Kathy DeJean, dance teacher, Lusher Alternative Elementary School, New Orleans, Louisiana
Carolyn DuBois, fourth-grade teacher, Lusher Alternative Elementary School, New Orleans, Louisiana
Q. What are the benefits and challenges of having kindergartners and fourth-graders work together?
A. Fourth-graders develop genuine respect and responsibility for the kindergartners. They become comrades and friends. Part of their collaboration involves reading aloud together. The kindergartners select the stories, and fourth-graders become more self-confident in their reading.
Q. Do you combine other grades or subjects? For what kind of work?
A. Yes, we do a combination of fifth grade and kindergarten and include math and science in their exploration with movement.
Q. How often did you work with the students to develop the multi-arts performance piece? For how long?
A. We worked together twice a week for one to two hours.
Q. Was there a final performance? Who attended?
A. The final performances were attended by other classes and then by the general public.
Q. What surprised you about the work the students did as they created their performance piece?
A. Their level of understanding of Zoes feelings toward her parents and the elements that played a role in changing her feelings.
Q. How would you describe your teaching philosophy as it relates to work on the Zoes Journey unit?
A. I am a holistic learner, and my teaching reflects that. The big picture is very important for me to assimilate detail.
Q. Do you use different teaching approaches for different situations or goals?
A. Every situation dictates specific goals based on the level and need of each student, the class as a whole, and the ability of the classroom teacher.
Q. What are the challenges and benefits of collaborating with classroom teachers?
A. The challenge is to reach every child in a memorable way, so the experience is never forgotten. The benefits to the children are endless and include:
Q. What advice would you give for making collaborations with classroom teachers effective?
A. The most effective collaborations begin with an open, sharing, giving
environment established among the adults or teachers. The students will
reflect the same honesty, enthusiasm, and dynamic interaction if the adult
modeling is sincere. Adults should plan, meet, interact, think, respond,
Q. What led you to use Quidam as the basis for a unit?
A. Kathy DeJean and I work together on a unit every year. She approached me with the idea of doing a unit around Quidam. We watched it, and she threw out the idea of taking a journey. That was a stretch, because usually we start with a concept that is more obvious. This one involved a lot of abstract thinking.
At first I thought Quidam was pretty strange and weird. But I think it was one of the better units we did, because I had to stretch and think outside the box.
Q. What subject areas did the Quidam unit tie into? What were some of those related lessons?
A. Quidam became a unit of study for nine weeks everything we did was built around it. The word transformation was our key vocabulary word. It led us to look at all sorts of cycles water, insects, animals, sleep cycles. The kids brought in pictures of their lives, from baby to the present, and we looked at their transformation. And then we related it to the stages of a butterflys life, and a tadpoles.
The unit tied in with language arts, math, and science. In science we tied into inventors and simple machines. (When you read about inventors, you start to do timelines, and that leads to social studies too.) We tied in to recycling we saved recyclable objects and used them to make inventions. Then we wrote about the purpose of the invention and how it would help save the Earth. In math, we did a Venn diagram to find what was similar between the inventors and Magritte.
In language, I used journeys to teach storytelling. I believe that if you can tell a story, you can write a story. The Call, The Challenge, and The Return in our performance are like the beginning, the middle, and the end of a story. Zoes story isnt a real story; its like a fable or a fairy tale with a conflict that gets resolved and people living happily every after.
When we were studying Magritte we looked at a clip from a movie, The Thomas Crown Affair. Theres a scene where everyone is wearing a bowler hat, which is also an image in Quidam. Then we looked at one of Magrittes paintings where a man is wearing a bowler hat and has a big apple for a nose.
Q. What were your learning objectives for this unit? What were your goals for individual students?
A. Critical thinking and problem solving are what its all about. We brought them in as much as we could into all the subject areas. Thats what the kids need to be able to do.
I dont have enough time to teach everything. But if I can teach the kids to think, then they can work through anything, any problem. And guess what, it works! For the last three years, every one of my kids has passed the LEAP [Louisiana Educational Assessment Program], given in fourth and eighth grades, where passage is required to move on to the next grade]. The arts being at the core of the curriculum is a big part of that success. Students are made to think and problem-solve. When you go outside of the textbook and the kids have to step out of the box, they have to think. There are no black-and-white answers.
The children became immersed in the idea of transformation, since it was the theme of everything we did for the nine weeks. When everything is tied together when kids arent jumping from one concept to another they dont forget what was learned. They go home retaining more information.
Q. How did you assess the students work over the course of the unit?
A.The children had portfolios for everything we covered in art, science, math, etc. At the end of the unit I expected a certain number of things to be in the folder. I give out a rubric. It says, for example, your folder has to contain a certain number of vocabulary words related to Magritte, a certain number of written reflections, of math activities, of science work. The rubric says whats needed to earn an A in each of those categories. So when you can hand in a reflection on a dream, if you want an A, it has to have a beginning, a middle, an end, and three or four details for each of those stages.
When they built their recycled invention, they got a grade for building and a grade for the creative writing. What they wrote had to say what the object was, why they invented it, and what its purpose was.
Q. Describe the faculty planning that went into this unit.
A. At the beginning, the four of us met for a whole afternoon of planning the principal arranged substitutes for us. And we had several more meetings to plan the production. For the production, generally Kathy DeJean came up with the ideas, and then [kindergarten teacher] Kathy Guidry and I would do them in our classes, at the level we felt was appropriate to meet our individual classes goals. On the academic side, the classroom teacher finds ways to take the main idea the journey into the classroom.
Q. How did you feel after the unit was done?
A. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I was glad we decided to do it. As I said, it was a stretch because it was so abstract and I had to think differently.
Q. What are the benefits and challenges of collaborating with arts specialist teachers? What advice would you give to make the collaboration work effectively?
A. You have to be open-minded. The arts specialists come from a different perspective than the classroom teachers. But they open many doors of different ways of thinking. They help you meet different learning styles. Kathy DeJean works in a very kinesthetic way and thats a way that children learn.
Ive been working with Kathy for about 10 years, and before that I worked with a storyteller and a visual artist through Arts Connection, which was part of the New Orleans public schools. Working with artists gives you an opportunity to see your children in a different perspective. It gives you a chance to see children who struggle in a regular class have real success.
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