Visiting Artist Week: Learning from Other Teachers

by J Bennett

Our school devotes

One week

out of year

to Art and Music. I don’t mean by offering classes, but by inviting other professionals to work with our students in addition to regular arts classes. The idea is to immerse the community in arts and the week finishes with a collaborative assembly where one might see performances and sharing of what had happened during the week. I believe it is one of the most special part of my school. And I’ll admit, this was one of the things that drew me in to teach here.

We invited two very different musicians.

Joe Tayoun, Middle Eastern Percussionist

Joe is an approachable and friendly guy. With big smiles, he talks with you – about everything. Put a  Doumbek in his hands and he can transform a huge group of middle school students into a percussion ensemble – an ensemble who work together because it’s fun. Joe had a tight schedule on a 2 hour-delay day. He brought his cousin, Michele, who taught our students Middle Eastern Dance (Belly Dancing) to a song (they learned the words and melody to this song as well). Each group had a chance to  drum and dance; at the end of each 45-min, we had both groups put their work together. It was so much fun.

Things I learned:

Joe is an effective communicator. He was clear in his direction, goals, and conveyed respect for the kids. I was happy to see my students responding respectfully and engaging themselves in some serious fun learning. Joe covered culture (he is Lebanese-American) and the origins of the rhythms, background of different drums that were being used, and connected to the kids with what they know with the material he was introducing. I particularly loved that he read his audiences well and adjusted naturally to their listening and playing abilities.  My 8th grade students enjoyed learning this 7/8 rhythm, Kalamatinio:

Because of snow and delay to our school day, we invited him back in February to rehearse with our students and put a performance together. I can’t wait!

Curtis Blues, a Delta Blues Musician

Curtis, a passionate and energetic musician, introduced lower elementary students to the sounds of Pre-War Delta Blues. He was fantastic at talking to our younger students. He made the instruments come a live to children through storytelling and songs. Students giggled, danced and looked at each instrument with awe. They were amazed at his harmonica playing. And his drum playing. And his guitar playing. All of these instruments were played simultaneously! When he didn’t play the harmonica, he sang!

Things I learned:

The rich history of the Blues was sung and explained to the young children in a language they understood. I liked how he used posters of the Delta Blues Greats – Robert Johnson, Bukah White, Memphis Minnie, and Muddy Waters as a part of the history. He never got too talkative, but balanced flow of music and talking. Students were definitely engaged and learned in a fun way. My 8th graders also had a chance to sit in a session and Curtis was great to bring them into a conversation by referencing the use of language of Blues lyrics. I loved the differentiated learning and the students appreciated being in the conversation!

* * *

Sharing from my experience~

If you would like to start something like this in your school, consider the following:

  • Begin a conversation with other arts teachers. Even if your school offers dance, music, art, and theater, consider partnering up with 1 other arts field to start.
  • Partner with the administration of your school and get an approval for a week-long (or a few days) of arts celebration. Find time in the year where things aren’t too crazy. We chose a week in January for this reason*.
  • Begin to budget for this event. Consider extra fees for travel, lodging, and food. And do look for grants locally and statewide for educational events like this. Money, always, will be an issue.
  • Begin researching for artists! Talk to arts teachers around your area or ask your PLN for visiting artists. Also check local art and music alliances for programs for schools. Many artists who have in-school residencies have a promotional CD/DVD. Ask for one. Also ask specific questions and the conversation going.
  • Keep a log of people you contacted and keep their contact info. You never know how people’s schedule will turn out.
  • Plan early and get agreed details  in writing.
  • Be flexible with the artist as much as possible for changes, but know when to go back to the “contract” or change the details of the contract.
  • Be a learner: get involved during the week, engage in conversation with the artists, get your hands-on experience with the students and reflect with them.
  • If possible, build an assembly time at the end of your arts week to bring the community together. Live performances, presenting pictures or movies of learning that took place that week is a nice way to close out the week together.
  • Evaluate the week as a team! What things were good? What can you improve for next year?

I am still learning and working on many of these suggestions :-). I need to address the (*) on the second bullet on scheduling the event went smoothly for 6 years – there were no changes once we had musicians were lined up. This year, however, we were thrown off because of inclement weather. My teaching partner and I worked early mornings and late nights those 2 days to reschedule everything. Thankfully, things worked out, but there was a chance we could have just given up on the week. Perseverance won that week!

In the end, it’s about creating a learning space for students. You are creative – share this week with your students and your community! I’d also love to learn from what you do during visiting artist week!

~ Yoon