Making Learning Fun! Sonoma State teams up with Sonoma Valley Unified School District

Posted by Gabrielle Cordero on February 20, 2014 4:53 PM

Back in December of 2013, I was given the wonderful opportunity to work with El Verano Elementary School in Sonoma, Ca. I collaborated on a project with MaryAnn Nickel, Professor in the Department of Literacy Studies and Elementary Education for the School of Education. After she was asked to help instruct Mr. Madison's third grade class one day a week, she started to implement what is known as Reader's Theater into the classroom--an approach that aligns well with the new Common Core Standards for English Language Arts.

Reader's Theater brings together theater, literature and reading in the classroom. MaryAnn presented new literature to the third graders in effort to spark their interest in theater and to help students further develop their reading skills. Her hope is that teachers can creatively weave good quality literature and theatrical activities into their classrooms which will help increase engagement in reading lessons and initiate learning through student inquiry.

Students lined up preparing for their presentation In Mr. Madison's classroom, the process began by placing students into five groups. All students were assigned one month to rehearse their material from the script, Traveling to Tondo, an African Tale from a book by Verna Aardema.

Week by week, all students rehearsed their material in the classroom. Dr. Nickel and the classroom student teacher, Katie Johnstone, encouraged students to continue rehearsing assigned sections of the script at home. After one month of rehearsal, the students would perform their play in front of a video camcorder.

That's where I came in.

The first time I visited El Verano School, I filmed the students' "dress rehearsals" as part of the preparation for their final presentation. The main purpose of the first recording was for students to become familiar with the video recording process. After their "dress rehearsal," students were able to watch their recordings and engage in a conversation with Dr. Nickel to critique their own performances, as well as the performance of the group overall. The first recording was an important tool for students to view their work and critique themselves.

The class was given an additional week to practice their material before their final recordings. For their final performance, each group performed in front of the class. To increase student involvement and interest, students were encouraged to take part in all aspects of the Reader's Theater. I encouraged students who were not participating in the current scene to maintain their involvement by becoming a part of the production process. For each new scene, I asked a different student to assist with monitoring the camera, recording audio, and with directing. 

I asked students to help set up the cameras in order for them to develop understandings of the film production process. Students learned how to work with tri-pods, cameras, microphones and lights. While some students were performing, I had volunteers helping as directors by calling action or assisting their peers during their work.

Working with Dr. Nickel and Mr. Madison's third grade class was not only an experience for the students but it was a learning experience for me. Students exuded much enthusiasm and eagerness to prepare for their performances. It was inspiring to see how captivated the students were during the whole process - I was impressed that the third grade class took their performances very seriously.

Those who were typically limited in their classroom participation were more eager to maintain involvement in the play. There was an increased sense of confidence in the students that had not been showcased until this performance.

The introduction of Reader's Theater is one effective and exciting way Sonoma State's School of Education and Sonoma Valley School District are working together to help in the transition to the new Common Core Standards in the classroom. It is a great method to increase student's theatrical interests, develop self confidence and ability to communicate effectively, and improve reading skills for all students--from the confident reader to the struggling reader.

Watch the students' performance! >>