Saturday, November 1, 2008

Fabled "Playwrights" Unmasked

The Grasshopper and the Ants
A Fable
This last week we brought out the masques and they were a "big hit" in the primary classes where I worked. The lesson plans actually called for masks but the regular teachers didn't have any and their wasn't time to make them. The timing was perfect since this was Halloween week. One class actually had been studying "Fables" and "animal masks" were suggested. It was amazing how enlivened the lessons/readings (dramatic) became with just two or three kids in masks romping around the room. They were expressive and emotive and wanted to do the "Story/Fables" over and over again. Fortunately I had been collecting masks and had a whole bag (40+) in my car. Kids who were having trouble reading the text, being prompted every other word, got into the spirit of the "ad lib performances" and became our narrators over and over. When we discussed the "meanings" of the fables and their "morals" they got into quite a discussion. i.e. "Would you rather be "an ant" or " a grasshopper"? Why? We took a poll. It wasn't unanimous. I told them, I liked the grasshopper because he liked to sing, dance and play and have fun. I knew I'd probably starve during the winter...but I could lose some weight, and maybe I'd make a new friend or two.
I noticed, in the teacher's edition, for a future day's assignment, that they were going to have to make up, write, their own "fable". I said nothing. A few minutes later, after some "free time" (which is now called "may-do time"), there was a neatly printed "story-fable-play(?)" on my desk. I went over to the boy and asked him about it. He said he loved to write stories and that this one was a "gift" to me. I was in the old days...when I knew I had created a "spark of learning" in a child. He and I read it over. It was short but good as "dramatic plots" go. We corrected the spelling and usage errors together and made sure that his "creativity was honored" I told him that he could always correct the "mistakes" in later "drafts" but that he got the "ideas written down" and that was the key and best part.
Here's where the "magic continued"...we dug in my mask bag and found a "rabbit mask" (the play was about a rabbit). He wanted to be the "lead performer" this first time, and also the director. We chose "a log", "a seat" and "a tree" to also "pantomime/perform". "The Star/Performer" gets to die in the end. What could be better for your first attempt as a "playwright"? To die, on stage, is an honor...and has to be done just right. I coached him. He then took over, cast it again and directed his friends...he also narrated it. Instead of keeping his original draft to show to his regular teacher, I gave it back and told him to "recopy" it. He was alittle reluctant. Soon I had another "story" on my desk. We were out of time. I told them I'd be coming back to "sub" in November so they could have somemore "plays" ready for me. I then showed them all my "masks", mostly of animals. They were very interested to say the least.
They were all being "ants" and working being "grasshoppers"...and they didn't even mind or resist it. Think of all the teaching/learning that can now happen in the "rewrites" and "rehearsals". It will be interesting to see what the regular teacher does with any of this. Will her time schedule of test preps and overhead fill-in sheets allow for this "crass-gorilla-type" learning? School can't be too much fun, can it? RRR


Anonymous said...

Yes, I know I spelled the wrong kind of "guerrilla" but it was a play on words...I happen to have a gorrilla mask too. RRR

Anonymous said...

This timely fable speaks to our current economic crisis doesn't it? Wall Street "Grasshoppers" including mortgage companies and unrealistic borrowers have come to the "winter" season and are now having to beg the "ants", us Main Streeters to put them up during some very "cold times" a-comin'...RRR

Anonymous said...

Here's an update/follow-up on the "little playwright" in this post: I went back to his class this last week and, sure enough, his teacher hadn't done anything with the his "play" or all those who wanted to write them. The kids asked if I had brought "my masks" back. "Yes, you can dig through them and even write a skit to perform later...if you get your lesson planned work done." Wow! In less than an hour, I had 5 more skits involving masks. With some corrections and suggestions we performed them all in the space of 20 minutes. Sadly, the "pioneer playwright" had trouble doing his regular, assigned "four sentences" about the story read. Yes, he was in tears and had to take the assignment to lunch. I asked what had happened to that orginal play. He had taken it home...not rewritten it...and now said he was "better" at math. My guess, someone got to him at home...too sissy or "worldly". However, he was one of our best, most freely creative dancers later on. I thanked him for inspiring all the "new playwrights" in his classroom with his pioneering work. He smiled. RRR