HT: Teachers draw connections between reading and the arts with ‘Flat Stanley’
By Jenny Porter Tilley | HT Reporter
As an avid reader in my childhood, I found there was nothing better than sprawling out on the couch with a good book.
Except, maybe, if that book also had a movie. Then I could try to follow along with the text and note what changes had been made. Cardinal Stage is offering an even more valuable opportunity for area students: Read the book, then see it live on stage.
Michelle Willoughby, a first-grade teacher at Hatfield Elementary School in Mitchell, said connecting other activities to reading can help her students comprehend the material in a more advanced way.
“Anytime you can connect text to something they’re doing in real life, it helps comprehension and critical thinking skills,” Willoughby said in a phone interview. “It expands the depth of the questions they’ll be able to answer. It makes a big difference when it’s something they can see and experience in real life.”
She and the other teachers at her school are doing this with Cardinal Stage’s “The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley,” now on stage at the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center. The play is based on a book series by Jeff Brown, in which a 10-year-old boy is flattened by his bulletin board and searches the globe to find a way to become three-dimensional again. The Hatfield students read “Flat Stanley: His Original Adventure,” a chapter book, before going to see the show.
Technology can make today’s 10-year-olds just as likely as Stanley to live in a two-dimensional world. Students today don’t have to pore through an encyclopedia to find the entry on a topic of interest — they can get answers immediately on various devices. Willoughby said lesson plans surrounding a physical experience, such as going to a play, can help build the stamina lost by the immediacy of information.
“As much as technology is helpful in the classroom, it also can have a negative effect for attention span, because they want that immediate visual gratification,” she said. “They want something new all the time.”
Willoughby and the rest of the first-grade teachers used “Flat Stanley” to incorporate reading, writing, geography and culture into their routine. Each class will research a different country represented in the “Flat Stanley’s Worldwide Adventures” series, a spinoff series written by various authors. Each group will create activities and plan snacks around their selected country.
“Flat Stanley is not only a fun story and an entertaining musical for both children and adults, but it also provides teachers and families with an opportunity to do some great activities with kids,” Kate Galvin, artistic director for the regional theater company, said in an email. “Kids can learn about different cultures around the world and also about the magic of writing letters.”
Some students in the Bloomington community have an extra connection to the show: Fairview Elementary School drama and dance students can see their teacher, Shannon O’Connor Starks, as part of the Cardinal for Kids cast. And a piece of themselves might even be a part of the show.
Starks and other cast members perform among a set that includes letters from students in the community. “We got students directly involved in the show by having them write letters to Cardinal about where they would like to travel and what they love about Flat Stanley,” Galvin said. “When students come to the theater, they may see their letter on stage or hanging over the audience.”
During performances, Starks said, noticing the kids’ work within the set and the letters overhead swaying in the air conditioning is a reminder that kids are the reason they’re doing it. “It’s a fun way to put that focus on going anywhere we want in our imaginations, and also through the mail,” she said. The kids themselves help keep that focus, too. “It’s just so great to hear those little voices in the audience.”
“Flat Stanley” continues through May 26, and several school groups will go on field trips to see the show. Due to the interest from school groups, Galvin said, they’ve had to add additional student matinees to meet the demand.
Teachers and parents have a world of opportunities — games, lesson plans and more — to incorporate Stanley into their lives at FlatStanleyBooks.com.