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Holy Cross Junior High - The Fairy Faith

Location: St. John's, NL
ArtsNL Program Funded Under: ArtsSmarts
Amount Funded: $2,012

Students recording

 

Dates: September 23, 2015 to December 17, 2015
Project Teachers:
Ray Abbott, Darren Colombe, Jill Dawe, and Lisa Saunders
Artist: Ray Lake
Website:
https://twitter.com/traceywaddleton
Project Contact E-mail: LisaSmithsaunders@nlesd.ca

The grade seven students at Holy Cross Junior High recently became recording artists, having written, recorded, and produced an album of original songs thanks to an ArtsSmarts project arranged by teachers Lisa Saunders, Jill Dawe, Ray Abbott, and Darren Colombe. The school received funding to work with singer/songwriter Ray Lake as part of a cross-curricular project focused on language arts, social studies, art, and music.

Having previously studied Newfoundland and Labrador-based author Janet McNaughton’s Catch Me Once, Catch Me Twice, students were interested in the idea of fairies. McNaughton’s book is set in St. John’s during the Second World War, a time when believing in fairies was widespread. That interest inspired one of the songs for the students’ albums called Are You Afraid of the Fairies?

Students worked with Ray Lake to learn about the songwriting process before they ultimately got the opportunity to record with him. They learned about the process of bringing everyone’s ideas from initial brainstorming sessions forward to a finished final product.

Ray playing guitar with students

Students were directly involved in research, writing and rewriting, drawing, and exploring several styles of music before deciding on the style they preferred. The grade seven students were then immersed in the recording process, as the band room at Holy Cross Junior High was transformed into a recording studio.  The students witnessed the creative process, and got to see how their work evolved from being conceptual to being on paper to being brought to life in song and artwork for the CD.

One of the teachers involved in the ArtsSmarts project also shot video footage of the process and even created a video for their title song. The teachers organized a CD launch and live performance for the full school and local community, and prior to it taking place, the students were still inspired to keep recording - they prepared an additional original Christmas song before the event. Janet McNaughton was invited to attend to hear how students had interpreted her novel through their original recording.

Each student was also provided with a fully produced copy of the CD they had made a creative contribution to. In our latest feature, we chat with their teacher Lisa Saunders to learn more about the project and how it enhanced the students’ learning outcomes.

Q and A with Lisa Saunders...

ArtsNL: So how did you decide what you wanted to do for an ArtsSmarts project and why?

album artwork sample

Lisa: When Ray Abbott and I were brainstorming last spring for project ideas, we initially tossed around many from the grade 7 curriculum that could possibly be turned into a cross-curricular project.  We had enjoyed working with Ray Lake in years before as a visiting artist to our school for grade 8 social studies but we were looking for a bigger, more cross-curricular project to try. Ray Lake suggested having the students write their own song and music inspired by something they were going to study.  The idea of fairies comes up in the grade 7 novel study of Catch me Once, Catch me Twice by Janet McNaughton and was something Ray Abbott and I enjoyed exploring with our students in language arts; it fit well with social studies as well.  Neither of us knew at the time exactly what our teaching schedules would look like in the new school year but we knew we would both have some combination of language arts and/or social studies so we decided this was a good focal area for an ArtsSmarts grant application.  The grant would provide a means to bring in Ray Lake to work with us, as well.

ArtsNL: How did your students first react when you shared that the project would be taking place?

Lisa: Our students were pretty excited because it was something really different and they felt special that they were going to produce their own CD and be featured in our Christmas concert and album launch!

ArtsNL: Tell us about how students worked with Ray Lake to develop a concept and go through the writing process?

students singing


Lisa: After the students did their research on fairies, the process began with a huge brainstorming session for ideas about fairies and the novel, which would be cool to put in a song. A collaborative process brought the full white board of ideas down to a manageable amount of material that everyone was happy with.  Next, we exposed our students to a variety of different music to determine the style or genre of music they wanted to record.  We were expecting the students to want a pop style of music but the overwhelming majority wanted a blues sound in their song!  Over many sessions, Are You Afraid of the Fairies evolved as their first collaborative song.

ArtsNL: What was the recording process like – how did you plan it and how was it facilitated?

Lisa: The recording process was the most exciting part!  Ray Lake brought his recording equipment into the school and we transformed our band room into a recording studio.  Small groups of students (3 to 4) sang together at a time to lay down voice tracks, other tracks were clapping patterns or guitar lead-ins by our gym teacher Darren Colombe, and Ray Abbott.  We learned how all these pieces got put together in one song.  We planned alternate activities, like students creating artwork for the CD covers to be going on at the same time and rotated everyone as needed.  This ensured that there was not too much background noise to worry about and students didn’t have to sit in silence waiting for their turn to sing or participate.

ArtsNL: What are some of the challenges you faced in the planning and creative process?

Lisa: Initially the biggest challenge was scheduling a regular time in our seven day cycle to bring together all of our grade 7 students, the teachers involved, and Ray Lake.  I have to say this would not have been possible without the cooperation of the whole staff here at Holy Cross Junior High.  We moved around many classes, teachers, administration and even our guidance counsellor to make this work!

It was a true team effort that our students really seemed to appreciate.  The other challenge we had was the initial shyness of our students when it came to singing.  This was not a choir we were working with; it was every student in grade 7!  Our music teacher Jill Dawe did a fabulous job putting together the small groups and making each student realize their unique contribution to the work.

ArtsNL: Were there a few particularly memorable or stand out moments for you during the project?

Lisa: This whole project was very memorable from start to finish because it was so unique.  It brought our grade 7’s together in a new school and made them feel special.  Individual talents and personalities blossomed, confidence grew, and the overwhelming sense of pride from the whole school community at our Christmas concert and CD launch was an experience to be treasured.  Everyone involved has expressed how they will never forget this project.

ArtsNL: How does this project integrate with the learning objectives in the various subject areas and how were they achieved?

Lisa: This project integrated with the art, social studies, music, and language arts curriculum. For language arts it tied in with our study of the novel Catch Me Once, Catch Me Twice by Janet McNaughton in which the main character, Ev, has an encounter with a fairy in the tradition of Newfoundland and Labrador folklore. We researched, studied and created our own fairies and found this work so enjoyable, we decided that the “fairy folk” would be a great topic on which to base our song.  Curriculum outcomes were also achieved through representing – the visual art they did for the CD artwork covers both art and language arts as students respond through visual format towards the novel. Also the students were part of the making of a video which is a great representation of the music they created.  The students had the opportunity to learn about different genres of music as they explored which genre they wanted to work with and what best fit their lyrics. This would include a study of rhythm and beat. As part of social studies it is an exploration of culture and history from one’s province.

ArtsNL: What are some of the reactions or comments your students had throughout the learning process?

album art sample number two


Lisa: First off, they couldn’t believe we were actually working with a “real” songwriter in the person of Ray Lake, which proved to be a motivating factor from the start. Secondly, several students learned that they actually had a taste for song-writing and performing. Learning how the recording process worked was a real eye-opener for most. The vast majority of students really enjoyed the experience. Some were very pleased with themselves for overcoming fears (one of the themes in the novel) and some learned more about themselves and how they face new situations when stepping out of their comfort zone. You could see where their strengths were by the particular level of excitement. Those more musically inclined enjoyed the singing, those with linguistic intelligence enjoyed the creation of the lyrics, those with an artistic flair enjoyed the creation of the CD artwork, and those with interpersonal intelligence proved to be strong in the video creation process. There was really something for everyone on this journey.  It was a real personal development project which achieved more than we had expected!

ArtsNL: Were any of your students particularly inspired to work in the arts or do more within the arts?

Lisa: Absolutely! We have several students who have strong musical talent. This gave them the opportunity to see what types of things are involved in the creation of music  - writing lyrics, creating rhythms, the recording process (not as simple as it looks).  We’ve had several students who have expressed an interest in following their artistic and musical goals because of this experience.

ArtsNL: Why are projects like these important to your classroom and teaching objectives? How do they help or improve educational end results?

Lisa: Projects like this make learning fun! Students are learning constantly without even realizing it. It was amazing to watch the degree of involvement of each of student as we worked from week to week. It helped them discover their own personal learning styles and talents. These projects are innovative ways of presenting already existing curriculum. Students are more engaged when ideas are presented in these ways as opposed to the traditional textbook method. It allows for every student to shine as such projects promote the many different learning styles. It also gives students the opportunity to meet people from the Arts community.

ArtsNL: How does the ArtsNL funding from the ArtsSmarts?

Lisa: The funding allows us to tap into the incredible human resources that we have here in Newfoundland and Labrador. Without ArtsNL’s generous funding through ArtsSmarts, we would never have been able to utilize the incredible talent of Ray Lake - who has helped educate the students at Holy Cross Junior High as a Visiting Artist in support of the grade 8 Social Studies for the past several years. As well, the funding helped reveal and utilize the artistic and musical talents of our very own staff- members, thereby enabling them to confidently utilize these talents in further studies with their students. Schools love to do creative activities to motivate their students. Sometimes the delivery of these activities can be impeded by the amount of money they cost. Through funding from ArtsSmarts and cost sharing, bigger and better projects can be done.

ArtsNL: Was there anything else you'd like to add?

Lisa: This initiative created a buzz throughout the whole school. The other grade levels wanted to know when it was their turn to create a song and video!  We, the students and teachers of Holy Cross Junior High, thoroughly enjoyed this experience and would absolutely recommend it to all teachers thinking about enhancing the learning of their students in a creative and motivating manner. We both gained and developed skills we will use for a lifetime. The sense of pride in the air the night of the CD release was without a doubt one of the finest moments in Holy Cross history.

WATCH THE VIDEO BELOW: