The Words Between Us

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Alys Dickerson & Jamal James - APT teaching artists and actors - lead an in-class workshop.

The Words Between Us (WBU) is a week-long residency designed specifically for rural Wisconsin schools to help teachers and students explore literature by authors of color while increasing their fluency around race and ethnicity. This program was created in response to a request from a rural school we work with frequently. When a Black student at the school was a target of a racial slur, the faculty felt at a loss about how to really address the incident with students. “Our students have great experiences with APT teaching artists in the room. Can you help us?” asked an administrator. Subsequent focus groups with other rural teachers revealed that many feel ill-equipped to talk about race in the classroom, and are eagerly seeking tools and guidance to help.

Why APT? For four decades, APT’s education programming has connected students to literature like Shakespeare and poetry that might be considered too different and irrelevant either by time, culture, language, or theme. WBU has the same objective: to bring works of literature by authors of color with diverse protagonists to life in the classroom through active engagement with dynamic teaching artists. All of APT’s educational experiences create visceral opportunities for students to connect with other stories outside their own, invariably enriching their lives as human beings and critical thinkers.

What is it? WBU is taught by two teaching artists (TAs), both of whom have experience living in rural Wisconsin. This residency focuses on a piece of literature chosen in collaboration with the classroom teacher and is designed to be delivered over five class periods, one each day for a week, with the same group of students. It can be customized for classes that use block scheduling.

Over the course of the week, APT's teaching artists create a safe environment for students to explore and question the actions of the characters in the book, allowing students to have honest conversations about the things they do and do not understand about race. TAs employ a variety of theater techniques to help students develop discussion skills, make personal connections to the novel’s characters, and understand and uncover the author’s use of archetype, metaphor, theme, and language. Students will have an opportunity to practice creating a safe place to talk about difficult things, and a chance to ask the teaching artists of color questions they have heretofore been afraid to pose.

After APT leaves the school, we will remain in contact with teachers and students to assess the residency’s success. Success will be measured by an increased comfort in having formal and informal conversations about literature that is specific to race and ethnicity, increased teacher confidence in navigating difficult topics in the classroom, and ongoing use of the discussion tools and techniques created and practiced in the classroom with the TAs.

Learn more about the program and how to bring it to a school near you!

Contact [email protected], or call 608-588-9270.

The Words Between Us was developed over the course of 18 months with the support and expertise of artists, educators, and administrators. 

The Words Between Us Pilot program is funded in part by a grant from Wisconsin Humanities, with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the State of Wisconsin.

Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.