Seaton Elementary – Dancing with Books and Poetry


This spring, I had the awesome task of working with three brilliant educators at Seaton Elementary in Washington, DC as part of my work in StoryTapestries’ VSA programs. My three classrooms were vastly different ages and needs:  Pre-k students who were mostly non-verbal, k-2 students with a broad range of emotional and physical disabilities, and 3rd-5th graders who were on the higher-functional range of abilities. As in any situation, each child deserves to be treated with individual respect and attention; at Seaton, the teachers went above and beyond to meet this criteria every. single. moment. Working side-by-side to integrate dance into their curricula was ripe with learning opportunities for teachers, students, and myself. Together, our primary goals for the residency were:

  • to create a more active classroom by using movement to support transitions between activities, stations, and spaces;
  • to integrate dance into the core curriculum;
  • and to empower the teachers with a broad skill set to continue movement-integrated lessons beyond the scope of the residency.

The pre-k classroom worked with the text, “Pete the CScreen Shot 2015-07-10 at 1.27.18 PMat, I Love My White Shoes” by Eric Litwin.  We created motions for key vocabulary words and made the reading of the text a whole body experience. There is a song to match the book that gave our reading and dancing an extra dimension of fun. We worked in 15-minute rotations with two students at at time, maximizing realistic expectations of attention, comprehension, and retention for students.

Screen Shot 2015-07-10 at 1.27.56 PM

The k-2 classroom worked with “Always in Trouble” by Corrine Demas, illustrated by Norah Z. Jones. As
with the pre-k classroom, we worked in rotation, but in larger groups. At one station, key vocabulary words were highlighted with gestures, pictures, and matching activities. The other station abstracted key concepts from the story: days of the week, positive/negative consequences for behavior, parts of a story, etc. We put them into motion using locomotor movement across the floor, shaping in space and specific pathways, and tableaus.

The 3rd-5th graders explored a poetry unit, focused on Haiku and ABAB or AABB rhyming sequences and stanzas. The students did full-body tracings of themselves, completed a personal haiku to describe themselves and wrote their haiku on their body tracing. These tracings served as art for the walls as well as a meaningful visual reminder of the haiku form and they led to a fruitful discussion of each other’s similarities and differences. In groups, we wrote ABAB poems about a frog’s habitat – as their classroom is an imaginary frog pond. The students drew pictures to represent their poems and created movement to accompany the poems. Each group performed for the other, shared their art, and poetry. The frog habitat study culminated in a classroom book that was printed for each student to keep, inclusive of all of their work. Each day with this classroom included warm-up movement to “get the wiggles out” and transitional movement to keep the flow going from one activity to the next. The class explored all elements of a frog and it’s habitat physically, visually, orally, and in text. They even have plans to build a frog pond on campus to bring the study full circle!

Screen Shot 2015-07-10 at 2.24.57 PMWhen was the last time you hopped like a frog? I dare you to give it a try right now!


k.k. :)

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Beatboxing and Math in New Castle, Pennsylvania – by Max Bent

Thanks to Story Tapestries and the Hoyt Center for the Arts, I had the opportunity to spend over a week working with third and sixth graders in New Castle, Pennsylvania. Although I’ve done many arts integrated residencies prior, this one stands out as a model for success. An appropriate name for the approach we took in New Castle might be “building community through the arts.” As a teaching artist, I most often work with students, or their teachers, or some combination of both. But in New Castle, I collaborated with students, teachers, a center for the arts, and local artists over the course of the residency. It was awesome and I hope to work in another community under the same residency model soon.

New Castle is a beautiful, old small town in Northwest PA near the Ohio border. I immediately felt at home since I was staying in someone’s house. The Marquez family, now my good friends, were kind enough to let me stay with them for the entire residency. In return, I manipulated Hector, the papa, into eating three salads in one week. But that’s another story. Suffice it to say that being able to live with a family in the community had a HUGE impact on my experience and I would consider it essential to replicating the residency model.

The residency kicked off with a wonderful professional development (PD) session at the absolutely stunningly beautiful Hoyt Center for the Arts.


The PD was the perfect opportunity to meet the teachers and artists I would be working with and share my art of Human Beatboxing with them. Over the course of the three hour session, I was able to introduce the whole group to some of the fundamental techniques of beatboxing and demonstrate a few applications through arts integrated lessons. The best moment of the session was a long, informative discussion about one of the activities that led to a few significant upgrades to the activity. Thanks! As I always tell teachers, it is teachers that clarify and improve my own ideas.

Over the next five days, I worked in a third and sixth grade classroom at George Washington Intermediate School. Our objectives were different for each group. I was shadowed by two local artists from the community interested in arts integration. These artists were far more than shadows, and immediately contributed to the lessons. After the classroom work, I met with the artists for a debrief.

In the third grade classroom, we decomposed hexagons into triangles, rhombuses and trapezoids (sixths, thirds and halves, respectively). Each fraction was assigned a vocalization and thus students were able to perform the decomposed hexagons.

The sixth graders worked in teams to compose multi-part arrangements which were laid out on an X-Y plot. Below is a recording of one of the groups performing their piece:


An X-Y Plot composition arranged and awaiting performers.

The teams tackled music and math objectives. They worked together to perform their compositions, a process rich with musical skill development (steady beat, texture, form). Additionally, their teacher suggested a statistical analysis of the students composition. For example, the students created line plots to illustrate the change in volume over time of their compositions.

The artists that worked with us in the residency developed arts integrated lesson plans using a template I provided. One of the artists, dancer Shari Mastalski, went above and beyond the call of duty, and, on top of completing her own lesson plan, composed (with a little guidance) a rap based on lessons we observed in the sixth grade classroom. Below is the Integer Rap:

Integers are whole numbers for example one,
Two, three, four, five, up the number line they run.

Integers can be negative numbers when
They run the other way past zero like negative ten.

If the signs are different you must subtract
And take the sign of the larger number that’s a fact.

When you have to subtract, remember leave, change, flip
You may be confused but sit up straight and get a grip.

Now if only we had somebody to drop a beat…

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Professional Development through VSA – Kennedy Center – by Suzanne Richard

Arts integration in special education seems so fundamental to me that I welcomed the chance to present at a series of Professional Development programs on that very subject.  Thanks to a grant from VSA Arts, Arianna Ross and I, of Story Tapestries, had the chance to share the ideas of Embodied Storytelling to groups of teachers who I knew would benefit immensely from this work.  The inclusion of multiple styles of learning are vital to a well-rounded education. That benefit increases exponentially when dealing with students whose various disabilities may affect their ability to receive and retain information in a traditional classroom culture. This post will focus on two vastly different programs we offered, the first to a large group of approximately 80 high school and middle school special education teachers and aides, and the second, a much more intimate group of approximately 20 teachers that work with elementary school students with special needs.

With the first, larger group, after introducing them to our basic embodied storytelling tools which, among other things, allow teachers and aides to create a collaborative and focused work environment, develop and enhance the acquisition of new vocabulary, and begin to get them to explore kinesthetic modes of learning, we focused on exploring texts that illuminate different scientific processes.  We broke them into groups based on their self-selected seating choices at various cafeteria tables and asked them to use the tools we shared with them to first draw out one a paragraph they constructed from one of the steps in texts we gave them on the water cycle, photosynthesis or metamorphosis.


First they were asked to draw, in pictures, the elements of this paragraph (main idea, supporting details and conclusion) on a graphic chart we gave them. Then they put together a presentation of these paragraphs for the rest of the room with each person embodying a different element of the paragraph. The end result was a tableau at the end of the process.  I found it fascinating to watch groups who had previously seemed unimpressed with the tools we were sharing begin to grasp the process as they worked with their fellow collaborators and colleagues.  They began to relate the process they were using as it pertained to the children they were working with on a daily basis.

Because of the size of the workshop, we had the groups share their presentations with other groups and then chose several groups to present to the whole room.  We were able to single out groups who had seen the value of our work immediately and those who had only really understood how this fit into their daily classroom culture after they had gotten up on their feet.  It was a beautiful example of the existence of different styles of learning and the value of arts being integrated into daily learning activities.  During reflection time at different points in the program, teachers and aides shared with their colleagues specific areas where they thought our activities could really enhance the learning experience and foster retention in their classrooms.  By the end of the workshop, many of these ideas were coming from former skeptics and the whole group was engaged.

The smaller group of elementary school teachers required a different approach.  These were all teachers from the same school used to working with each other.  In a sense, we not only had to address their classroom culture, but also the culture of their own engagement in a professional development workshop based on their previous experiences with these colleagues.  There was the “class clown”, always throwing in an occasional quip. The “cool kid” who sat in the back of the class and rolled his eyes at everything and carrying a portion of the participants into his unimpressed disengagement. The “star student” already prepped and familiar with and employing the techniques of arts integration and eager to learn what embodied storytelling had to bring to the table. There were also aides, who were not necessarily included in professional development opportunities and feeling a little like intruders.

20141203_131028The first thing we did was get them into a circle around the room, allowing them to keep their cliques, but forcing them to see all of the participants on an equal basis.  As we began the basic tools and vocabulary acquisition techniques, we encouraged full participation by individually engaging with different individuals at certain times while having them act as a single group in other activities.  For example, as we focused on the process of metamorphosis with this group, we took them on an imaginary physical journey around the classroom as butterflies, visiting different colored flowers and creating a world to embody the story in.  The sheer silliness of the activity allowed for laughter and commentary in an active process that was also easily identified as a fun activity for their students.

As the target student age of this group was younger, we had them work on a sentence about one aspect of the process and then illustrating that concept on a graphic.  Once they were broken into groups, they each presented their sentence as a part of a group. Although it was not a competitive atmosphere, even the “cool kid” in the back of the room took great pride in showing what he had created as part of a group and by the end, everyone was eager to share how they thought this work could be applied in their classrooms.

The main body of our workshop was similar to embodied storytelling workshops we give to general education teachers.  The thing about all of these workshops that was most gratifying, was the missing information we were able to provide all of these teachers about common tools we use to create what we call an inclusive classroom.  As I use a wheelchair, we often demonstrate this early on by staging teachable moments where Arianna will ask us all to stand in a circle, and I will step in with a reminder that a better way to say that to a room full of students, some of whom might have mobility issues, is to instead ask everyone simply to form a circle.  We also discuss varying traditional ways to create tableaus and concept sculptures the students do with a partner by adding things like voice requests and imaginary strings that can move limbs and other body parts into the desired positions instead of directly touching their classmate, being sensitive to students who are averse to physical contact.  And what I really found surprising was the gap in knowledge among these groups of special educators on disability etiquette.  Few had heard of “person first wording” and politically correct language for various disabilities and differences.  This led to many in depth discussions and knowledge sharing within the groups.

All teachers can enrich their classrooms using Embodied Storytelling.  But more importantly, the creation of inclusive classrooms in any classroom environment can add to the power of arts integration.

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Latin American Youth Center GED Students Tell Their Stories Through Spoken Word by Elizabeth Acevedo 

Although the GED students at the Latin American Youth Center in Silver Spring, MD had watched a video of me performing poetry before I walked in, I don’t think they imagined that by the end of the week they would be the ones performing for me! Indeed, my proclamation that we would be sharing our stories and performing for one another was met with reluctance by the two different corps I worked with, but they steadily worked on meeting my expectations.

We began the first day by working on listing poems whereby the students free-wrote on the prompts “Where I’m From” and “I am.” These prompts allowed them to incorporate imagery, sensory details, and figurative language as they described their neighborhoods and the person they imagine themselves to be. Some students in the group had once held dreams of being rappers, while others had never found themselves drawn to the written word. But through keeping the goal in mind: connecting the poetry and critical reading skills of my workshop to the real-life and job-readiness strategies they were learning in their GED program, the students pushed on in finding and empowering their unique voices. By the end of the week, every single student wrote…and several even wrote and revised when we were out of session!

As the Friday performance loomed near the students practiced the deep breathing techniques taught in class and each looked nervously around the large classroom where both corps were now seated. Several LAYC staff persons dropped by to encourage and cheer for them. Despite their nerves, it was a powerful event. The students connected to one another’s stories, forced themselves to be brave on stage, and ultimately felt pride in the fact that they could stand up in front of their peers and share a piece of themselves.

Here is an excerpt from one of the student’s writings, titled Life as I saw it.

I come from a place where success was never seen,
There are human beings that shiver in the cold who look like phenes,
There are violence that was committed and seen with the naked eye,
There are young ones who choose their friends that will destroy their lives,
There are brothers and sisters who fail to see the bright side to survive.

As for I who look blind but in my mind I could find a way to rewind,
Despite the fact that I did time and owned things that wasn’t mine,
And as for fun I’ve done dangerous chores which made an old lady cry,
So as for now, I just think of life to reach for the sky,
As for when I speak, I feel like a lion,
I am brave and have courage which shows I am not lying,
My future broke down and look as if it was dying,
And like a young bird I flapped my wings and started trying.

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Making Arts Integration Work, One Classroom at a Time – Author Debbi Arseneaux

“I look at this text and I feel like I just have to get through it” sighs a frustrated third grade teacher.

“My kids love goofing around and are very creative, I just need help fuzing their experience of an activity to comprehension of the subject” says an enthusiastic fourth grade teacher.

“This is very uncomfortable for me, but I know my students respond to these types of things, so I’m trying to make it work” says a hesitant media specialist, who works with various grade levels.

These are just a few of the comments made in my initial planning conferences with teachers at Sebastian Elementary in Sebastian, Florida. These teachers and I were about to embark on a week long embedded residency process to help them better be able to incorporate theatre arts strategies into their non fiction units. I don’t think any of us anticipated what a rewarding week it would be!

It was clear to me at this point that each residency would look rather different, as the teachers had a range of comfort levels with arts strategies and their goals for the week were consequently different. This presented quite the challenge for me, but a welcome one, as I don’t believe there is a one size fits all approach to successful professional development, just like there is no one magic way to reach all our students.

So each day of the residency, we brainstormed and shaped drama activities that would engage their students and move them toward mastery of specific Florida Language Arts and Science standards. In all three classes, we had grade level appropriate space and Earth sciences related texts. We looked at each text and each grade levels’ specific literacy goals and together we extracted activities to support those goals. I spent time both modeling and supporting them leading these activities in their classrooms. I also gave the teachers tips and techniques to be able to implement the activities without me.



In the third grade class, for example, we created a space shuttle with our bodies and voices through an activity called Machine. Every student was a part of the machine. When it was done, we asked them to go to the text and see what else they could learn about rocket ships. We watched the students race to their desks and start eagerly flipping through the text. We had hooked them, and given them a reason to read. The teacher glanced at me and we shared a gleeful moment of success…look at those students wanting to read that text she had been dreading!

In the fourth grade class, the students spent time looking at images and reading text about the phases of the moon. They gave each phase a distinct personality trait and physicality. Then they got up in front of the class and gave each phase “character” a voice. The full moon held his belly and moaned, “I’m so full!” while the waning gibbous moon shrank and said “I’m melting!” Presented in sequence, the students were able to demonstrate understanding of the cycle of how we see the moon in its phases. The teacher and I were extra pleased that ALL of her students participated successfully in this activity, particularly a couple who had frozen during warm up activities.

Showing Excitement in Learning

Showing Excitement in Learning

In the fifth grade class, we had students researching the reasons why Pluto is no longer a planet. They used information in the text to replicate the discussion astronomers had to determine the definition of a planet and created a role play in which they presented their reasons for redefining Pluto. They also created tableaus to represent the history of how we learned about Pluto. It was during this tableau activity we saw students really step up into leadership roles and figure out how to work together as a team in a way the teacher said she doesn’t always see. And those students now have a strong physical connection to the way objects move through space, as they had to represent orbits and rotations with their bodies.

We saw student successes in each classroom, each day. We saw small victories in engaging students who they tell me don’t typically demonstrate such enthusiasm, and large victories in watching students who don’t generally engage at all getting up and sharing something they just learned.  The teachers asked their students if they wanted to more activities like they had been doing this week and they were met with a resounding “YES!”  In fact, each one of them told me that they had already tried out at least one activity in another class, and one of the teachers had already set up a planning meeting with the other teachers in her grade team to collaborate around how they can implement some of the strategies in the next unit.



By the end of the week,  I saw the teachers go from hesitant, but curious, to enthusiastic and excited. They saw first hand the powerful impact the arts can have on engaging and empowering their students with standards based learning, and without taking time away from mandated schedule chunks.

“It’s been eye opening. I can’t wait to try this out with the next book” says the newly energized third grade teacher.

“Before I was clueless and excited, now I’m focused and excited. I’m excited about things that weren’t really exciting to me before” gushes the thrilled fourth grade teacher.

“I just need practice. It helped to see how they responded. If you are in drama, you are using the same skills as reading” says the optimistic media specialist, making a commitment to push through her hesitation.

We as teaching artists can’t be in every classroom, but if we can keep turning the light on, one teacher at time, then we can reach more and more classrooms, slowly shifting the climate. These teachers then become the best advocates for more arts integration in their schools, and the more we can empower them, the more that light gets sparked in their colleagues. And ultimately, the more students we can all reach and more fully engage in their own learning.

This is how we change our education system…one classroom at a time, with thoughtful, passionate and caring teachers who never stop learning themselves.

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Dancing in Florida

Hello StoryTapestries Folk!

It’s k.k., a.k.a. Kelly King. I’m a dancer human doing work with StoryTapestries to further the mission of getting more people moving as a critical part of the learning process.

I spent a week in Florida this fall doing some of my favorite work. In parthership with StoryTapestries and the Learning Alliance, I was invited to present a Professional Development talk to schoolteachers in Vero Beach and spend two days imbedded with four teachers at one elementary school.

I taught 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th grade language arts classes using a dance-based curriculum. IT WAS AWESOME. The kids were incredibly engaged, curious, focused, and productive – everything an educator could dream of and more!

The PD happened at the BEAUTIFUL Vero Beach Museum of Art. 110 teachers from across the district came, danced, listened and learned with me. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I hope to replicate it over the coming years.

Vero Beach Museum of Art

I realized while there, that I got my first teaching job when I was 15 – a sophomore in high school. I have now been a dance educator for 21 years. The week in Florida was an amazing way to celebrate 21 years of sharing this incredible art form.

Thanks to StoryTapestries for being a vital piece of the puzzle that makes this artful dancing life possible!

The video is a balcony dance – you can hear the waves in the background. I was so busy teaching, I only got to visit the beach on my last day. So, I just had to celebrate the sounds of the waves and the warmth of the air here. I hope you enjoy!

Kelly King makes dances for theatre, film, stage, and street… and all the places people go in-between. She serves the creative community as a dancer, educator, choreographer, consultant, advocate and audience member. Kelly has choreographed and performed all over the world, from the finest of stages to the muckiest of crosswalks. She is the Artistic Director of Contradiction Dance, based on Washington DC.

As an educator, Kelly has taught all levels from pre-K to undergraduate levels of dance across many genres in studios and public and private institutions including: Contradiction Dance (Founder), CityDance Ensemble (Associate Director), Joy of Motion Dance Center, and St. Mary’s College. She has led arts integration efforts in schools in Washington DC, Virginia, Maryland. She has consulted for the DC Collaborative helping schools integrate all arts into their core curriculum. Currently, she is a teaching artist for StoryTapestries bringing her expertise to students across the country.

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STEAM – Dancing out Mathematical Concepts

Ms. Ross,  “LOOK, LOOK, I created a number line dance for 6/12+3/12………”

Ms. Ross, “DID you see my “Choreography” of the ordered pairs…..wasn’t it out of this world!!”

Ms. Ross, “I can do it.  I wrote a word problem by myself and answered it by myself.  Okay not by myself entirely but almost by myself.”

The power of the arts strikes again….. at Kenmore Middle School and Greenwood Elementary School.  For the past 3 weeks, we at Story Tapestries have had the honor of working with teachers on how to use the arts, specifically dance and story, to teach math.  At first, when we proposed the idea of teaching  fractions and graphing ordered pairs of numbers using dance, we were met with skepticism.  However, by the closing day, both the students and teachers enthusiasm was huge.  The 4th graders at Greenwood got it, they understand both at a math and a kinesthetic level how to add basic fractions.  Within one 45 minute session, they acted out a word problem, solved one, and wrote their own.

Dancing out her understanding!!

Dancing out her understanding!!

On the other hand, at Kenmore Middle School the students we were there to support have cognitive and developmental needs that requires a variety of adaptions.  YET again, the teacher at Kenmore MS stepped up to the plate.  She blew our mind away with her creative ideas and passion for helping her students grow. We taped out a “LARGE size” Graph on the floor of her classroom.  We completely rearranged the desks.  EVERY idea we had, she always said yes, never no.

Through our work, the students began to develop a stronger comprehension of positive or negative integers on a graph.  Finally, they had a full body experience learning how to graph a series of ordered pairs.  It was not an everyday lesson.  They had to write out the pairs, graph the pairs and finally dance their graph illustrating to us their understanding of the parallel arts and math objectives.  It was powerful to see students who are not always considered successful, who have difficulty remembering details, instead creating, rehearsing and finally performing a 4 phrase dance blocked on a graph.

As we sit here right now formulating this blog, it is with the knowledge that it is not, what Arianna Ross, the Executive Director, did with the information that caused it to be so impactful but again the power of the arts to take a relatively basic lesson and make it exciting, engaging and educational.  For many people, this blog may  feel out of the ordinary but the truth is that this is what we do EVERY day at Story Tapestries, we bring the arts to the community with a new power approach.

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