Leah Shaeffer is Gulfshore Playhouse’s Director of Education.
This week, Gulfshore Playhouse has been given a new and exciting task: Differentiated instruction through theatre education.
“Differentiated instruction” is a phrase that means that a teacher provides different avenues toward learning the same material, so that students with different methods of learning can be reached equally. For instance, you might learn material best when you can read text about it, whereas another student in your class might need to see pictures, diagrams, and graphs to help them learn the same material. Another stu
dent might need to hear someone explain the information, and yet another might need to use their body to kinesthetically experience the concepts they are learning. We all have such different minds and personalities – it just makes sense that we all learn in different ways!
I’ve written at some length on this blog about different learning styles and how theatre is a powerful tool for differentiated instruction, but this week we’ve been undertaking a unique endeavor through our ThinkTheatre in-school residency program. I am visiting a different classroom each day this week – all at the same school, all the same grade level, and all learning the same information – but I am teaching a different residency with each classroom.
I am working with three different classes of first graders at an arts-focused charter school in Lee County. Each classroom is working on literary concepts like character, setting, details, and plot. They are all following the same curriculum map, with the classroom teachers working together to plan out lessons. However, when I first began to plan this residency with the classroom teachers, they had an interesting request: The teachers wanted me to do a different residency with each class, but teach the same material.
The reason for this request was two-fold. First, the students in each class learned differently. In one class, the students were mostly hands-on, kinesthetic learners. They needed to get their bodies moving to make connections in their brains. Another class had mostly verbal learners, who needed to process their thoughts aloud. The third class had a good mix of both, and would need integration of both learning styles in their residency.
The second reason was that these classroom teachers wanted to have three different arts-integrated learning styles to add to their “teaching toolbox”, as one educator called it. They wanted to share their experiences with their different residencies, trading tips and helpful hints about which arts-integration techniques worked well with their students.
I was more than happy to fulfill this request. For the kinesthetic learners, I crafted a guided roleplay-based lesson, in which students could use their bodies and voices to have hands-on experience with the content. For the verbal learners, a storytelling lesson that allowed them to use their words to process the vocabulary they were learning. For the mixed class, an active read of a relevant story book that allowed them to process the content through hearing, speaking, and action.
Each class was drastically different, but they have been so successful in learning the exact same content. In the first class, students wiggled and giggled as they learned the definition of the word “character”. In the second class, students mused aloud on “plot” and “setting” as they crafted an original story (and then acted it out!) In the third class, students alternatively listened and responded with their bodies and voices as they pointed out “details” and plot points in the read-aloud book. But students showed that they could absorb the curricular vocabulary, recalling, defining, and using it with accuracy.
This residency is a great example of two things. One, the clear benefits that arts integration offers our students. I’ve extolled the virtue of arts-integrated learning many times before, and I don’t plan to stop anytime soon! It is clear that the arts provide multiple pathways for students to interact with and learn curriculum content in a fun and engaging way, and this residency was no exception.
The second thing? The ingenuity, dedication, and inspiration of our teachers. These educators went well out of their way to be involved with not just their own residency, but the residencies of their fellow teachers—all for the benefit of their students. The idea to differentiate the instruction for this residency was theirs, not mine. I am impressed and inspired every day by the teachers I meet throughout Lee and Collier County, both public and private, kindergarten through high school. I could not ask for a better community to serve!