During our last Artists Exchange event held on April 1st, 2015 at Cahoots Theatre Projects, the participants (artists, teachers and arts stakeholders) compared notes on the best practices to write a useful study guide to complement a live school performance.
The panel, led by Patty Jarvis (Prologue's Executive Director), featured Karen Gilodo (Associate Artistic Director, Education for Young People's Theatre), Clyre Lyndley (Dance Educator, also on the executive of the Council of Ontario Drama and Dance Educators), and Pat McCarthy (Prologue’s Education Consultant).
10 TIPS for successful study guides
Teachers who call Prologue to book a performance often inquire about the study guides (see our post Why performance study guides matter). To them, study guides are indispensable complements to a school show. It is a sure way to extend the arts benefits beyond the live performance. It is your way to support the teachers.
Here's a summary of the best practices and useful pointers that came up during the exchange. (The following images are not meant to illustrate the tips but they are linked to study guides from Prologue's artists, to offer you some examples. Note that Prologue does not produce them but offers its artists some support in the writing. Artists can also hire our Education Consultant at a discount fee to create their study guides.)
Imagine yourself in the classroom
Pat McCarthy (who has written over 80 study guides) opened up the session with this suggestion: "If you could go back to the classroom with the students after your performance, what would you want to talk about?"
Allow yourself to be an artist
It is not your job to teach the part of the Curriculum enhanced by your performance, not your place to talk more in depth of the Curriculum. Talk about your art.
Have the artistic director answer these questions
Pat and Karen agreed that the Artistic Director holds the key to talk about the company's art and the making of good art. Here are some questions that should be answered: "Why did you program this play? What do you want the audience to leave with, to feel at that moment?"
Keep it simple!
Teachers are busy. Clyre gave us an example of unplanned additions to a teacher's regular workload. "Today, I spent an hour walking behind a child having a meltdown." (Usually not the kind of things one has to deal with at the office!)
Break down the material in chunks, boxes, bullet points. Help them easily identify what they already know so they can jump to what they don't.
Write for the elementary teachers who know "squat" about your art!
Between the teachers who are experienced in your art form (and already know how they want to structure their lessons and use your performance to enhance the Curriculum) and those who simply don't see the point, there is a "grey area" (the majority) of well meaning teachers who are open to recognize the value of arts but don't know where to start because they did not receive any training about this. (While high school teachers had to take courses to teach the arts, there are no prerequisite for elementary teachers.)
Stay away from the "edgy babble" and introduce your readers to the fundamental elements of your art. Don't be afraid to use TIP #7 to better explain.
Add links to other great resources
If you already know about a great resources, pass it on. Don't reinvent the wheel. Clyre pointed out that CODE offers great clips to illustrate the elements of dance (Body, movement and space). A study guide could include such a link.
Note that instead of writing the long URL (required in the print version of your study guide), you could tell your readers to go to www.code.on.ca (under the Resources tab) and select Dance, Primary and Video in the filter.
And remember, the study guide is written for the teachers, not the students.
Try not to be Toronto-centric
Make sure your study guide is not only relevant for people who live in Toronto (or any other town). You want this resource to be useful to any teacher consulting it, regardless of their school location.
Promote your study guide
If you don't care about your study guide, who will? During the Exchange, it was suggested that during the Q&A session following your performance, you hold up a printed copy of your study guide and inform the students about specific activities that their teacher will find in it. (No teacher can ignore it!)
About the best time to send the study guide
Study guide links are sent right away by Prologue, once a school has booked a performance. Clyre suggested that the study guide links should be sent multiple times, to increase the chances that the teachers get it.
Post your study guide on your website, for everyone to see. It helps teachers better understand the value to arts education through live performances.
Consider making your study guide iPad-friendly
Make sure your study guide is easy to print on 8.5in x 11in sheets, but be aware that many schools are acquiring iPads. The iPad size is 768pi x 1024pi, which translated to 8.23in x 11in (a bit narrower).
Read the summary of our previous Artist Exchanges:
10 facts about OAC's funding opportunities for touring artists
10 TIPS about performing in the school)