My first day in a Community-Word Project residency was unlike anything I had ever experienced and, by observing the open communication between my mentors and their students when faced with certain challenges, I witnessed how a daily lesson plan can grow into something awe inspiring in the classroom. You just need the patience to see it through.
From the moment I stepped into P.S./M.S. 279, Captain Manuel Rivera, Jr., I knew I was about to experience something completely different. The friendly security guard at the front desk checked me in and guided me to my assigned classroom. There were lines along the floor of the halls, separating each side like lanes on a road, and I watched as whole classes passed by me. The entire school is decorated with student artwork and I marveled at the colorful walls as I waited for my mentors: Teaching Artists, Bianca Garcia (Poet) and Scott Lilly (Theatre Artist). I was nervous when I first entered, but Bianca and Scott were welcoming and explained what we would be doing that day.
The children poured into the classroom. They were arranged on the rug and I was introduced to them. We began the day with a warm up that included some of the elements I had seen in the Teaching Artist Training & Internship Program (TATIP) workshops where everyone follows along with physical actions as they say: I am AWAKE! I am ALERT! I am ALIVE! I am EN-THU-SIAS-TIC! The kids were wildly enthused by this and it was fun to watch as the Teaching Artists transitioned from the warm up to the main activity almost seamlessly. I also noted that the classroom teacher was eagerly involved with the lesson, which is something I had not expected. It was fun to watch as Scott pulled out a guitar and Bianca reminded the kids that they were writing a song.
One of the things that struck me most was how much control the Teaching Artists had over the class. They were not focused on disciplining these kids, rather engaging them in the activity. Often they mentioned that the class is a team, that we are working together, and any distractions that occurred were mostly passed over with positive comments and maneuvers that pushed the lesson forward and encouraged the kids to be involved, rather than punishing them for misconduct. I felt that there was a calmness and patience that drove my mentors and that they, with help from the classroom teacher, were setting the tone for the children. This tone set me at ease and allowed me to focus on what was happening as if I were one of the students.
The song the kids were going to create was something that would first begin as a poem. This meant that the kids left the rug for a while and sat at desks to brainstorm ideas on the five senses. The task was explained simply and concisely, and the transition from rug to desk was flawless. I sat at a table with a group of about six children and helped them come up with ideas on what they might taste in their neighborhood. I found ways to encourage the students to think outside of just food tastes, such as asking what they use to brush their teeth (toothpaste!), and what you might chew but not swallow (gum!), but we did end up with quite a lot of foods. The kids enjoyed getting their chance to write the words and asked me for help with spelling. The Teaching Artists gave time warnings for finishing up and we slowly began to pack up the day’s lesson.
As each activity built on top of the next, I began to see a pattern. First we met, then we got ready, then something was explained, then we began to piece together the main activity by taking time for each piece. Elements of music, poetry, logical thinking, brain-storming, self-awareness, hand writing, and spelling were included as well as the constant reminder that there are no wrong answers. It’s been a while since I was in elementary school, but I don’t recall seeing so much of this variety when I was young. The way in which all the teachers in the class are there to guide but not to manipulate, and to encourage the kids to think freely for themselves, reflected a patience I had not frequently seen in a classroom. It was clear to me that my mentors work very well together and that they had put a lot into creating a lesson that allowed the kids to learn while having fun. It was learning without feeling like a lesson was being taught. Their methods of scaffolding a lesson plan were really inspiring and I am excited to return each week in order to unpack each layer and examine it further so that I can become a patient Teaching Artist with clear goals and concise lessons as well.
-Marie Farrell, Theatre Artist, TATIP Trainee