by Mentor Artist Hannah Dworkin
Most of the work I do in “Arts Unite Us” classrooms is process based, meaning that the experience of music or movement activities is the goal of the session. There are of course many other ways that the students benefit including language, social and pre reading development. Creating a show is almost never part of the conversation, but there are times when students, even autistic preschoolers want to share what they have learned. Sometimes organizing a small show for their parents is the best way to give them this opportunity. Jessical Leaper’s preschool students at Marindale Special Day School were one such group.
The question that arose for me was: How does one put on a show with a group of students who are often afraid of social interactions and may not be able to retain enough information to put on a traditional performance? The conclusion I came to was that we needed to develp a delicate relationship between routine and flexibility.
If possible I think shows like this should take place in a setting in which the students are comfortable. In the case of Jessica’s class I chose to have the students share their work in their “circle time spots.” We held all of our class sessions in this space, and the students were accustomed to heading straight for their chairs as soon as I walked in the room. The songs and activities we shared were also in the order we I taught them each session, and I used the visual aids that were present in each class session. The order is listed below along with a description of the visual aids:
Good Morning Song (Picture of the morning with the words “Good Morning” imbedded)
Hello Song (Choice board with options for dance movements to perform with each round of the song)
Pepperoni Pizzas (Pictures of Rhythmic notation with pictures of foods-Pepperoni is paired with four 16th notes, Pizza is paired with two eighth notes, Pie is paired with one quarter note, Cheese is paired with one half note)
Singing Songs (Picture of singing to remind students to sing along)
Dance (Picture of dancing to remind students to dance)
Penny Game (Picture of Penny and a real penny to help participation)
Goodbye Song (Picture of students waving “Goodbye”)
There are three aspects of flexibility that were important to this experience. First, I started to introduce small changes to my routine halfway through the residency to acclimate the students to the possibility of changes in the class order. The parents in the audience were also asked to be flexible. They started sitting behind the students, and then we slowly moved them forward. Eventually many were sitting in front of the students in traditional audience seating. I as a teaching artist also needed to be flexible. I needed to understand that some students would need to sit on their parents laps. I needed to remember that this production was not going broadway, so following the students in this way was just fine. I did pull those parents into the dance portion, and the parents seemed to enjoy the experience.
Ultimately this untraditional show was successful for everyone involved. The students shared their work. I was given an opportunity to introduce parents to our work, and Jessica was able to bring parents into the classroom, some of whom had not visited all year. We plan to try it again next year!