One of the most important things I've learned about working with middle school kids is what I call layering. I believe that they can do great, great things, but one of the fundamental limits they have is that they can only think of one or two things at once. So, when we have a tech day, it starts at 8:30 with the stage crew. We go over all the set changes and then run it. Then we have the older kids come and run it again. Then we have the younger kids come and run it again.
On Saturday, we use props and lights. On Monday, we do props, lights, and costumes. On Tuesday, we do props, lights, costumes and hair. On Wednesday we do props, costumes and hair and makeup.
When I teach a large musical number, I find if we get the general contours down--or if everyone learns the melody, then it's easier to go back and teach a few kids the harmony or different steps or whatever.
This took me years to learn this approach as in professional theatre it's usually opposite--you basically rehearse everything as it's going to be right from the start. When I started teaching middle school, I had this same orientation, but it never worked that well and over the years, through trial and error (mostly error) I finally figured out the approach I now use which I think of as layering.
I learned this in a theatrical context, but I believe that the principle can be applied to nearly every endeavor where an adult wants a student to accomplish something that is complex and difficult.
As adults, I think we're a bit more accustomed and developmentally able to think in multi-dimensional terms. Middle school kids aren't like that. They need to master one thing. Then you add another. And another. So get the room clean. Then add another small thing. And another. And another--and throw in lots and lots of rewards along the way.
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