Monday, 7 April 2014

There's No Education Like "Show" Education

...like no education I know!!!

The school production.  In some teachers, it brings about a sense of dread and, in others, the fluttery butterflies of excitement.  Thankfully for me, it's the latter.  Questions like "What will we do this year?" and "Who will be cast as leads?" fly around both staff and children as decisions are made.  First, a show is chosen or, where the talent is available, written, based on the cohort to perform it.  How many strong singers have we got? How do they act as a whole? What are they into? What will suit them? It all has to be taken into account as the wrong show for the wrong group will cause a lot of extra problems.  Next, the casting takes place with audition pieces handed out, practised and then performed for the chance of the key role.  The excitement builds as teachers make the choices and then announce the parts, ensuring every child that wanted a part has one and that the characters are suited to them.  It is then that the real hard work starts.

I recently read this post about performances in schools nowadays.  It claims that, in some schools, the effort put into productions and the quality of them is waning in schools due to the increased focus on English and Maths in exercise books.  While I agree that schools are incredibly focused on the academic side of education nowadays, I am glad that I've only worked in schools which put a great value on "show" education too.

I watched in awe in my first school as the impeccably talented Year 6 teacher expertly organised and directed a production each year.  It is from him that I learned how and when to delegate, what to expect from children of that age group and the logistics of staging a show.  He demonstrated patience in potentially stressful situations and, in his frustration, remained calm and collected.  It was clear from the out-set that he put incredibly high value on this time of the year - he knew what a difference it would make to the children and how much it would be remembered and appreciated.  This year, with his methods and manner in mind, my year team in a new school staged its first production.

To ease us in slowly, we decided to do a production I'd helped him with called The Pirates of the Curry Bean.  It's full of cheesy songs, slapstick comedy and a multitude of one-liners.  We chose to have two casts as there were so many talented children who auditioned.  There were songs and lines to learn, blocking to practise, lights and sound to plan and props and costumes to source.  The list went on: backdrops, accents, choreography, gestures, cues, positions etc.  Despite there being "fun" elements to the process, putting on a production isn't for the faint-hearted! At first the rehearsals were out of school time but, as the showtime became closer, we made a brave decision.  We went off timetable...for 3 whole weeks.  No English, no maths, just rehearsals.  In some schools this would be frowned upon or banned - schools which don't recognise the values of "show" education.  For us, it was the best decision we could have made.  Everything we were doing in those weeks had a clear purpose - we were making our show the best it could be, prioritising it above everything.

The show was a complete triumph with parents laughing out loud, applauding spontaneously and giving standing ovations. Last week saw the end of our production process; the props are cleared, costumes returned, scripts recycled - the curtain is down.  It was VERY hard work but it was SO worth it because
  • Children's confidence grew - they learned to speak with volume and clarity.
  • The technicians learned how to use complex equipment and the importance of paying attention for cues.  They also gained a huge sense of pride and achievement.
  • The year group learned how to sing together and how to perform the songs. 
  • Some children learned choreographed dances of varying difficulty even through few of them had been on a stage before.
  • A group of children became emergency stage hands and learned to follow many instructions and logically organise the props. 
  • We got the chance to explain a lot of funny one-liners.  The children learned about many aspects of life through these, sometimes complex, puns. 
  • There was a REAL real-life context to everything they were doing - their parents were coming to see them.  Read more about why this is important to me here
  • They learned about non-academic hard work and the potential employment opportunities in the arts. 
  • Some of them learned complex musical terms and features. 
  • They were able to achieve something great and feel an enormous sense of pride TOGETHER.
  • They learned to encourage, empathise, communicate, revise, rehearse, apologise, forgive and the importance of all these skills in life. 
  • Many children realised the power of the "pause for comic effect" - a revelation for some.
  • They got to see us out of the classroom and vice versa. 
  • They experienced patience like never before: rehearsing scenes over and over, waiting for others to rehearse, sitting straight and looking forward despite there being exciting things happening on stage.
  • Hidden talents were revealed and celebrated.
I'm not sure the benefits listed above would have earned us an "outstanding" from our good friends at OfSTED had they turned up.  Thankfully they didn't call but the question is - what would we have done if they had turned up? Drop everything and teach English and Maths? Or stand by the fact that there's no education like "show" education? I fear it would have been the former....how sad.

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