To meet district initiatives of improving critical literacy skills and raising ELA assessment scores, the Teacher Center of Central Westchester partnered with The Performing Arts Center at Purchase College, SUNY (Kennedy Center for the Arts Partnership) to provide a literacy program, entitled Neighborhood Bridges. The program, modeled on one from The Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis, Minnesota, uses storytelling and creative drama to help third and fourth grade students increase essential CCSS critical literacy skills and become storytellers of their own lives.
During the program, which ran from October 2013 to January 2014, Teaching Artists from the Performing Arts Center, visited 8 third and fourth grade classrooms, one day a week for 10 weeks, in two schools in Mt. Vernon City School District, and one school in Yonkers City School District. (This program has since been expanded to an additional school in Port Chester Union Free School District.) Approximately 200 students along with their teachers participated in various activities throughout the program. One activity, the Fantastic Binomial, involved students spontaneously creating stories through free association based on two arbitrarily chosen nouns and a preposition. The stories were written in their Bridges notebook and each week 2-3 students would present to their peers. The students also received coaching in using gestures and voice to dramatize their stories. The students were provided guidance throughout the activity from their teachers and the Teaching Artists working together.
The goals of the program were to help students develop critical literacy skills; recognize their own capacity to become storytellers of their own lives; develop students’ abilities to write, speak, and think clearly; achieve state and national standards for theatre; and improve students’ achievement in reading and writing.
Through this partnership between the PAC and the Teacher Center, teachers were also provided professional training to continue the activities once the program concluded. As a result of this training, they felt confident in their abilities to replicate it moving forward. The teachers also indicated both an improvement in their own literacy teaching skills and increased engagement from their students in their final evaluations.
To evaluate the effectiveness of the program, baseline scores in listening, speaking, comprehension, acting and self assessment skills were taken and measured against ending scores. Beginning and ending writing samples were also collected and evaluated using a writing rubric (attached) to assess and compare writing on the first day of the program and final writing. The rubric generated data on 5 criteria: idea, organization, style, mechanics, and creativity.
The results indicated a statistically significant increase in student achievement and a successful learning experience for all. The mean overall score on students’ first writing samples was 13.3 out of a possible 20 points. When students’ writing was re-sampled during the final Bridges session, the mean overall score was 15.8, a 12.5% increase. Additional increases were projected as well over the remaining months as the classroom teacher continued the programming led by the Teaching Artist.
Teacher’s Assessment of the program included the following:
- 100% of teachers strongly agreed that they had a collaborative relationship with their Teaching Artist
- 100% agreed that the training and planning meetings with their Teaching Artist were helpful in deepening understanding of how to implement the Bridges Program
- 100% agreed that students’ enjoyment of writing had improved; they were writing with descriptive details and an awareness of a clear, central idea; and that their oral communication skills were improved.
- 100% strongly agreed that attending and performing in the Neighborhood Bridges Festival at Purchase College, SUNY was a valuable experience for students.
Quotes from participating teachers:
“The impact this program had on the children was tremendous. The shy children flourished and the class was so proud to perform at Purchase! Life changing!”
“The transformation of the children is awesome – to see their critical thinking skills really increase.”
“Seeing the enthusiasm from all students.”
“What I enjoyed most about this program was the joy experienced while learning and teaching, the collaboration between students, the collaboration between adults and the Neighborhood Bridges Festival.”
“When doing a Fantastic Binomial, students become excited and eager to write. If presented differently, that same excitement is not there. Students write more. This is evident in non-fiction writing.”
“I enjoyed telling the stories and watching the children come alive and excited to be at school again.”
“What I enjoyed most about this program was the live performance and the opportunity for the parents to attend and see growth.”
The program and the assessments were funded by the Frog Rock Foundation (grant to The Performing Arts Center at Purchase College, SUNY).