As Chicago Public Schools prepare to adopt a seven-hour day and implement the Common Core State Standards--a more rigorous curriculum that will better prepare students for college and careers--Writers' Theatre (based in nearby Glencoe) is expanding the reach of its groundbreaking educational programs to assist teachers and schools with the coming transition.
Writers' Theatre works with nine Chicago Public Schools through its innovative Novel Series Program, which will reach more than 650 students. The company's Civil Rights production, “The MLK Project: The Fight for Civil Rights,” will begin its seventh year of touring, having reached 35,000 students in hundreds of schools, including two youth correctional facilities and multiple alternative high schools for students who have been expelled.
Writers' Theatre’s education programs are unique in their approach to learning, geared toward teaching a love of reading, rather than simply teaching foundational reading skills, and using full texts to attack "big picture questions" that connect to students' lives. This approach, which anticipated the new Common Core State Standards that schools are in the process of incorporating this year, has been described as the reading rainbow of theater education programs. Through a combination of academic and creative activities, Writers' Theatre is able to engage students in the process of connecting great works of literature to their lives.
This groundbreaking approach was validated by a 2011 independent study commissioned by the Chicago Community Trust, which indicated that Writers' Theatre's education programs are able to reach the same number of students as organizations 10-times larger, with deeper interaction and investment.
"Under these programs, reading scores have increased by an average of 8-12 percent in classrooms working with Writers' Theatre. It has made a tangible difference in the lives of many students," Director of Education Nicole O'Connell said. "For example, a student with a severe stutter, who had never spoken out loud except one-on-one with a speech coach, was able to get up in front of his class and speak during a presentation. After participation in the program, detention center youth have written and presented moving, personal poetry in front of an audience, and every year we see English-language learners develop the confidence to speak in front of their class for the first time in English. We're proud of the overall test scores, the positive feedback we receive from teachers and most importantly, the response from individual students."
The Writers' Theatre Novel Series curriculum focuses on a full book instead of segments from a reader, leading students to invest and empathize with characters, and to make reading a part of their lives. Vocabulary, discussion, writing and theater exercises based on the selected book are also uniquely customized for each individual school.
Writers' Theatre's “The MLK Project: The Fight for Civil Rights” is an initiative built around a one-woman play, commissioned and developed by Writers' Theatre, and written by poet and Chicago native Yolanda Androzzo. It is now entering its seventh year on tour to Chicago Public Schools, where it has reached more than 35,000 students to date. The MLK Project tells the story of a Chicago student's investigation of the Civil Rights Movement through the collective oral history of Chicagoans, emphasizing the sharing of history, the power of legacy and the importance of non-violent solutions. The program, which includes pre- and post-show discussions and comprehensive study guides for use in the classroom, encourages students to make connections between history and their own lives with a focus on addressing racism and appreciating diversity.
Writers' Theatre also offers customizable "Write On" programs that are specially designed for each individual classroom, and structured to meet the creative writing and literary needs of each partner school or organization.
For more information about Writers’ TheatreEducation Programs, visit www.writerstheatre.org/education. For more information about the Theatre, call 847-242-6000 or view the North Shore theater on the Web at www.writerstheatre.org, on Facebook or on Twitter at Twitter.com/WritersTheatre. Writers’ Theatre is located at 376 Park Ave. in Glencoe.