Orlando Repertory Theatre has become a hub for Central Florida teachers seeking growth, development, and expertise in arts integration. Thanks to the Helios Education Foundation, Orlando REP embarked on a partnership and unique literacy program called “EYEPlay”, developed by Childsplay, that includes integrating drama strategies in Pre-K dual language classrooms in Orange County Public Schools (OCPS). This program not only serves the students involved but provides wonderful professional development opportunities for teachers as well.
With the EYEPlay program in its fourth and final year, participating teachers are now experts in the space of dual language and arts integration. Each teacher is encouraged to share their knowledge as an arts integration resource in their school with the purpose of becoming a “trainer of trainers” among their fellow peers. One teacher in particular opened up her class to not only her peers, but to her community as well by involving and integrating the families of her students as model learners in her arts-infused lessons. Ada Carballo is a leader not only within the EYEPlay program, but among the school district as a “model” class, and the arts play an integral role in her pedagogy and love for teaching.
Learn more about Ada’s experience, growth, and journey using arts integration in the interview below:
Tell us about your teaching background. What made you want to become a dual language teacher?
My teaching career started in Puerto Rico as a headstart teacher. I did that for six years and then moved up as a supervisor for three years after that. All of the classes that I taught and supervised were in Spanish. When I came to Florida thirteen years ago I started teaching dual language, but it was more Spanish heavy than our EYEPlay structure is. I did that for a while also trying to learn and perfect my own English. After a few years, I was moved to kindergarten and got to teach exclusively in English! I even made it as team leader! I did that up until I was offered the opportunity to teach dual language again in VPK and participate in the EYEPlay program.
Why this age group?
I went to college to become a pharmacist. I never imagined I would end up becoming a Pre-K teacher! It wasn’t until I was given the opportunity to teach at a theatre summer camp, that I realized I really wanted to be a teacher. I haven’t looked back since!
Have you ever used drama prior to the EYEPlay program?
In the past I have tried to incorporate drama strategies such as movement and pantomime. I have always tried to incorporate movements for all of the songs we sing in class; I feel it’s important for the children to move. I have also used drama in other areas of my life as well, such as in church with the youth group.
How have you seen drama impact your own practice? How has it impacted your students?
I feel a lot more confident in my practice now that I have gone through the EYEPlay program. I would say that my book-reading skills have really improved! It has changed the way I use vocal variety, characterization, emotion, and suspense – I try to make lessons as engaging as possible! Now I get so into the stories that when we read sad ones, I get emotional with my students! Pantomime is another strategy that I have learned to use consistently now too!
I would say that that drama has impacted my students a lot. It has helped both English and Spanish speakers learn new vocabulary. I love the peer conversations they get to have in the lessons, especially when using the activity “Bridges Up” where they are paired up with the purpose of sharing information with their partner. I use a lot of the drama strategies from the EYEPlay lessons throughout the day in my classroom because I feel they really help support the learning of a new language.
How has it developed a sense of collaboration between you and your paraprofessional?
We feel a lot more comfortable with each other. The drama lessons have given me the opportunity to collaborate more and learn more about my para. I’ve learned more about her teaching style and her preferences. For example, she really enjoys reading the stories more, but doesn’t like singing the songs as much. When we plan, we do it together and that has created a great close team culture in the space. Now we’ve gotten to the point where when we look at each other we know what the other is going to do or say!
In what ways has drama helped you develop your leadership skills?
Drama has made me feel very confident as a teacher. I love inviting other teachers to my class to see the work we do. I really want to do a professional development workshop with the other teachers from my school so they can see how the drama lessons are and use some of these strategies in their own classrooms.
Have you been able to help or guide your fellow teachers in this area?
Last year, I invited one of the other dual language teachers that is not in the EYEPlay program to observe a drama lesson. She loved it so much and was excited about using the strategies and ideas in her classroom. She even attended an ELTA (Engaged Learning Through the Arts) professional development workshop at Orlando Repertory Theatre to further learn about how to use arts integration in the classroom.
Is drama something you will continue to use and why?
Of course! I have seen that it has really helped students acquire new language. I love it because they think they are playing, but they are really learning to express themselves using their bodies. They are becoming experts at finding strategies and ideas to solve problems. Using some of the strategies outside of the lessons and on a daily basis has really helped the class – it has even helped with classroom management and calming students.
If you could give advice to other teachers about why using the arts is important in the classroom, what would you say?
The students will not only be more engaged, but it would make their teaching more fun and enjoyable. The students will learn more vocabulary and will be able to relate personally to the stories and the questions asked of them. Overall, it really helps the class in both languages. It allows them to express how they feel in different ways regardless of the language they use because they communicate with their bodies, movements, relationships, ideas, and experience.
What are 3 words to describe an arts-infused classroom?
Engaging. Imaginative. Discovery.
This program is possible due to the Helios Foundation’s generosity and commitment to transformative education – what is one thing you would to say to them?
Thank you so much for this program. It has really made me grow as a teacher and I learned I can do things that I never thought I could do, and it has been so much fun!
For more information on how to get involved in the Orlando REP’s professional development programs and workshops for classroom teachers and teaching artists, please email [email protected].