Report by Clara Waloff, El Puente Arts, Curriculum & Assessment Coordinator
El Puente's Integrated Arts Projects (IAPs) are in-school and out-of-school arts-based projects that engage students in dynamic, in-depth learning processes around a central theme, vision, or community issue. The IAP model is facilitated by a Design Team comprised of academic facilitators/teachers, administrators, and students from our three partner schools in District 14 in Williamsburg (El Puente Academy, MS 50, and PS 84), along with El Puente teaching artists/arts administrators & members of community/cultural organizations. Together, they develop a central theme from which arts/academic faculty and El Puente teaching artists develop integrated lesson plans focused on mastery through sequentially developed skill-building activities, 1-on-1 mentoring and community-driven projects that are aligned with New York State and City learning standards for the arts. A major goal of the IAP is to extend learning beyond the traditional curriculum & into students’ home & community lives. This is achieved primarily through the integration of culturally relevant arts instruction with a unit of the existing academic curriculum.
Through Hablamos Arte ("We Speak Art") we have expanded our model of arts integration to include support for English Language Learning students through a focus on language acquisition skills, cultural identity and community development. Based on research from the 2013-2014 school year, we have seen outcomes in: Increased efficacy in expression (verbal, written, & artistic); increased language skills (both second language & home language), increased proficiency in Academic language and arts vocabulary; increased/diverse skills in communicating understanding of academic learning; increased critical thinking skills & support in transitioning between grade levels and schools. With Hablamos Arte, the arts experience affirms home language and culture and provides building blocks to learning and building confidence in English.
Rehearsal for Adaptation of Anna in the Tropics - Team C in the Tropix, 2014
“I felt great. I was more confident than I ever was. At first I was nervous than it just got away. I just started getting up and up with my confidence and I did it. I accomplished my goal.”
– Yoskar, 6th grade ELL student at MS 50, reflecting on his experience performing for the ‘Hablamos Arte’ IAP.
“I thought it was easy in the beginning, but then I found out how difficult it was because you had to read it and pronounce it like if you were talking to somebody. That’s more difficult than it seems, because when you’re reading a story you’re not thinking about – it has to sound like I’m talking to somebody – you’re just reading it. But when you try to read it fluent and like – with a loud voice, and you’re trying to understand stuff so people, to make people understand what you are saying...it’s really difficult when you actually try it.”
– Cody, 6th grade ELL student at MS 50, reflecting on the experience of memorizing lines and performing for the ‘Hablamos Arte’ IAP.
Family and Community Engagement
El Puente’s IAP model is designed to engage parents and community in a substantive way. Because our work is guided by El Puente’s mission to ‘inspire and nurture leaders for peace & justice’, our IAP model strives to make parents and community members integral participants of their child's learning. With Hablamos Arte, given the focus on ELL students, this model is also designed to engage parents from a culturally and linguistically relevant perspective. This engagement has been cultivated at each school through ongoing events (community performances, parent nights, festivals, in-school performances) where parents, families, and community members are encouraged to attend, break bread together, and exchange in dialogue with their children and their childrens' teachers about the work they do in the IAPs. At El Puente Academy, students performed multiple times at the culmination of each of the two IAPs they worked on - twice each for an audience of peers during the school day, and twice each time for an audience of parents and community members for a total of eight sharings. At PS 84, students performed at a culminating 'Bombazo' during the school's annual "Artstravaganza," which draws an audience of families and community members. In addition to being audience to final sharings, families have been included throughout the process. Students at EPA had to conduct family interviews about immigration at the start of their project. Students at 84 had to interview family members about their own culture's tradition with music and drumming. Students also engaged their families on a weekly basis in what they were learning by practicing lines, rhythms, and songs at home & simply discussing what they were experiencing. Families from PS 84 had an additional opportunity to participate in a Bombazo with their children shortly after the 'Artsravaganza' - BombaYo participated with El Puente in a city-wide "Make Music NY" festival that brought out community members to Washington Plaza in Los Sures, Williamsburg. Several students who participated in the Hablamos Arte project and their families came to the event and joined in the singing and dancing. During the 2014-15 school year, students from the same project were selected to perform with BombaYo at Lincoln Center during their "Meet the Artist" series. Parents of those students participated in workshops leading up to the performance in addition to being in the audience during the final presentation. For the culmination of MS 50's short pilot IAP, students performed their original play in front of an audience of peers, teachers, school administration, and several family members.
“You all left such a big, big impression on me, walking into the gallery and seeing all the poster boards [student research on Puerto Rico and Bomba], that was incredible. To me, that was one of the biggest highlights of the Bomba project. I know we love the music, we love the drumming, but it’s so much more. I saw the commitment, the struggle. Looking at the work really gives me a lot of confidence that Bomba is growing.”
-- José Ortiz (aka Dr. Drum), Bomba Teaching Artist, reflecting with 5th grade ELL students at the culmination of the ‘Hablamos Arte’ IAP project at PS 84
“We don't want them to rush. We want them to actually acknowledge what they are saying. Really live the character, live the play, not only say their lines, but understand this is what the characters are saying to really understand what is happening...I know for a fact they are NEVER going to forget Anna in the Tropics. ‘Son Número Seis,’ they will never forget that. They will know Ophelia and Juan Julian FOREVER.”
-- Sylmarie Santos-Santori, Theater Teaching Artist, reflecting on 9th grade ‘Hablamos Arte’ IAP at El Puente Academy
How we do it - Aligning IAPs to Common Core, Arts Standards, and El Puente's Creative Justice Approach Framework
Within the IAP process, students meet Common Core standards. Arts curriculum is aligned to academic curriculum. This happens via teaching artist/academic facilitator partnership, where the teams meet regularly (at least once a week for one hour + prep and assessment time for each contact session). In this way, arts instruction directly supports academic mastery targets in addition to NYS standards for the arts (both are reflected in arts /academic curriculum).
“We worked a lot on descriptive language using similes and metaphors to describe things without using literal expressions. We used figurative language to express how we felt about ourselves, our families, and what things were important to us. So in addition to the play, the use of the descriptive and figurative language and poetry really helped them bring a lot of this stuff together – a lot of their language experiences. Also public speaking: to speak – to be confident, a lot of us who were not confident speaking English were able to speak loudly, clearly, and in public – which makes us now stronger in speaking the language. Those of us still learning English are now, I think, much more confident speaking English, much more confident taking risks with the language, much more confident taking risks with what we do and knowing that when we take a risk, most times it’ll turn out positively. I think a lot of us saw that.”
– Mr. Warren, 6th grade ELA/ELL teacher reflecting at the culmination of the ‘Hablamos Arte’ IAP project on the impact it had on his students at MS 50.
Creative Justice Approach
Integrated curricula are rooted in our Creative Justice Approach framework. The Creative Justice Approach was derived from research conducted at El Puente by the National Latino/a Education Research and Policy Project & the Center for Puerto Rican Studies (CUNY). Curriculum & assessment templates around 4 learning guideposts: Community, Activation, Expression & Continuity direct teachers & teaching artists in introducing arts content & technique, integrating social issues and engaging youth in sharing their work to an audience of peers, family & community.
The Creative Justice approach describes a comprehensive approach to learning in three areas:
Lens 1: Social Ecology - People, place, purpose (relationships, mentoring, culture)
Lens 2: Creative Learning Cycle - 4 Guideposts: Community, Activation, Expression, Continuity
Lens 3: Personal Transformation - Expected outcome for all involved is personal transformation and community transformation
Students preparing visual art pieces for Dia de los Muertos Celebration, 2012
How we assess it - PAR
Participatory Action Research (PAR) is an interactive process for planning, facilitating, and assessing programs & community initiatives based on a cycle of observations, inquiry forming, data collection, data analysis, & action. It is designed to be an ongoing process that involves all major players (youth included!).
Founded as an “alternative paradigm” to classic subject-object research, PAR pioneers (including Orlando Fals-Borda) aimed to shift the power balance of traditional research in their quest for social justice and transformation. PAR relates directly to the principles of Education for Liberation and the work of Paulo Freire, whose Methodology “See, Analyze, Act” was a cornerstone of Catholic Activism in Brazil in the 1960s. Also related to PAR is the work of Augusto Boal (Forum Theater), and Luis Moll (“Funds of Knowledge”), and principles for practicing community-based art (i.e., art that is for the people, by the people, and of the people).
In PAR, the process is the product, the participants are the subjects and the conductors of the research, and findings are based on qualitative evidence - including personal experiences, opinions and reflections. The result of PAR is a powerful set of findings that can guide a group of stakeholders to move in a different direction, take actions based on what was discovered, and invest in areas that contribute to the most desired outcomes. Within the IAP, students and teachers were engaged in project-long PAR investigations that provided opportunities for them to reflect deeply on their experience, learning, and development. The initial findings described above came out of individual and group interviews, focus groups, "graffiti wall" assessment sessions with teachers and students, journal entries, observations of in-class work and final presentations, and open forums with parents and community members and participating students.
Questions from IAP Hablamos Arte Theater & ELA Project:
1) How can Theater support the growth and learning of this group of ELL students?
2) How can this group use what they are learning in Theater & English in other parts of school and non-school life?
Findings from the 2013-2014 School Year
Through personal and group reflection, interviews, and focus groups; students, teachers, and artists found that:
The Integration of arts learning with an academic subject area supports ELL strategies by offering hands-on, intellectually and artistically stimulating opportunities to take part in a creative process that:
- Affirms home language, culture, history
- Provides a safe space and builds confidence for language learning where students can practice, make mistakes, and get constructive feedback from peers. Importantly, in an arts integration setting, this language learning provides opportunities for real-life skill building. For example, students at El Puente Academy and Ms 50 had to learn lines and perform them in front of an audience of peers, teachers, and families. Many cited increased vocabulary, improved pronunciation, and heightened use outside the class.
“Well, I guess to not be scared, because like, Luis, I like how he just got up in front and didn't care, the whole cockfight, ‘Kikiriki!’ Just because he doesn't know English that well! And he powerbombed that thing. Amazing. I think helping him, in the future, it'll make his English and his confidence higher. At the beginning of the year, he didn't, well he was talking, but...Yeah, if he can do it, I should have no problem doing it, people around me should have no problem doing it.”
-- Anthony, 9th Grade student reflecting on beginner ELL classmate’s performance in the final presentation at the culmination of the ‘Hablamos Arte’ IAP at El Puente Academy
- Supports parents and families who are also English Language Learners. PS 84 provided school-wide cultural affirmation in its culminating Bombazo. At the Bombazo, parents were very vocal in their support and appreciation for the cultural learning their children were experiencing at school. Students reflected that by sharing what they were learning and their experience with Bomba Yo, they encouraged their parents to explore their own heritage at home. In many cases, students shared that their parents didn't know as much about their own culture as their children were now learning, but they were inspired to start researching! At the Academy and MS 50, students spent time at home talking to parents about their project, practicing their lines from plays, and sharing new ideas and vocabulary with parents. All schools had opportunities for parents to see their children perform and participate in a dialogue about the experience as part of the presentation.
- Creates a community of learners where more advanced ELL students help more beginner ELL students. In a linguistically diverse class at El Puente Academy, all students reflected that they helped peers who needed assistance with language or were helped by more advanced peers. In a dual language class at PS 84, the classroom teacher instructed the aligned social studies unit on Puerto Rico in both English and Spanish. At MS 50, English Teacher Mr. Warren emphasized the value of the practice ELL students were getting through the play-writing and performing experience.
- Supports academic success for all levels of ELLs by giving students ownership over the creative process, inspiring them to go deeper in their learning by taking on additional responsibilities and tasks, and providing practical and creative opportunities and incentives to deepen understanding of academic concepts and comprehension of written texts. Students at El Puente Academy worked extensively out of class time (at home/at lunch breaks/before school) to memorize their lines and understand the text and their characters. In many cases, students practiced their lines at home with family members. One student shared that because his character in Anna in the Tropics was reading Anna Karenina, he took it upon himself to read parts of that book on his own time, looking up words he didn't know and talking through complex parts with his English teacher. Also at El Puente Academy, students give examples of taking ownership over the creative process - offering ideas for scenes and additional performance pieces, defining new roles for themselves as assistant directors, costume artists, musicians, and set designers, and creating characters out of small details in the text. Beginner ELLs were given hands on opportunities to understand texts and academic concepts (through acting out parts, seeing peers act out parts) and demonstrate their own comprehension - multiple modalities beyond just reading, writing, talking. This was especially visible at the final presentations, where school community and families got a chance to see demonstrations of achievement.
- Encourages a love for the arts - Students who were being introduced to Theater for the first time expressed a passion for the art form and a desire to pursue it beyond the IAP. Some students found other opportunities to perform at school, others joined the Theater and arts program at one of El Puente's leadership centers after school.
Adaptation of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, 2014
Focus Questions developed Theater & English Integration (not ELL students)
1) What impact can the integration of Theater in an English class have on student learning?
2) How can the impact extend beyond class to rest of students’ lives?
3) How can both the teaching artist and academic facilitator benefit from the process?
Through personal & group reflection, interviews, and focus groups; students, teachers, and artists found that:
- Student learning was enhanced through ownership over the process - indicating the importance of choice.
- Students in Forum Theater worked with their own stories - “an empowering process” that placed them at the center of their learning.
- Students had multiple and varying opportunities to participate in the Integrated Arts Project. Presentations included: 1) in-class excerpts of The Crucible 2) facilitating a Forum Theater workshop for the school’s Black History Month Celebration 3) final performances for an audience of students, staff, and family and community members
- Students took on clear leadership roles - Students took on the role of the Joker, or facilitator of audience participation in Forum Theater. In Staging The Crucible, Students took on the roles of assistant director, stage manager, costume designers, and facilitated independent rehearsal time memorizing difficult lines. Students led Forum Theater workshops and facilitated challenging conversations with peers.
- Students had multiple ways to learn academic content. A hands-on process enhanced academic learning, and in The Crucible, students brought characters and themes to life, helping everyone understand complex text and ideas.
- Students reflected that the Forum Theater process made them think differently about choices they make outside the class.
- Impact on Academic Teacher: Access to new skills through collaboration, practice in “trusting it will all work” - being an active participant in the process without “being the expert in the room," ability to cater to diverse learning styles through hands-on, creative arts project.
- Impact on Teaching Artist: Opportunity to work with group of students with the support of classroom facilitator, experience in “Trusting the process” and bringing expertise as artist and theater director.
Jennifer: “[The Forum Theater workshop students led as part of African American History Month] was extremely moving and well done. It was definitely a highlight for me, both groups did a wonderful job, and they also - from that point on the students really started taking ownership of the class, ownership of their own groups, to the point that we are almost at the end of the trimester, and even the days you are not here [Gloria], I can leave an entire group and there are leaders running the groups on their own, which is the best possible outcome you could have in any kind of classroom!...On my own as english teacher, here's what I know about drama, read the play and analyze it. When Gloria came in with Forum Theater, it was brand new to me. Students wanted to act, to read and understand the play first. Students ended up acting and using their own personal experience - because of Gloria's expertise. I had no idea what Forum Theater was, but isn't that the rule of improv? You just say yes. I trusted it and I jumped in and I'm glad that I did! I've team taught, I love to team teach in the right partnership. When you have a good partnership its a million times easier. It’s better for the students, as long as you're on the same page. It's a leap of faith when you don't know the person!”
Gloria: “You were open and trusted the process. And we had discussions before we started the class about what Forum Theater was and what scenes we would work in The Crucible. We chose the scene from the play we thought was most meaningful. It became team work. I think we modeled that into the students, they felt that we were a team, they said 'We have to build a team too,' because we talked about that. Any art form is team work. It takes a collective to build something. By modeling that, I think it was extremely important.
Jennifer: “I'm an English teacher, teaching plays, I try to do some acting out, but my experience is limited. For a long time I've wanted a real actor/director to come in and take it to that level. It’s definitely a lot more interesting to kids, and they understand the play a lot better if they are out of their seats and performing it. I was just hoping for that, someone to do drama games...what I got was WAY more than I expected. The Forum Theater was brand new to me, and not only as an English teacher I feel like we could use that in advisories, in all kinds of places. I think it’s because Gloria has so much experience and really knows what she's doing. And she has worked with young people. There's artists, and there are teaching artists. She has both things. You have experience with both and that's one of the reasons it was so successful.”
-- Conversation between Jennifer Eriksen, ELA teacher, and Gloria Zelaya, Theater Teaching Artist, at the culmination of their IAP at El Puente Academy.