The world becomes ‘a bigger place,’ thanks to drama teacher Carol Tanzman

Above, fifth-graders from Eagle Rock Elementary Magnet perform their interpretation of the autobiography “I am Malala.”

"I Am Malala," performed by students at Eagle Rock Elementary Magnet, integrated arts into lessons of literacy and history.
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“I Am Malala,” performed by students at Eagle Rock Elementary Magnet, integrated arts into lessons of literacy and history.

By Rochelle Jefferson
Arts Education Branch

What happens when fifth-graders decide to create a dramatic interpretation of the autobiography of the Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai? What happens when sixth-graders are inspired to tell the stories of children displaced by war and conflict story through a series of monologues and skits?

With itinerant drama teacher Carol Tanzman supporting the work of classroom teachers, students from Eagle Rock Gifted/Highly Gifted Elementary Magnet and Rockdale Visual and Performing Arts Magnet recently performed two theatrical pieces based on their new-found knowledge of current events.

Eagle Rock Elementary students created a 40-minute play based on the 368-page autobiography, “I am Malala, the Girl who stood up for Education and was shot by the Taliban.” Rockdale Elementary used newspaper clippings to develop “Living Newspaper: The Syrian Crisis,” a 45-minute production based on the conflict that has displaced 12 million people, half of them children.

In the Eagle Rock Elementary production, every fifth-grader had a role: 29 had speaking parts, while others designed the costumes or operated the lighting or sound systems.

"Living Newspaper" brought to life the struggles of children in the ongoing Syrian conflict.
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‘Living Newspaper,’ performed by sixth-graders at Rockdale Elementary, brought to life the struggles of children in the ongoing Syrian conflict.

“Performing in a play helps students build literacy skills,” said  Alicia Stanco, “When students go from reading in monotone – without appropriate phrasing or inflection – to performing script that they helped to write – with passion, emotion and conviction – these students have harnessed the power of reading and writing. Reading, writing, and performing changes lives.”

In developing “Living Newspaper,” the sixth-graders researched the crisis in Syria and used newspaper and Internet research to develop the scenes and dialogue.

“The most meaningful part of this year-long project with my students has been hearing them say that they now understand how important it is to have compassion,” teacher Doris Riley, “One student told me that he was proud to have had the opportunity to make others aware of the Syrian refugee crisis. This year, the world became a bigger place for my students.”