I don’t normally make new year’s resolutions, but I have decided that this year I would like to cultivate a habit of mindfulness about differentiating workshop instruction. One particularly poignant experience inspired me to set this goal. Toward the end of our 2018 Summer/Fall season, the ASC was lucky enough to host a student matinee performance of As You Like It for students from the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind (VSDB) that included NEA-funded American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation.
Long before VSDB students arrived at the playhouse, we communicated extensively with the school regarding how to make our theatre more accessible and accommodating for the various needs of these students: students with visual impairments would be allowed early access to the house to orient themselves to the space, students with hearing disabilities would be seated with a clear view of the interpreters, and so forth. On the day of the performance, ASL interpreters Lindsey D. Snyder and Emily Hess Haynes McGee did an incredible job translating Shakespeare’s language and the actors’ intentions into an animated sign language performance for our VSDB audience. Everyone, even students from other schools, delighted in their presence. In a house with universal lighting, the true difficulty was prying my eyes away from the two interpreters whose magnetic energy nearly stole the show!
Watching these students with special needs enjoy one of Shakespeare’s goofiest comedies with the help of visual interventions (in this case, sign language interpretation) made me reflect on what more I could do to make all of ASC’s workshops more readily accessible for all students all the time. Often these considerations happen on a case by case basis shortly before the workshop begins or as adjustments in the moment because workshop leaders, unlike students’ regular classroom teachers, don’t have the benefit of knowing all the students before they arrive at the playhouse. Not much can be done about that except a little proactive planning. I began simply by adding boxes at the bottom of all our workshop lesson plans for suggested extensions and accommodations for different levels and styles of learning. Even this small act of making space in our lesson plans for inclusivity immediately forced my brain to consider different approaches to workshop content, and I hope to keep filling them in with new strategies for years to come.
One workshop that already has many such accommodations built into it is our Shakespeare’s Verse workshop. Much of the workshop centers around an activity called “Iambic Bodies,” a primarily kinesthetic and visual exercise for introducing students to scansion and iambic pentameter. Ten (sometimes eleven or twelve, depending on the line) volunteers create a physical representation of a line of verse, with participants representing the unstressed position by sitting down and the stressed syllables standing up. The activity incorporates movement and visualization helpful to learners with special needs, but since ASC Education’s newsletter topic this month is accessibility, I went a few steps further and added in even more suggested accommodations for inclusivity of other learning capabilities and styles. “Iambic Bodies” encourages students to think about the ways they can emphasize stressed syllables or irregularities in the verse line, usually through vocal variation. Inspired by our recent brush with ASL interpreters, however, I remembered all the physical ways they found to perform the same function for the text without making a sound and created extra activities for that purpose. You and your students are capable of that, too, and this modified lesson plan can help you facilitate a more inclusive learning experience for everyone.
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