Arrietty in the Classroom

December 14, 2010

Bi Jean Ngo, the actress who plays Arietty in The Borrowers, >pharm is also a Teaching Artist for the Arden’s educational program – Arden For All.  Here Bi recounts her first few days at McCall Elementary. The lesson challenged the students to “borrow” classroom objects to make Homily a spoon and Arietty a hairbrush.  But just when they figured out how to do this – an obstacle came their way – they ran into a giant puddle on their way home.  How will these tiny Borrowers cross the puddle with all the new items they have “borrowed”?

By Bi Jean Ngo, Arrietty in The Borrowers

All of Dr. Geller’s class had a strong understanding of the scale of The Borrowers. They had all visited the Arden and seen James and the Giant Peach, Peter Pan, and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, and were incredibly excited for their next visit to the theatre. The whole class has been reading the book, and they have completed seventeen chapters so far. When asked to name their favorite moments, there were plenty of hands raised, and I’m happy to report that all the students seem to retain much of the detailed descriptions in the book.

All of the groups had ideas for crossing the puddle as Borrowers. At first, the students formed lists of objects that they’d use to cross a puddle as borrowers. I then asked them to create a how-to instructional together with me, using the peanut butter & jelly exercise. Having done that, they re-visited their list of objects and wrote their how-to instructional guides for crossing the puddle as borrowers.

Actress and teacher, Bi Jean Ngo, with students from McCall Elementary after they saw The Borrowers at Arden Theatre Company.

They all had found objects in the classroom with which to construct boats and paddles. There was a bunch of rubber ducks lined up on a shelf, and most of the students latched onto the idea of using those. One group thought to use a pencil caddy for a boat, pencils and popsicle sticks as oars, and paper products as sails. I was really impressed that several students were adamant that they create anchors for their boats, so the Borrowers wouldn’t lose the boats. All the groups enjoyed sharing their solutions to crossing the puddle, especially when I held up objects they described.

After my first visit, the class had a science lesson about magnets. When I returned, the kids were really excited to tell me about new solutions for crossing the puddle based on their science class. I was so happy to see them have an interdisciplinary stroke of inspiration. That’s what we hope for, isn’t it?  The students suggested using multiple magnets to attract the borrowers’ flotation devices across the water.

Ms. Hantman’s third grade class is full of incredibly enthusiastic, awesome kids. Her students have all read the book, and they could all name the characters and their favorite parts. Most of the students have a strong understanding of the scale of the Borrowers. There’s a lot of academic support in this class, and the students are intelligent and unafraid to volunteer their thoughts and opinions. Ms. Hantman, for one, is a veteran teacher, and she has a student teacher and an ESOL teacher in class with her. There are three ESOL students in class, and they were eager to participate in the Arden lessons. While some of the language may be difficult for them right now, those students were just as enthusiastic in trying to do the warm-ups and the independent/group exercises as the rest.

I think Ms. Hantman’s class might produce at least two future engineers. When coming up with ideas for crossing the puddle, there were a few physics-minded students who dreamed up possible catapult devices, bridges, and flying mechanisms. One clever idea was to hitch a ride from an animal that might carry the Borrowers around on its back. I had them brainstorm character ideas for each of their families, and because they are a set of really bold, independent thinkers, I let them come up with their own Borrowing family names. We all created a dialogue together as a group, as a framework for how to write one.

One a side note, I was just reading the article in Philadelphia Magazine about why this generation of young people will not be as smart as generations preceding it. However, my two classes at McCall show me that there are wonderful teachers and wonderful children who are eager to learn and have fun while doing it. Both 3rd grade classes are near completion or have completed reading The Borrowers. They completely invest in the Arden sessions, and they ask questions when they are confused so they proceed with an exercise with clarity. It’s a great group of kids.

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