NPMS teacher cops conference award for Theatre Games workshop

New Paltz Middle School World Language teacher Mary Holmes with her seventh grade Spanish class. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

Mary Holmes, a World Language teacher at the New Paltz Middle School, as well as the director of the school’s annual musical, was awarded “Best in Show” for a workshop that she recently presented at the New York State Association of Foreign Language Teachers’ Conference in Rochester.

Her workshop, “Theatre Games to Build Proficiency and Classroom Community,” received a perfect score by those surveyed post-conference, where there were more than a hundred workshops. “They give attendees a survey where they rank the workshops they attended on a score of zero to four, and I was fortunate to receive all fours and some very positive comments,” said Holmes, who previously taught Foreign Language in the Syracuse school district for 14 years before coming to New Paltz four years ago.

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“I’ve lived a dual life of Foreign Language and Theatre,” said Holmes who asked principal Rich Wiesenthal if she could start up a school Drama Club and production when she came to the district. “Dr. Wiesenthal was very enthusiastic, and has remained incredibly supportive of the school musicals we put on,” she said.

Holmes had directed all of the high school shows at her former school district and wanted to bring that theatrical aspect to New Paltz, which she has done for the past three years, with auditions beginning next week for Mulan. So when she was asked to present at the conference for Foreign Language teachers, Holmes naturally turned toward the theatre games she uses in her French and Spanish classes to facilitate learning and engagement by her students. “I have adapted many theatre games into Foreign Language classes, because they often demand the same things: communication, focus and listening skills,” she said.

She gave an example that she called “Snapshots,” whereby students are asked to read a paragraph of a story in either French or Spanish and then give four or five snapshots that communicate the story. “Say it’s ‘Little Red Riding Hood,’” she explained. “One snapshot could have a student as a tree, or the wolf hiding behind the tree and the girl on the way to her grandmother’s house. They all have to communicate what they’ve read visually, using animation.”

Holmes says that she’s always searching for more theatre games that she can adapt to her classroom. “There is such a variety out there, and the real cutting edge is in the field of teaching children who are deaf. The signing games are amazing, and I’ve borrowed some of them and brought them into my class as well. Combining Theatre and Foreign Language is all about communication, and it’s been very beneficial to my students and keeps them engaged and enjoying learning another language.”

Fellow Foreign Language teachers concurred, and her “Best in Show” workshop has led her to be invited to present it at the Northeast Conference of Foreign Language Teachers: a conference serving colleagues in the field of World Languages from all over the Northeast in Baltimore, Maryland this spring. ++

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