Inside the Classroom is a new monthly feature created to give you an up-close look at Urban Gateways Teaching Artists in action. Each month, we’ll take you inside a different Chicago-area classroom, introduce you to the Urban Gateways Teaching Artist who is working there, and share with you the experiences of the teaching artist and their students.
A classroom at Anderson School is buzzing with two dozen fifth graders – they’re out of their seats, talking, laughing, and moving around the room. Not necessarily the picture of a well-behaved class. But Urban Gateways Teaching Artist Jennifer Green wouldn’t have it any other way.
From the middle of the room, she suddenly shouts, “You’re in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Within seconds, the room is silent, each child frozen in a pose – some are marching in a band, some are waving to people lining the streets, others are desperately trying to hold on to giant balloons floating high above their heads. A classroom full of kids who are not sitting quietly at their desks – yet fully focused and engaged, and also having fun.
“The kids absolutely adore this acting exercise,” says Green, a Chicago theatre artist who has been an Urban Gateways teaching artist for 10 years. “We divide them into groups, I throw out calls, and on impulse, they create these frozen moments.”
Beyond tapping into their imagination, Green points out that the exercise challenges the students to incorporate content on the spot, collaborate with their group, and learn how to physically tell a story. “And since one of the rules is that everyone in the group must be seen, it teaches the students to have physical awareness of each other and to ensure that everyone has their own space,” Green explains.
It’s the idea of space that Green is exploring with her students, during this year-long theatre residency that includes eleven sessions with each grade, fifth through eighth. “What is creative space? How do we use imaginary space? What is personal space, community space?” Green rattles off.
This is Green’s second year at Anderson, so she is building off the theme she explored with her students last year. “We looked at what it means to be a community, how we work together to form a community and how that forms who we are,” says Green. “This year, I’m challenging them to ask what it means to claim their own space, share their space, and eventually discover how space helps us find our place in the world.”
Green feels fortunate to be returning to a school for a second year – to continue that exploration with the same group of students. “It’s nice to be on this journey with the students – to be part of the community, part of the fabric of Andersen School.”
It’s also enabled Green to watch her students develop and grow over time. “Kids in my classroom are listening more carefully to each other,” says Green. She notes that their respect for each other has increased, as has their ability to cooperate and problem solve together. “Middle school is a tough time for kids. They’re generally not nice to each other and feel a lot of pressure to be the same. But I see my students taking the collaboration that happens in our art-making and translating that into how they relate socially outside the classroom. They’re creating an environment that is supportive & profitable for everyone.”
Green also acknowledges that none of this would be possible without the support of the school and its teachers. “Anderson is a great school. The vice principal is supportive of arts throughout the school, and the teachers who sit in on my classes are active and supportive. They understand the value of this residency, and they are all shareholders in wanting it to be a success.”
Urban Gateways currently has more than 40 teaching artists on its roster who specialize in literary, performing, media and visual arts.