Photo taken of Middle Grades students during pre-pandemic in-person learning.
Innovative Remote Learning in the Winter Hill Virtual Drama Classroom
Students at the Winter Hill Community Innovation School (WHCIS) all share something special; they all take Drama! Winter Hill is home to students on the autism spectrum, mainstream students, middle grades English Language Learners, and even a preschool class. For two years now, students have studied Drama with Ms. Lauren Barkhouse along with their other specialists (Physical Education, Music, Art, and Library and Media Studies). In her words, “I work to meet everyone where they are both developmentally and in terms of their English fluency.” Ms. Barkhouse (known to her students as Ms. Bee) studied Theatre Education and Acting at Emerson University and holds a Master's in Education from Lesley University in Curriculum Writing and Integration through the Arts.
Last year, students practiced physical acting skills. Students enter Ms. Barkhouse’s Drama classroom on an even footing. No one needs English fluency to express themself through movement-based learning and students work at their own developmental levels. Ms. Barkhouse asked students to explore their identities and who they are in the world, and how they “fit” in the city and the world, by taking on their favorite television or film characters and expressing their inner emotions physically.
The pandemic turned Drama class upside down. Each student’s pandemic experience has been different. Everyone worked from home and a lot of cameras were turned off. Ms. Barkhouse focused the students internally. Instead of asking "Who am I in relation to the world?," she asked students to ask themselves "Who is the real me?" This turned into an innovative and fun project for 4th-8th graders. Students created personalized worlds and shared them through Choose Your Own Adventure video game projects.
Students started their Choose Your Own Adventure by thinking through what they felt this (pandemic) year was about for them and what sort of world or adventure they wanted to make. Each project is a way for the student to express "I like this sort of thing." They developed characters and created relationships between characters that sometimes led to conflict. Students were asked to show why there was conflict and then how and why conflicts could be resolved. Students picked what each character says and does. They made choices about the locations and what the user needs to do to be successful in their game. Students wrote storylines for video games. Each choice the user makes impacts the storyline and the students thought through cause and effect in order to write specific outcomes in their games. Some characters talk to each other, some move. Students worked on dramatic skills like storytelling, character creation, and action and reaction. At the end of the project period, students used google slideshow to create actual games. Along with their sophisticated story development, students also learned how to link images, background, and digital art in their slideshows with other layout skills. Students learned how to add links to enhance game interactivity.
The Choose Your Own Adventure project wrapped up for most students before their return to in-person learning. Ms. Barkhouse reports that “students came up with creative storylines that simply would not have happened in a linear play or movie.” The Choose Your Own Adventure project was an innovative way to engage all WHCIS students, at all ages and levels, in theatre and storytelling skills during this unusual year of remote learning.
Play 7th Grader Justin's amazing Choose Your Own Adventure game The Great Penguin Adventure!