Franklin School teachers Armine Irving and Beatrice Buccos have been collaborating on an innovative curriculum using Broadway plays as a medium for learning. They say they have found a way to teach “not just for music, but for other subjects.”
Irving, passionate and determined to expand the minds of her music and chorus students by making learning more interactive, and Buccos, a Language Arts 8th grade teacher, approached Franklin School principal Peter Clark, and asked if they can create a curriculum utilizing Broadway plays, and Clark agreed.
Irving says the approach is a way to “connect all subjects globally for all careers” which will allow students to be more successful and think out of the box. “Have a connected thought, one thought, one education,” is the approach.
“Peter Clark is a great principal and loved the idea,” says Irving. “We would like to thank him for believing in our curriculum.”
Building structure around a new idea
This new course of study has been implemented for two years now and has continued most recently using “The Phantom of the Opera.”
The strategy consists of open-ended questions posed to the students about character development, the grammar of the lyrics of the songs, and how the music is related to the characters, the teachers say. The movie and play are also viewed for their ability to illustrate different components.
The current essay that the students are working on is: How does the phantom’s character become evil and how does this reflect on your own life?
“I am giving students the opportunity to learn through various means, not just listening to a teacher lecture.” – Beatrice Buccos
Irving says that Franklin’s Chorus and the four 8th grade soloists will perform excerpts from the musical for the Spring Concert on Friday, May 11 at 6:30 p.m. On May 30th the students will have the opportunity to “travel to New York and see firsthand this famous play,” says Irving.
Writing and self discovery
Each year Irving and Buccos have chosen a Broadway piece, and designed the music, reading and writing curriculum around it. The teachers have proven that learning can be fun with the right tools to implement it.
“The 8th grade student body receives a comprehensive unit of study in both music, reading and writing,” says Irving. “Using the ‘Phantom of the Opera,’ students learn the history, time period and culture of the play. Through the lyrics, students sharpen and strengthen their grammar skills. Listening to music is a nice way to enhance the learning process for many students; it makes learning more fun.”
In the “The Phantom of the Opera” there are a variety of themes which get extracted as a means of writing and self-discovery for the students. The students learn about character and structure as they are given the chance to express themselves. “The students wrote about how a person is treated as a child affects them as an adult – as in the case of the Phantom,” says Irving.
Students pondered the statement, “The world showed no compassion to me” which led to a group discussion about reasons why the Phantom changes his mind towards the end of the story.
“We reach out to the interest of the children and nourish it,” says Irving.
It’s a rigorous curriculum, yet the students don’t seem to notice. They enjoy the interaction and how a Broadway play such as “The Phantom” can combine their subjects.
“The musical components include analyzing the form of the songs, the notes, the rhythm and how the music and the lyrics are connected,” Irving says. She has seen that music works for Franklin School’s students and that every child has different interests. She suggests every school find out what works for them and build a curriculum from there.
“It is an innovative way of teaching, where the students get to connect and have a better and a deeper understanding of subjects, a skill surely needed in this global economy!” says Irving. “We would like to share this with the rest of the schools in North Bergen and have them apply it to their own teaching. The success is that the kids want to do it. They put in a lot of work and enjoy learning that way. Kids are learning willingly and when they go to high school they are a lot more prepared. Kids that graduate are well-rounded individuals. Everything assigned to them is for a purpose.”
Students thinking out of the box
Student Bridgette Mena finds that the writing makes learning more interesting, even though it’s not her strong suit. Her interest in music is what helps her want to write about it. She hopes to “understand music better and to improve” her writing.
“I am especially looking forward to performing it (‘The Phantom of the Opera’) on stage,” says student Russell Taylor. “I know more about literacy through music, I feel like I have an advantage as opposed to just writing.”
Current and former students have told Irving and Buccos that intermingling subjects has helped them.
Carolina Cueves, a current 8th grader, says that the way this curriculum has influenced her learning is through her love of writing and music.
“I would like to pursue both professions for my career. This has given me the chance to get better at both of them. I have never had this kind of learning before.”
“I like to call it a ‘unique approach to learning,’” Buccos says. “I am giving students the opportunity to learn through various means, not just listening to a teacher lecture.”
Vanessa Cruz can be reached at email@example.com