Art & Language

Teaching Articles - Essays to fuel your creative life

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Cameron reflects on nurturing the genius in bilingual students by affording them opportunities to communicate through drama and art -- a discussion of supporting children who are smart but don't yet have the words to express their thinking.

Art & Language

by Cameron Brooks

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Chez Moi, 2nd Edition

Mid-morning each Friday my students invoke Gardner as the classroom morphs into a three-ring, multiple-intelligence circus mixing metacognition with improvisation, sculpture and illustration. With twenty words of the week on display, they analyze each other's understandings of the vocabulary through modalities unfortunately neglected outside the walls of our ELL classroom.

Sculpt, illustrate, act, or describe. On the game board, indeterminacy selects one of these four categories when the spinning needle slows to a stop. For many English language learners, gaps in English vocabulary and verbal expression fill with creative learning styles, similar to splinter skills.

I wouldn't be surprised to find some of my students studying Stanislavski a decade from now. "I need two volunteers." When chance and the spinner ask them to "act," they love enlisting the help of others, taking a few moments to direct before presenting their theatrical piece to the class. I'm always amazed at their kinesthetic communication. The nuanced movement and expression, so clear to some of the children, sometimes goes right over my head as my eyes scan the room, asking, "Did you pick up on that"

Last week, in less than a minute, Rosa calls out, "Done," lifting her hands from the desk revealing a lump of purple clay with no distinguishable shape. Or so I thought. Hermando's hand shoots into the air - his facial expression screaming the answer to the million-dollar question. "Destroy!" he shouts. Smiling ear to ear, Rosa says, "Yes," while the rest of the class (myself included) look a bit puzzled. They're a brave bunch, and have no problem risking a cognitive defense. Hermando says the nondescript mass looks like it used to be something, "but it got destroyed." Rosa follows with an equally succinct explanation. "It was a house that got destroyed." As Hermando watches Rosa's hands smash and squeeze the concept of destruction, a powerful new word becomes anchored in their working vocabulary.

These native speakers of Spanish develop beautiful adaptations -- a visual and kinesthetic lexicon to make up for linguistic limitations while learning English. While demographics shift, I relish the role reversal of teacher and student, as children reveal to me the many ways they are smart.