During Community-Word Project's Teaching Artist Project (TAP) seminars, I had the opportunity to co-create and present a lesson plan with my fellow intern, Stephanie McKay. After creating and presenting a lesson with her, I see the value of co-teaching. It’s easier to come up with more creative ideas and solutions to challenges when working with another person. In addition, the students get the added benefit of learning through two interwoven art forms.
After a lot of brainstorming, Stephanie and I realized that our respective creative practices, dance and music, draw heavily on emotions and have strong storytelling capacities (TAP'S Creative Elements worksheet was great for getting us started with this). Once we found some overlapping creative elements, we decided to teach a lesson based on the inquiry question, “How can we use storytelling to express emotion through music and dance?”. This question made me think of Peter and the Wolf by Sergei Prokofiev, because of its obvious narrative element and the variety of emotions its story’s characters feel. Stephanie wanted to include gestural movements to connect the music’s narrative and emotional elements to physical movements.
We went through a lot of different ideas for how we could put the music and dance components together. The challenges were to overcome the logistical difficulties of balancing the two art forms as well as time constraints. We also wanted to make sure our lesson addressed several of Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences and make sure that our teaching plan was scaffolded in a way that each part of the lesson led to the next, as we had been learning in previous TAP seminars. Because we had so much to consider from our different art forms, we ended up coming up with a lot of ideas. Another difficulty, then, was parsing everything into a cohesive lesson.
Our plan was to start with students filling out Graffiti walls as they came into the room to introduce the topic of emotions. Each Graffiti poster would have a different emoji on it with a prompt such as “I feel sad when…”. Then, our intro activity and warm up got the students moving their bodies and connecting the movements with Stephanie’s gesture walk, during which she would call out different scenarios, including potentially hot button topics, and then ask the class to express the emotion they would feel in those scenarios by the way they walked. Following this activity, I planned to introduce the class to the piece Peter and the Wolf. I played several excerpts from the Prokofiev’s work and instructed the students to move during each excerpt in a way that expressed the emotion they perceived in the music. Next, our plan was to break the students into groups and have them create dances using some of the gestures they came up with while listening to the music.
The presentation of our lesson went well. We talked through part of it and taught the rest. But after receiving feedback and actually trying out the lesson, we discovered that we had planned too much for one lesson even after cutting it down. We revised the lesson by splitting it into two days, so that students would have more time creating dances and reflecting on each activity throughout the lessons.
While it was easier in a sense to come up with more creative ideas when planning with another artist of a different art form, it was also more difficult to create a cohesive lesson that incorporated both creative practices without trying to do too much. It was great to receive the opportunity to try out this lesson plan in a seminar setting before actually doing it in a classroom: now we can anticipate these challenges the next time we teach. I know the students will definitely benefit from getting to learn two art forms as well as having two teaching artists in the classroom. I’m a fan of co-teaching.