By Courtney Spiker Martin, Arden’s Business Manager and Teaching Artist for Arden for All
Walking the halls of Washington Elementary in Camden, NJ may just be the closest I ever get to stardom.
“Miss Courtney! Miss Courtney! You’re baaacckkkkk!” is all I can hear as 30-some 3rd graders run in for one massive Monday morning hug. What a way to start a week.
It’s been a few months since I was first introduced to Ms. Candelori’s 3rd graders but it’s clear that they haven’t forgotten me or the Arden’s production of Peter Pan which they attended in January. As soon as the chaos subsides, the questions and murmurs begin.”I know that book! Can I tell you what happens?” “Mouse, Cookie!! If we are good we get to see If You Give A Mouse A Cookie!” Their enthusiasm is contagious, and I do my best to feed off of it as I introduce the focus of today’s lesson which I am admittedly slightly nervous about; sentence structure and cause vs. effect. As a theatre artist, teaching academia can be intimidating. I quickly realize that with my bright red If You Give A Mouse A Cookie t-shirt on, these kids might be willing to watch me teach anything. They know the end reward is huge and are willing to work for this field trip.
After a rousing warm up round of the Name Game (say your name and give me a movement that tells me something about you) we are off! (Full disclosure: I am lucky that this group is incredibly animated and one round of the name game wears them out just enough for an hour long lesson.) This is a class full of smart kids who love proving that they are smart. They quickly catch on to my cause/effect identifying game and have no problem coming up with a ton of creative examples which add to the simple scenarios I’ve provided. “I bet he overslept and missed the bus because his brother snores so loud!” During group work the class divides up into pairs and works on combining simple sentences into complex sentences to form cause/effect stories. Most groups even move on to detailed drawings which illustrate their work.
While walking around the classroom to assist I find so many small reasons to celebrate these kids and what they can accomplish. Two for today:
1. The student who crossed his arms during my first two Peter Pan lessons and told me that “No one should have to write on a Monday” (really, he might have a point..)wrote two pages of complex sentences and illustrated both of them.
2. The student who’s voice I only heard once during my winter sessions volunteered to stand in front of the class and read a page of sentences on her own.
When I mention that this lesson is helping to prepare them to become authors of their own children’s books their jaws drop and their feet begin to stomp. One student wanted to know if he could write a play instead (!). It is incredible to see how much of an incentive a theatre trip can be and refreshing to know how an arts -related approach to standard curriculum can breathe new life into a classroom.
I invite anyone who doesn’t see the importance of keeping the arts alive in schools to join me in Ms. Candelori’s 3rd grade class. (And anyone who questions my celebrity status, I invite you to do the same.)