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Behind the Mask

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Feelings are weird in a different language. How do you get people to really see what it is you are experiencing when the world is not reflecting your own cultural context?

It’s not easy.

In just a few weeks, the Flynn Center is hosting Evelyn Glennie. She’s a percussionist. And she just happens to be deaf.

My Flynn Center friends came to me a couple of months ago and asked if we could get our students to play in conjunction with this concert and the Community Engagement Lab.  According to their website,

The Community Engagement Lab (CEL) provides leadership to design bold school-based projects that activate students’ creativity while deepening their engagement with their community.

When the opportunity was first proposed, Stacy Raphael at the Flynn originally suggested working with the ExcELL class. But I said no to that.

This year, we’ve had remarkably few beginning level students enter our school. Usually, I test about 40 students who are new to the country. This year, it’s been about half that. If that. I don’t know where all the refugees are going. But it’s not here. We now have 3 students. Nothing compared to our top number of 19 last year.

In addition, the topic of Evelyn Glennie’s presentations generally have to do with listening. Stacy and friends at CEL were interested in how New Americans felt they were heard, or about challenges of being listened to.

Frankly, that’s a challenge for every teen. Everywhere. From the dawn of time. But for real beginning level students, the language to express the frustration that goes with being a teenager who is not heard, and then complicating that issue by adding a language barrier on top… well, it’s just not going to happen.

Instead, I invited them to come play with students who have been in country for a while, but are really at an intermediate level.

My Reading 3 students never really got a chance to work with teaching artists since we started this venture three years ago. And they have opinions. And they do not feel heard.

Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 12.27.07 PMSo we started just this past week. Susan Palmer is our teaching artist. She’s been in a different class at our school this year. And now she’s stepping into this role. (You can find out more about her on this website.)

After warming students up and getting them into the idea of playing–this always takes some work in the ELL classroom for a couple of reasons–she brought out neutral masks, which you can see above. I was amazed at how quickly students took to these (partner teacher Suzy was a bit freaked out). But the students thought they were amazing.

One even asked if he could take one home.

We talked about how we use our faces to show our emotions.

And that’s one of the reasons why it’s hard to talk on the phone in another language. There’s no context. No expressions. Far less input from which to glean information.

But our voices and our bodies can be yet another tool. The masks were to show how the body can come into play.

She confided in me that she was unsure about working with these students. It’s a new arena for her. But I think we’re off to a fantastic start.




Comments on: "Behind the Mask" (1)

  1. […] us at the Flynn and tried to give students a preview of what we are trying to accomplish with this new project. We’re trying to create a piece that will bring in emotions that can be conveyed despite […]

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