DESCRIPTION OF THE SUCCESS STORY
The main actors involved were the Music and Drama Teacher, the Arts Teacher and seventeen 10th-grade students (15 girls and 2) enrolled in a professional study course in a secondary school in Castelo Branco, Portugal. The study course they were enrolled related to Child Support in Schools. The story took place three years ago in the academic year 2010-2011. Relationships among students and peer relations were difficult and perceived by teachers as troublesome.
The Music and Drama Teacher thus decided to involve students in project work. The project would be about Rwanda. The project aimed at building the students’ emotional stability; motivating them to learn and be in school, so that they could feel loved and respected; as well as giving them recognition and merit for their ability to work in a team cooperatively. The Arts Teacher decided to join the project and to make it an experiment in interdisciplinary practice, which would foster the students’ scientific learning and simultaneously contribute positively to their emotional balance.
Students were told about the main objectives of the project, the actions to be developed by them and the teachers, and they agreed to take part of the Rwanda Project (a performing arts show for teachers, to take place in the teachers’ room, at school).
The activities in the Art Classes included the following:
-Making of a poster to publicize the event
- Settings for space and location (with illustrations on the floor), that would direct the public to the place where the performance would take place
- Making plaster masks
The activities in the Music and Drama Classes included the following:
-Reading of a literary work, entitled Sobrevivi (IIibagiza 2009). It is a story of survival, the story of a woman who survived the Rwanda Holocaust.
-Discussion on the literary work
-Research about the Rwanda Holocaust
-Making of a “narrative script”
-Development of a music score
-Research of images of the Rwanda genocide
-Research of the music to create the right ambiance
Activities developed in both disciplines involved on the part of students that they:
- Make of a Power point presentation
- Conceive, do and send invitations to the performance
- Decorate and organize the teachers room for the presentation
The performance was well appreciated; therefore the students decided to repeat it at the school recital, this time directed at the whole school community. After the performance, the students got together for dinner a couple of times. They always invited their teachers to be present at their dinners.
The reasons why this story can be considered successful lie in the positive peer relationships that were developed and maintained till the end of the three-year study course. At the end of the first year the relationship between teachers and students were properly established. The students established a respectful relationship with their teachers, they participated entirely in their courses, and therefore there were no problems with punctuality, attendance or bad grades. As for the relationship among students, they became a group that respected each other’s differences, they tried to create common interests, and developed a sense of belonging, self-awareness, responsibility, trust, cooperation, friendship, and tolerance. These are all the required attitudes for a healthy classroom environment, where students can act without prejudice, social or individual inhibition.
Taking into account that these were students from very diverse background with low self-esteem, repeated failure records and around seventeen-years old in grade 10, who had difficulty in relating to one another and to the teachers, establishes the success rate of this narrative.
Success may be explained by the fact that the students were involved in a project which culminated in a public performance. This made them realize they had a purpose in learning and that they had to cooperate to achieve success. The design of the project work, based on a continuous line of action, “a central line that connects all the objects in direction of the supreme objective” (Stanislavski, 2001 p.121), allowed students to become aware and to assume responsibility for their actions until the public performance. The students’ words on evaluating the project highlight how they put the task above their egos. They wrote: “(…) this project made us realize that success depends on the involvement and perseverance of each one of us. Our individual success reflects that of the whole group.” This is also relevant in terms of the interaction between teachers and students since the former were seen as monitoring the whole process and facilitators of the common goal.
In terms of educational policy, this success story highlights that much can be achieved locally in schools through project-based methodologies and interdisciplinary practices. It also shows that some students need an extra-curricular goal in order to be interested in school work, such as a performance for the whole school community (teachers, peers and parents).
The potential transferability of this experience lies in understanding that through interdisciplinary project work that is based on research and practice, students are able to build emotional stability (the feeling of being loved and respected as well as recognized, motivated, happy and active). Researching about Rwanda and genocide were themes they adhered to and through exploring it for the end of the year performance, they developed a common humanity for others, while they also built on mutual help skills.