Arts Education Partnerships 

When a school partners with Imagination Makers, professional teaching artists will design, model, and lead theater activities that are tied to schools' curricula and meet theater standards of the National Core Arts Standards. We combine arts education with job-embedded professional development, training teachers by modeling drama techniques with their current students, then coaching the teachers to apply those techniques within their own classrooms over several years.


In the Classroom

Each partnership at a school consists of individual projects in multiple classes. In each class, the Imagination Makers teaching artist (TA) models ways to teach a part of the curriculum by leading students in activities of theatrical experience and creation. Between IM teaching artist-led sessions, classroom teachers conduct their own sessions incorporating IM techniques. This split-session approach gives teachers a chance to try implementing the theatrical tactics they’ve just seen modeled. After each TA-led session, the TA debriefs with the teacher so they can reflect upon the experience:

Learning how to react positively with students really helps them to be willing to take a risk. Once they feel empowered and unafraid to use their bodies, then the magic starts happening. I will be able to use these strategies for when I work with other classes. Another valuable part was just going through the process and getting an idea of how long it takes to do a project. This will help me in the future when scheduling and planning.
— Allison Bequette, Music Teacher, Foster Elementary

We use drama curriculums that are sustainable and repeatable. They have either proven successful over the years and been adapted to meet the teacher’s needs, or newly created to meet a teacher’s curricular goals. We do process drama—for example, 4th graders are required to study Colorado state government, and IM teaching artists work with them to be "in role" as legislators to understand how a bill becomes a law.

My ability to stand up in front of others and state my ideas improved because when I was doing the bill presentation in the legislature I was really scared that I was going to mess up but when I was doing the interview I was confident and ready.
— 4th Grade student, Boulder Community School of Integrated Studies (BCSIS)
The power of drama came through magnificently when the entire 4th grade class was reading, annotating, and discussing the Colorado state constitution. The most valuable part of the project was seeing how hard the students willingly worked to master content through dramatic simulation.
— Kimberly Zerbey, 4th Grade teacher, BCSIS

Other projects use theatrical techniques such as character interviews and tableaus. These have been used to increase reading comprehension and learn point-of-view writing. They have also been used to teach a science unit on the water cycle for a 5th grade class. All projects include some type of relevant peer performance. These classroom projects are transformative in reaching students who may not be successful using other classroom methods:

One of my students is well below grade level. Currently he is in the process of being put into special education. He struggles with everything from writing to reading. He is never the best in any subject and I know he feels different. My other students don’t make him feel different but it is clear he struggles. When Drama began in our classroom, people wanted to be his partner. He wasn’t different anymore, he was the star. He showed that not only did he understand the content but he was able to finally show it without struggle. That certificate that he earned at the end is something that he will treasure because it was the first time in a while that he wasn’t different. He wrote more with this activity by himself than I have seen him write in all my time with him this year with help. It wasn’t spelled correctly and it was hard to read, but he wrote. Drama gave him hope and confidence.
— Stephanie Hultine, 1st Grade teacher, Foster Elementary

Behind the Scenes

Ongoing coaching and support is provided for teachers trained in past years who are using theater techniques on their own. These sessions give educators a chance to raise questions, address challenges, and devise tactics for using theater techniques in additional areas of the curriculum. Customized to meet each teacher’s needs, they can take the form of planning meetings, classroom observation with feedback from the teaching artist, and/or TA solution modeling of problem areas the teacher encounters.

It was helpful that we built so much in last year and this year we were really able to start more independently and then plan with you in order to challenge students, meet student needs more effectively, or try something new, like adding in an independent writing component or try a pre and post assessment based on their understanding through character interviews or freezes.
— Marian Ingersoll, 1st Grade teacher, The Studio School

We maintain relationships with our partner schools over several years, providing deep engagement for students, but also sustained, successful interaction with the classroom teachers trained in applying our theatrical techniques to other curricula in future years. 

Each school believes so strongly in the benefit of this work for their students and teachers, that even with limited funds, they pledge financial resources to match the grant funds Imagination Makers secures annually to support our programs. These school collaborations are invaluable in ensuring that underprivileged students get more than brief exposure to the arts. Because of our supporters, we are able to offer more hours of classroom instruction and coaching than individual schools can afford on their own, further deepening the impacts of our approach within our partner schools.

Partnership Assessment

All partnerships incorporate student self-evaluations that measure intrinsic benefits from arts participation such as increased confidence while speaking in public. At the end of each project, all participating teachers evaluate and measure the impacts of IM’s presence in their classrooms. For our most complex and in-depth projects, we include pre-and post-testing tied to state standards. Our TAs spend from 4 to 24 hours in each classroom over multiple sessions, and 3-15 hours outside the classroom planning with and coaching teachers. The result: sustained, in-depth study by students and educators. 

As an example from a recent in-depth project: At Foster Elementary in 2015, 4th grade students studied Colorado History through a two-month drama project. Using test results from the Colorado standardized tests for social studies, the two classes who participated in the drama project were compared against a control group of two other 4th grades at Foster who did not participate. 
•    The IM drama project participants had 54% of students at a moderate or strong level of command, with 14% of those reaching strong command.
•    The control group had 30% of students at a moderate level of command, with none reaching a level of strong command.