Author Archive

Use Acting to Learn Punctuation

- Sunday, December 13th, 2015

Written communication is a convenient substitute for spoken communication. For thousands and thousands of years, communication was spoken, one to one to one until everyone knew. Records were written down, but not stories. News was delivered by criers who walked through the streets yelling out information that everyone needed to know, like “Lock your doors, we’re being invaded.” Or, “Great news, the King has a son.”

All stories were told this way, also. It was someone’s job, in fact. He would memorize all of Homer’s Odyssey or The Canterbury Tales and travel from town to town singing the stories. Truth be known, he sang it because it’s easier to remember a song than it is to memorize a story. You tie the words to the tune and the rhythm so it’s learned through different synaptic pathways: visually, aurally and physically. Good music and good poetry have natural directions in the notes. Pause here, shift tone here, be loud here, command.

In Elizabethan England, all writing was meant to be read aloud. Legal documents and personal correspondence were even read aloud. It’s said Queen Elizabeth had a sound-proof room in which she could read her state secrets and private letters aloud without fear of being overheard.  The school system was based on memorization because books weren’t readily available. Children spoke the stories out loud until they were learned completely by rote in Latin, English and maybe Greek, too: big giant books like Ovid’s Metamorphosis and Plutarch’s Lives, upon which many Shakespeare plays are based.

The minstrel became the actor and the story-as-song-and-poem became theatre. Since there are many people telling the story, there needed to be multiple written copies of the play so that everyone was “on the same page.” There were no directors so playwrights, like Shakespeare, used punctuation to shape the way the actor say the line. Pause slightly at the common. Come to a full spot at the period. Raise your voice with an exclamation point. Raise your pitch with a question mark. A semi-colon is a slight shift in thought and a colon indicates some sort of summation to follow.

Today, we teach students the rules of punctuation and make it mind-numbingly boring. And, the permanence of texting makes students even more adverse to punctuation because it takes up characters. So, I encourage teachers to tie punctuation directly back to the spoken word which lets students feel how punctuation works. The lesson becomes much more fun as you integrate the skills of the actor and the playwright.


Take the text of a famous speech theatrical or historical) and remove all of the punctuation. Give students a generic key for how each punctuation is used or use the list above. Play the speech for them so that they can hear how the speech was delivered. Ask them to listen for the punctuation and notate it on the text during the second listening.

Advanced Level:

Give the unpunctuated speech to the students and ask them to prepare it for oral presentation by adding the punctuation, using the key. They will need to practice saying the speech and then filling in the punctuation. Their delivery of the speech must match the punctuation they have given it. As an actor, punctuation is a critical component to understanding how to speak the line. It is the playwright giving me a message that now includes new indicators like bold and italics or underline or some combination to tell us how to say it. We usually only hear this in our heads as we read the text to ourselves. But, the actor speaks it and makes it real.

How we interact with text has changed a lot in the 400 years since Shakespeare wrote, but the connection is still there if you look for it. And, sometimes, looking for it let you understand things in a way you never did before. Let me know if you try this activity.

A Scene from William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing

A Scene from William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing

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Spring at Creativity & Associates

- Friday, March 8th, 2013

Spring is the busiest time of the year at Creativity & Associates. Below is a summary of all the great things that we are up to.

1.  Residencies – Our teaching artist Courtney Proctor just finished up a set of residencies at Mount Royal Elementary Middle School this February. Courtney worked with the early elementary grades to do Pop-Up Storybook. This residency is a great way to increase reading comprehension for young students. It allows them to imagine themselves in the role of the story characters and practice empathetic thinking.


Margaret Brent

2.  Partnership with University of Baltimore Truancy Court Program – Joan Weber has been working with the Truancy Court Program (TCP) for the last three years, implementing a Kids & Theatre program in schools that TCP works with. This spring, she is partnering with TCP in two schools. At Margaret Brent Elementary Middle School.

3.  Several schools have signed up for professional development for their teachers to learn some strategies for integrating drama in their classrooms. The techniques of theatre can be incorporated into both pedagogy and teaching technique.ol, students are working in process drama project aimed at understanding how to create change within the neighborhood. Students have chosen a location and will be designing and advocating for change in a blighted area of the neighborhood. At New Era Academy, students are producing scenes from Romeo & Juliet in partnership with their English class.Please contact us at if you are interested in bringing any of our theatre integration programs into your school or community.


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Testify for Arts Education – My Testimony

- Friday, March 11th, 2011

Testimony to the Carroll County, MD Board of Education

March 9, 2011

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you this evening.

My name is Joan Weber. I am a product of Carroll County Schools. In fact, I served as the Student Representative to this Board during the 1981-82 school year, which is a shockingly long time ago. I came home to Carroll County recently after having lived in Baltimore City for more than 20 years.

I have made my living in the arts and arts education. Beginning with the Peabody Preparatory, as Education Director for the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival, as a teacher and teaching artist, and as Executive Director of Arts Every Day, one of 10 organizations funded nationally by the Ford Foundation as part of its Arts Education and School Reform Initiative. We worked with Baltimore City Schools CEO Andrés Alonso to increase the breadth and depth of arts education and arts experiences available to City Schools’ children.

March is Arts Education month. During these times of budget restrictions, we are finding that the arts are once again on the chopping block for local school system budgets. Carroll County can be very proud of its arts education record. It’s one of the reasons I returned to the County. I hope that the budget continues to reflect a strong support for arts education.

I am here tonight to ask you to consider an expanded definition of arts education. I don’t believe there is disagreement over the need for or benefits of arts education, but there is disagreement over what it looks like. The term “arts education” conjures up different ideas for different people. The model I’d like to present to you is one of comprehensive arts education.

I believe it contains four elements.

1.           Arts instruction in the classroom by highly-qualified arts specialists, and includes opportunities for student exhibits and performances;

2.           Arts integration in the non-arts classroom by well-trained non-arts teachers to engage students and deepen learning;

3.           Visiting artists in the school, the classroom, and after school so that students can spend time with professional artists; and

4.           Visits to arts and cultural institutions in the region so that students can development aesthetic judgment and learn what “good” art looks like in all artistic disciplines.

I ask that you consider this curricular model for Carroll County Public Schools and encourage (or require) schools to follow it. It requires a lot of professional development and the creation of new programs. While funding is tight, there are foundations and organizations that can help the County implement this model.

I am blessed to work in arts education. At Towson University, I train teachers in arts integration through the Arts Integration Institute and training teaching artists through the Theatre Department and I introducing at-risk students to theatre through University of Baltimore’s Truancy Court Program. The arts are one of the best ways to engage students in their learning, especially in elementary and middle schools. I hope that this Board will take a strong leadership role in creating a comprehensive arts education program right here. Thank you.

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Integrate Theater to Differentiate Instruction

- Saturday, February 5th, 2011

Who Am I? Where Am I? What Am I Doing? This important element of character development in theater has tremendous potential for application in the social studies classroom. Arts integration develops empathetic learners who become personally connected to their subject matter. Integrating theater into social studies brings the subject matter to life. Students are engaged.

Below I have provided two examples of how I have integrated theater into the 6th grade Maryland State Curriculum when students study ancient Greece, though the Socratic Dialogue can be used in any classroom. These techniques can be modified for any curriculum. I hope that you give these ideas a shot. E-mail me at or post your results in the comments section.

Technique #1

Socratic Dialogue

Using the method of Who Am I? Where Am I? What Am I Doing? Students develop characters who would have attended lessons with Socrates. (Students must understand the social and political structure of Athens in order to develop these characters.)

Move the desks into a semi circle with chairs in front. Students sit on the desks and on the chairs in front. The teacher assumes the role of Socrates. The students assume the roles of Athenian students. The teacher must emphasize that all participants in these groups were men. Only men were citizens of Athens.

The teacher engages students in a question and answer dialogue with students. The teacher never answers any questions, but rather furthers the discussion through close questioning of students.

Applications: This technique may be used to explore ideas more deeply. It may also be used as an assessment tool. The students must be able to demonstrate proficiency in the content areas in order to meet the demands of the activity.

Technique #2

Greek Gods

Again, utilizing the method of Who Am I? Where Am I? What Am I Doing? Students randomly choose a Greek god. They will assume the role of this character for the remainder of the Ancient Greece unit. They complete a character worksheet (identical to one an actor would complete during character development). This requires research into the god, his/her stories and powers.

Writing Application: Students re-write the myths of their god from the point of view of the god. How would the story be different?

Writing Application: Students transform their stories into short plays to be performed by the class.

Acting Application: Students assume the character of their god and participate in a staged meeting of the gods of Olympus. Zeus presides and the gods work through a pre-set agenda in character.

Acting Application: Students perform the play version of the myths while participating in a Dionysian Festival.

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Testify for Arts Education

- Monday, October 18th, 2010

[This post originally appeared on the Americans for the Arts Blog here.]

The answer given to most people who want to help increase arts education in our community’s public schools is, “Write to your elected representatives.”

Yes, it’s a good idea. It increases the buzz that the official’s constituents think arts education is an important thing, but I don’t think it accomplishes much. I don’t mean to be cynical, but realistically, think of the path that letter takes. The elected official probably never sees the letter. A staffer reads it and the subject matter is noted in a database with the topics of all the other letters that the elected official receives.

The second popular answer is, “Donate to organizations that advocate for arts education.” In other words, hire your own lobbyist through donations. A lobbyist knows the internal processes of the lobbied officials.

Nonprofits have a political calculation to make. When an organization wants to partner with a school system, they need to work as partners. In this case, “partnership” is a euphemism for a vendor relationship. Nonprofits receive funding from the school system to implement arts programming. It is difficult, as a partner organization, to criticize the system that’s paying your salaries.

That said, donating to arts education organizations is a fantastic investment. Their access to policy makers and schools makes big things happen.

If you want to do more and you want to take direct action, consider this:

In honor of Arts in Education Week, I, Joan Weber, pledge that I will testify before the Carroll County, Maryland Board of Education on behalf of arts education at their March, 2011 meeting. I pledge to recruit people across the country to do the same. I pledge to support this effort by participating a social networking site called Testify for Arts Education.  I pledge to upload resources to help anyone prepare to testify. I pledge to post meeting dates for boards of education meetings across my region.

Will you make the same pledge? Just take the following steps:
1.    Join Testify for Arts Education.
2.    Look up and enter March date(s) for your local board of education meeting(s).
3.    Recruit friends to join Testify for Arts Education and contribute information.
4.    Research the issues in your school system. (Search through the local newspaper coverage, talk to people in the system, etc.) Post this information to Testify for Arts Education.
5.    Form or join a group that will organize in your state.
6.    Prepare your remarks for the presentation. (We’re working with to create a PowerPoint template that can be modified to fit local issues.)
7.    Practice. Practice. Practice.
8.    Recruit your friends.
9.    Testify and see what happens. Document.
10.    Assess

This project depends on the sum of its parts. If you put what you know on Testify for Arts Education, then it is shared: research, videos, photos, your testimony, etc. Let’s also use this as an experiment to see if we few, we happy few, we band of grassroots arts education advocates can make a real difference.

I look forward to seeing you online.

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The Four-Legged Chair of Arts Education

- Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Maybe the name isn’t right yet… do we want to talk about arts education in the metaphor of a chair? Maybe, but the idea is what I’d like to explore is this posting.

When arts education advocates get together to talk about arts education, they use the phrase loosely. The field has not yet defined thoroughly what arts education looks like. In our minds we believe we are talking about the same thing, but when we dig more deeply, we find that we’re not always talking about the same thing at all.

So, for discussion, I’d like to present my definition of what arts education should look like in schools. There are four important elements that create a comprehensive arts education. In future discussions, I look forward to discussing “how” we get there. This discussion group has already had good discussions about “why” we do it. For now, we’ll look at “what” it looks like.

1. Certified Arts Specialists in every school building. Specialists are the most critical component of comprehensive arts education. They are in regular contact with students and have access to the non-arts teachers. They are familiar with the local arts community and may already have contacts.

The job of the certified arts specialist is to teach arts skills to students in a well-defined scope and sequence. They are also the coordinators of the other three “legs.”

2. Arts integration in non-arts classrooms. It has been proven again and again that when there is a good match between an art form and a non-arts content area, kids have more fun and learn more through arts integration. Schools that integrate the arts across the curriculum in meaningful ways are successful schools.

The key to meaningful arts integration lies in comprehensive training and in-school planning time on regular basis for arts specialists and non-arts teachers. Without that, the arts integration experience could be counter-productive.

3. Visiting artists in the community. There are at least two benefits to putting kids on buses and taking them to where professional art is being made. It’s important to the civic health of communities for artists and arts organizations to interact with and train their future audiences. And, secondly, it is important for students to see what really good art looks like. It is worth a journey of several hours, if necessary. This is how students build the skills of aesthetic judgment.

4. Bringing artists into the building. Though every community may not have a world-class orchestra or museum, every community has artists. These artists may perform for the school or they may work as teaching artists in the classrooms. They may integrate the arts to the non-arts curriculum or they may teach arts skills.

This is a time for students to have direct interaction and communication with working artists who have been trained to work with students. It is also an effective way for students to understand the habits of mind that artists use in the creation of their work. Students learn that talent alone does nothing, but that practice, failure, self-evaluation and adaptivity is what creates art.

In my view, these are the necessary components to a comprehensive arts education program in schools. I have many ideas about how to reach this goal, but will start a new post for that.

Please let me know what you think about this idea. Have you ever been a part of a school that had all four components?

Find me on Twitter @creativityassoc or on Facebook @#artsed Chat.

Note: Since writing this post on Edutopia (, I’ve agreed with comments that recommend that the back of the chair be the support of parents and the community. What do you think?

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The #artsed Chat and Reflections on Twitter’s Potential

- Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

On April 15th, a few people came together to inaugurate the first #artsed chat on Twitter. Our discussion proved why and how Twitter is important, not just to our conversation, but to all conversations.

Here’s how it works: you have 140 characters to express your thought or send your message or update your status or build a tribe. You choose who you want to listen to, but anyone can listen to you (unless you block them). Or you can join together under a topic by identifying that topic with a hashtag (#). Then, you can follow topics, not just people.

Twitter is perfect for someone like me. I am insatiably curious. I want to know everything. It’s a virtual conference reception. A lot of people are moving around from one conversation to another. Some are focused on one conversation.

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Arts Every Day Schools

- Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Become an Arts Every Day School – get an application here

Several years ago, a group of education and arts education reformers got together and applied to join the Ford Foundation’s national initiative on Arts Integration and School Reform. The initiative includes Baltimore and 8 other urban areas across the country, including Dallas, Minneapolis, Washington, Jackson MS, St. Louis, and a few initiatives in northern California. Working with the resources of the Ford Foundation, including consultants and professional development, each site developed a plan for how to bring arts integration to students in their city. Baltimore’s initiative was originally called Baltimore Partners for Enhanced Learning, but changed its name in the first year to Arts Every Day.

The Arts Every Day Schools program supports Baltimore City Pre-K through 8th grade schools as they become arts-integration schools. Schools accepted into the program receive at least $5 per student to pay for arts education programs, including all of Creativity & Associates’ education programs for students and teachers. If your school has arts specialists in your building already, talk with your principal to join this program. Arts integration is proven to help engage children so that they can learn the content without struggle. In addition to Creativity & Associates’ programs, the Arts Every Day Program Directory includes hundreds of programs for kids.

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Seth Godin’s blog

- Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

Seth Godin’s book “Tribes” had a big impact on my thinking about how people are brought together in contemporary society. We are now linked by our interests and it’s possible to assume a leadership position through a different path than formerly. That’s not to say that old fashioned hierarchy isn’t out there bumbling along. But it’s not very dynamic and it is weighed down by its membership. Tribes already agree with each other and find each other to advance an interest.

My area is arts education. My sub-grouping in that field is theater arts integration. Another grouping of mine is Shakespeare with a sub-grouping of teenagers. Within each of these sub-groups is a world of practitioners looking for a leader.

I learned all that through reading Seth Godin. Well, learning isn’t really accurate, is it? Seth Godin pointed it out to me so I could say, “Oh! I can’t believe I never thought of that before.” I’m glad Seth Godin did and that he told me about it. That’s the thing with tribes. We tell each other our stories as a way of transmitting information and furthering our practice, whatever it is. So, I subscribe to Seth Godin’s blog. Below is the entry for April 14, 2010. It’s a good list.

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Given Circumstances for the Educator

- Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

When preparing for a role, an actor analyzes the character’s “given circumstances.” This means: what are the conditions surrounding this moment in the script? As an actor, I need to consider nearly every influence in order to give a realistic and multi-layered performance. “Given circumstances” helps us to make acting choices.

The given circumstances of a play are provided by the play itself, the director, the actor and the other actors in the piece. Let me give an example:

I played a young Russian immigrant from the turn of the 20th century and the scene was set in a sweatshop. The given circumstances of this scene are everything, aren’t they? I’ll make an incomplete list:

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