Today I was working in a busy kindergarten classroom. I arrived to a room full of activity, bustling with energy, teaming with learning. The students were engaged at play, active and joyful with the noise of conversation and materials interacting. A group of boys had build and obstacle course/pathway and they were challenging themselves to jump between the blocks while staying balanced. Another group was using a mirror to draw self-portraits. Other children were playing with puppets, painting, and reading.
After a period of observation, we asked them to leave their play and to join us at the carpet for some music and storytelling. The teacher tapped the outside of a singing bowl to get their attention and the children slowly began to make their way towards the carpet. I love singing bowls so I took the opportunity to use it as a way to draw all the students in, playing it by rubbing the outside edge and then slowly moving it across my body so that the sound moved through the room. The students, familiar with this sound, were transfixed and watched me as I raised and lowered the bowl, moving it from right to left as it vibrated in my hand.
It was a bit of theatre, a gimmick perhaps. I use all of my performance skills in these transitional moments; I draw myself up to full height, exaggerate my gestures, and use my voice to effect: when the sound of the singing bowl faded away, my voice was a whisper. Later in the lesson, the children went and gathered items that they could use to make soft and loud sounds in the room and I conducted their found-sound-orchestra with the nearest pencil, using flourishes and facial expressions to indicate when I wanted each group to play.
So many times when I watch teachers who are struggling to maintain students’ interest and to manage a group, I notice that, while the may have a good grasp of the content they’re teaching, they’ve forgotten (or have never thought about) that teaching is a performing art. While I am absolutely an advocate of teacher as guide on the side and meddler in the middle, I am noticing that many teachers don’t know how to grab onto those ‘on stage’ moments and make the most of them.
So, in the spirit of building dramatic tension please imagine a drumroll as I give you my top five tips for creating student engagement through performance.