The "Aha" Series: 'I AM funny!'—Arts in Middle School

This week, we asked some of our Middle School arts specialists to share a favorite story that illustrates a moment of joyful discovery when an idea really clicks and the “aha!” epiphany brings new life to learning.


Meri-Lee Mafera—Music

The Middle School music elective this spring is a course that studies various national anthems from around the world. At the first class it was brought to my attention that the students who chose this elective did so because it was NOT a performing class. They were adamant, stating that they “would not ever sing in front of an audience!” After listening to their concerns, I asked them to make a conscious choice to have fun during the upcoming weeks, to try it all and to just “dive in and sing.” They agreed, and over the next few weeks we learned much and laughed much, especially at our often-clumsy attempts with the more difficult foreign languages.

As the most recent Morning Share was approaching, I decided to approach my lovable, but reluctant class with an idea. I asked them if they would be willing to choose one of the national anthems we had studied, and perform it for the entire school. As I waited for the shoe to drop, much to my surprise and considerable glee, with no hesitance at all, they unanimously said, “Yes!” and chose Japan’s “Kimigayo.” I was very moved, and I hope that this wonderful group of students will continue throughout their lives to make the choice to “dive in and sing!”

Pam Golden—Art

The Middle School artists in the spring art elective class are a delightful group of students who are happy to explore and experiment with art materials. Our theme this spring has been to play around with color—in a variety of media.

Recently, we began a project inspired by “molas”—the beautiful layered fabric art from the San Blas Islands in Panama. Working with layers of brightly colored paper, the students were using mat knives to cut shapes. The process was to cut shapes from the top piece of paper and then place a different colored piece of paper underneath. Everything was kind of quiet at first. Then, one of the students discovered how many layers of color could be revealed and understood how cool the project could really be. She began to laugh and exclaim about what she was going to create! Then, all the students “got in the groove” (a collective Aha!) and there was a wonderful artistic flow of momentum in the class. It was a thrill to witness!

Colleen Quinn—Movement & Theater

“Aha! I AM funny!”

This particular Aha moment seems to occur every year during the rehearsal process for the middle school play. Each year the students await the announcement of their play with great anticipation, they congratulate each other on their assigned roles, they gather for the first rehearsal and…What? We have to go onstage in front of everyone and sing? Dance? Act?

Now, this should not come as a surprise. Every student at Inly participates in numerous performances throughout their tenure at the school. Still, in middle school the angst of self-consciousness and self-doubt are in high gear. The thought of putting one’s self onstage for all the world to see can be an uncomfortable and frightening prospect for a 12- or 13-year-old. Still, there’s no escape.

So, we work our way through the rehearsals. There is no end to the positive encouragement and gentle requests that are bestowed on the students:

  • That line is hilarious. If only we could hear it. Please talk louder.
  • You sing beautifully. Please sing louder.
  • The dance looks great. Please dance with a bit more energy.

Still, the students are reluctant to completely throw themselves into character. The fear of being laughed at is considerable. I keep promising:

  • The audience is going to laugh because the show is funny!
  • The audience is going to cry because the show is touching.
  • The audience is going to cheer because the show is fabulous!

Only once did I resort to bribery. I literally got on my knees and said, “If you do this dance with lots of energy and smiles and sing out loudly, I’ll make cookies for you.” (Yes…it worked.)

At last, we arrive at the final day of preparation. It is a full dress rehearsal, a performance for the entire school. There is excitement in the air…or is that nervousness? The middle school students step up to the challenge. And then it happens…the Aha moment.

You can almost hear the sigh of relief, the gasp of realization. They seem to finally realize that it will be okay, the earth will still turn on its axis if they sing and dance onstage. They give it their all, they say their lines loudly and with animation, they sing clearly and beautifully, they dance with energy and smiles. They are a hit! The audience is laughing, crying, cheering.

“Aha!” they say. “I AM funny! I DO sing nicely! I CAN dance! I can take the risk and aha! It really is okay.”

[This post originally appeared in Rhythm & News, the Inly School newsletter, on May 22, 2009.]

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