One of the things I’ve always loved about teaching drama is the element of human connection. Drama helps us tell stories in ways that connects with our need to be seen, heard, and understood. It is an art driven by facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language – all elements of a shared common language that we each embody in our unique way. In other words, drama is a universal language that is also highly personal.
We know that connections are vital for well-being. So now, more than ever, our students need to feel connected to their community. And I believe that nothing builds connections better than sharing and hearing our stories. But how do you make those connections when we are so physically separated?
That’s the question I brought to my weekly meeting with drama educators from around the world. My Canadian colleagues in Korea, Spain, and NYC all shared what they have learned during their time at the heart of the COVID-19 crisis. They all agreed that students need the emotional connection of theatre, and many of them recommended I look into Flipgrid, an online video-sharing tool created by Microsoft.
Basically, Flipgrid is a way for students and teachers to communicate via short videos. It is highly customizable, has excellent privacy settings, and is presented in a way that is very engaging and accessible for a generation that is growing up using apps such as TikTok or Snapchat.
Alongside our wonderful students and fellow teachers, we took a responsible risk and piloted the use of Flipgrid in a number of different classes. It has proven to be a remarkable tool – not only in drama classes, but in many other disciplines. We’ve also incorporated it into student speeches, social studies projects, and games such as “All About Me” and “Guess Who”. We’re also using it as the backbone of our upcoming KCS’ Got Talent @ Home Edition!
The fact that students can rehearse and do multiple takes before uploading a final version has been a huge boon for those students who might normally feel uncomfortable speaking in front of a class, as it gives them a sense of control and agency over their responses. Because videos go directly to the teacher, students who would rather express their ideas 1:1 feel empowered to have a voice. And for those who don’t like seeing themselves on camera, they can use filters, post-it notes, or a virtual whiteboard instead of their own talking head!
But probably my favourite aspect of Flipgrid is the way in which it allows students to build connections with others. Once a video is uploaded, students and teachers can post video responses to give individual feedback or accolades. Seeing your teacher’s facial expressions and hearing the tone of their voice as they talk to you about something you have made is a deeply rewarding and empowering experience. Kids who were feeling isolated or lonely suddenly feel seen and heard. Their social connections to others are strengthened, simply through the power of communal conversations.
Times of crisis are also times of opportunity. While the COVID-19 situation has given us many challenges, it has also helped us move outside our comfort zone and explore new and innovative approaches to teaching. This experience has reminded me to never stop trying new things, especially when it comes to exploring new avenues that help our students become more empowered, balanced, and connected.
-Teresa Pollett-Boyle, Arts Coordinator