- By Chrissie
- June 24, 2011
I'm so excited to have the wonderful educators and teaching artists at Philly Young Playwrights contribute a blog post on the great work they do with Philadelphia youth. This organization illustrates daily the power of art in affecting social change.
“I would recommend Young Playwrights to another student because the experience of it is really fun and you learn new things every time.” – Grover Washington Middle School student playwright
Philadelphia Young Playwrights believes that every student has a voice worth hearing. When the average class size of a Philadelphia public school classroom is upwards of thirty students, such can be a challenge. This is the size of classes at Grover Washington Middle School, for example, where Young Playwrights (through a partnership with Arts Rising –www.myartsrising.org) recently finished a year long program with the entire sixth grade. To ensure that every student received the attention they needed, three Teaching Artists partnered with the three literacy Teachers to approach three major benchmarks of crafting a play – brainstorming, writing, and revising. Through the use of multi-layered approaches, the teaching teams ensured that students of varying learning styles had an equal opportunity to explore and understand playwriting, as well as the literacy skills it requires.
For the students at Grover Washington this year, some of the modes of exploration and brainstorming included reading and discussing excerpts of published and student plays, using music as a means to spark the imagination, and passing objects around a circle to generate lists of possible characters, conflicts and settings. While writing their plays, students participated in activities which featured an element of writing, such as character, by looking at a strong example of that element as used by one of their fellow students in the class. One such student playwright, after looking at the list of over ten details about his character Duke that his classmates had identified in his one and a half page play in progress, asked the Teaching Artist if he could take the typed up copy of his play home with him to show his mother. By the end of the year, his play was over twelve pages long and it was celebrated by all his classmates.
In April, at a point when students had completed at least the first draft of their plays, Young Playwrights brought a touring production of A Bully Problem to Grover Washington, with a cast of professional actors from the Philadelphia area. A play written by a fifth grader at William Penn Charter School, A Bully Problem provided the students with multiple layers of discovery: they explored what the play looked like on the page in their classrooms before seeing it presented on the stage, they experienced a full production of a play that was written by a student their own age, and they also had the opportunity to discuss the topic of bullying by brainstorming and sharing what they each would do should they ever be faced with a bully like the protagonist was in the play.
To connect the performance of A Bully Problem back to their own individual playwriting, each Grover Washington classroom had two visits from professional actors from the Philadelphia area, including two of the actors featured in A Bully Problem. During these workshops, the professional actors helped the Teaching Artist, Teacher and students to read every students’ play in progress. Not only did this give every student an opportunity to see how the words they had written on the page were interpreted by an actor, but after his or her work was read aloud, each student had an opportunity to hear positive feedback and questions about their first draft from the audience of their peers. Just one of the many ways Young Playwrights encourages Teaching Artists to introduce revision to the classroom, this method allows every student one of many opportunities to be the spotlight to be celebrated and treated as a true artist.
Finally, as students worked independently on their revisions, each playwright received multiple one-on-one conferencing opportunities as well as written feedback from their Teaching Artist. A student playwright was awed to receive a copy of their play back from her Teaching Artist with an entire page of written compliments and feedback, saying with awe, “You wrote all of that about my play?” In another classroom, after a Teaching Artist finished a conference with a student playwright, the Teacher articulated her amazement that he had completed a play and was working on revisions, because the student had rarely turned in writing assignments in the past.
The Grover Washington students have taken ownership of their voice and their ideas to wear both with pride – one student playwright even called finishing their play their proudest achievement. This confidence has already spread to the students’ approach to their schoolwork. One student found that, “It helped me because revising this helped me want to revise my school work, because my school work is just as important as my play.” Another student playwright indentified a similar experience, “Writing and revising my play helped me with constructed responses and essays.”
Through such partnerships with schools and Teachers, Philadelphia Young Playwrights promotes literacy, creativity, problem solving, academic skills, motivation and self-empowerment for students with varying backgrounds and abilities in grades K-12. Students care about their stories, grow excited about the playwriting process and assume ownership of their writing. When students write about their lives, they are empowered to change them.
Photos compliments of Canary Promo & Design
About Philadelphia Young Playwrights
Every young person has a voice worth hearing. Philadelphia Young Playwrights is an arts education organization that taps the potential of youth and inspires learning through playwriting. This is their 23rd year of creating intensive playwriting workshops for 1,700 students in up to 50 classrooms throughout the region. More than 1,000 student playwrights each year submit their original plays to their Annual Playwriting Festival. If you would like to learn more about Young Playwrights, about how to bring Young Playwrights to your school, or about how you can give your support, please visit the website: www.phillyyoungplaywrights.org.