task. Students were taught the appropriate technical vocabulary such as ‘placement,’ ‘blocking,’ ‘setting’, and ‘choreography.’
Performance techniques are taught from the front, at times, with the teacher modelling and students then gradually taking responsibility for the action. At other times, students create from the beginning, and fine-tune as they go. This way, the piece is owned by everyone. Students hold each other accountable for effort and standards.
Discipline is essential to providing a safe yet liberating environment where students know when and how to experiment and create, and when and how to observe and listen.
One minute, students are dancing and singing, and the next they are sitting down giving each other feedback about their performances. This is our third school production in as many years, and it is evident that students now know the fundamentals of learning in the performing arts.
Success breeds success
We at Alfriston School believe that student success in the performing arts has resonated in the classroom. In some cases, students who find reading, writing, and mathematics a challenge have experienced success on stage, often excelling beyond their own expectations. These young people are now approaching their classroom learning with renewed confidence in their own abilities.
Character workshops and rehearsals followed soon after auditions were concluded. Because of the busy school day, there was no down time during rehearsals. Students were expected to arrive on time and remain engaged in the process until they left the rehearsal space. This ensured focus during rehearsals and enabled us to get through a lot of learning each day. Lead parts also kept a learning diary, to assist them in the retention of production information, including entrances, exits, lyrics, props, and transitions.
Enterprise and citizenship
Our production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat was also a great demonstration of the fact that a multi-faceted school-wide project like ours can embed notions of citizenship and enterprise. Alfriston School principal Michelle McCarty shared her thoughts.
“The students knew this was an enterprising venture from the start because they were creating something – a valued product for their school.
The students understood their challenge was to create something that ‘made the wheels go round’, that sold enough tickets to cover the costs of a quality show.
“In terms of citizenship, students knew that the community wanted to partner with the production and knew that this meant all parties needed to give of their time and effort. This is what a partnership means. This was not just about kids learning; our staff and parents learned an awful lot as well. They learned tolerance and appreciation and to be inspired by kids, and this brought about a collective confidence and mutual respect. Students demonstrated their appreciation of this partnership when they expressed in their own words to the adults involved their messages of thanks following the final show.”
Involving the school community
A performing arts blog(external link) provided a forum for interactive and regular updates for our students and families. In this way, we were able to build an element of e-learning into our production, not to mention strengthening opportunities for collaboration. Blog entries show reflections on student learning, thoughts and comments, insights and observations, including video and photographic evidence of learning in action. It was easy for students to see what they should be aspiring to, and in this way, everyone participating in the production was able to engage in robust feedback and feed forward.
An example of the blog in use
Student: “I really like Trent’s pose because it looks very funny.”
Teacher: “What did you like about his freeze? Why did it stand out to you?”
Student: “I like this freeze because it’s funny and it stood out to me because all of the other students did high freezes but Trent did a low one.”
Teacher: “Thanks Phoebe, I agree with you. Freezes, or ‘tableaux’, need to stand out to the audience by having different levels, angles, and facial expressions, and Trent has done a great job of these things. What feedback would you give to some of the other students?”
Student: “I would say there are too many arm freezes, so I would say to have some different freezes than other people are doing.”
An invitation was extended to our parent community to assist with set, props, costumes, and make-up. As a result, we had everything we needed to stage a high quality performance.
As an effort to support and enrich classroom learning; to engender student confidence; to carry learning themes across different subject areas; and as a wonderful way to engage the wider community in the life of the school, we believe our production has been a huge success.
A parent's perspective
“A musical production of this calibre has seen some fantastic talent come out of the school, and I believe that it is a valuable tool for children these days to be able to get up in front of a crowd and perform.
“This kind of show brings out the best in people and the cooperation between the community and school is amazing.” – Sarah.
“Today I learned that blocking is when you break something down and learn the movement, get your positioning right, and go over the lyrics. Blocking is like baking a cake and polishing is like putting on the icing and decoration.” – Finlay
“I have learned about working together, I was really shy at first, but my friends helped me. Performing can be a hard thing to do. My friends gave me really good feedback and they helped me take that really big step into performing in front of a big audience.” – Brooke
“When I was doing rehearsals in Joseph, I was able to keep a learning journal, and it helped me remember things and keep on track on what was happening in the classroom as well as what we did on stage. Writing my diary helped me develop my writing skills in the classroom by thinking about what I was writing more deeply.” – Brooke