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Meet the Teaching Artist: Donna Folan

Posted Saturday January 18 2014 at 1:49 pm.
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My work is about providing students a way to use creativity to enhance their learning.

I believe that every student has an individual learning style.  I use theater, movement, improvisation and whatever other art form is necessary to ensure that each student can make connections to arts learning in the classroom curriculum.  Improvisation provides students with many choices and opportunities, as it offers innumerable ways for students to make sense of learning.

As a teaching artist, my role is to provide new perspectives using the arts that support student learning and engagement, and that help teachers enhance their curriculum without adding additional work.

I use improvisation, specifically in theater and movement, to connect to the needs of the students in their classroom curriculum.  Prior to beginning of COOL programs, I meet with the partner teacher to find out their goals and how they would like to collaborate with me as an artist and with the art forms I will be presenting.  I also like to observe their classroom beforehand so that I may present my work in a way that is mindful of how each classroom functions.

Children in Classroom

I have worked in substantially separate classrooms with medically-fragile children with multiple disabilities.  The curriculum goals included communication development, choice-making and literacy.  I have also provided inclusive learning opportunities for these students and their general education peers, focusing on disability awareness, different ways to communicate, and supporting literacy learning through different forms of storytelling.  My teaching experience ranges from 1st through 12th grade and have also created award-winning theater and arts education programs for teens and young adults.

I studied performance technique and production management at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and have over 20 years experience in acting, directing, movement, and many other areas of the performing arts.  I use this professional background to assist people with and without disabilities to identify their areas of interest in the performing arena.  I have been a Teaching Artist with VSA MA for over 20 years and a 2010-2011 VSA Teaching Artist Fellow.  I created and was Artistic Director of the award-winning Access to Theatre (ATT) program for 20 years.  Under my directorship, ATT won the 2004 national Coming Up Taller Award and has been recognized for excellence in programming by The Massachusetts Cultural Council, Governors Council on Employment of People with Disabilities and National Forum on Careers in the Arts for People with Disabilities.

Children in Classroom

Teacher quotes:

"Donna has great ideas for adapting books - some of their props have given us great ideas!"

"As the weeks passed, the students [without disabilities] were still respectful but noticeably more comfortable with the physical constraints of the fragile students as now they didn’t sit next to the wheelchairs, they draped themselves over the arms and wheels, just as between typically developing peers, one friend will lean on another’s desk.  Adult directed interactions are down, spontaneous interactions are up!"

To learn more about Donna and arts learning in the classroom, read "Improvising Stories and Moving to Understand Each Other in an Inclusive Elementary Classroom".

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