For two weeks now I have been reflecting on experiences I had at the Teacher Art Retreat I attended sponsored by The Inspired Classroom. I have written about the value in guided active listening in one of the activities Elizabeth Peterson facilitated in her presentation. But something else happened for me during that activity that I have not yet discussed. I, the instruction-following-always-do-what-the-teachers-says-student, felt an urge to bend the rules.
Bending The Rules?
Elizabeth had played a piece of music for the participants and asked us to write a monologue for the solo violin in the piece. Although the music moved me and I really enjoyed the experience, I couldn’t find words for the violin. I heard the other instruments urging the violin saying, “Tell us more. Yes, go on, we’re listening” but I couldn’t hear what the violin was trying to say. I just felt the yearning. What I really wanted to do was move. I heard that music and I wanted to stand up and explore through movement what I heard in that violin’s voice.
But I, the big believer in arts integration surrounded by accepting educators who also believe in arts integration, felt shy and unsure. The assignment was to write, not to dance. Everyone else was writing. Not only would I not be following the directions but I would be making it glaringly obvious. People might be distracted by me. And worse yet, people might think I was weird. That’s what was going on in my head.
Now I am sure I could have approached Elizabeth and asked her if I could step out in the hall where I could still have heard the music and allowed myself to follow my instincts. I feel pretty certain that would have been okay with her and might have even provided some interesting talking points for the group as a whole: what to do with a student who doesn’t want to follow the directions and has her own ideas, how inextricably linked the various arts are, etc. However, I chose to sit in my chair with my notebook open writing nothing. I was not following the directions but at least it wasn’t obvious.
The connection between the various arts, especially music and dance, is not earth-shattering news and experiencing students who don’t want to follow the directions is not an unfamiliar experience to educators. But are we educators flexible enough to deal with such a situation in our classrooms?
Do we create an environment that feels safe enough for our students and invites exploration and bending of the rules. What would I have done if a student said, “Ms. Moore, could I do a dance instead of writing?” If my objective is related to writing, then a student who creates a dance is not reaching the objective. But what if I allowed the student to explore the music through movement with the understanding that she would then write the monologue based on that exploration?
There are many time constraints on teachers and so much to do in a day.
Teachers spend a great deal of time creating learning activities to target certain objectives. That’s why it can be difficult to support or encourage students to bend or break the rules and give the time to those detours and explorations. I am grateful that now and again I get these little reminders that we don’t all learn the same way and that there is more than one way to meet an objective. I hope that when a student approaches me to ask, “Ms. Moore can I….” I will find a way to bend the rules and still meet the lesson objective so I can say, “Yes!”
Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.