TFC: How does your knowledge of the Gender and Sexuality Diversity (GSD) framework inform your teaching?
Zachary Bernard: Considering the GSD framework has been especially helpful in making me reconsider the types of gender roles I represent through literature and media in my classroom. It has taken a conscious effort to shift my classroom library, and it’s through this work that I encountered Dr. Bryan’s great children’s book, The Different Dragon.
TFC: How did you (or your class) come to choose The Different Dragon as the basis for your class play?
Zachary Bernard: I’ve learned that it takes just the right sort of story to make an effective 2nd grade play. At our school, each class puts on a new play each year, so I’m always on the lookout for stories to use. The Different Dragon stood out to me initially because it lends itself well to a class play. I was considering length, number of characters, child friendly language, and overall message. I also appreciated an opportunity to represent a two-mom family, a family type that is often missing from theater productions in our school.
TFC: How does your knowledge of the GSD framework inform your work with The Different Dragon?
Zachary Bernard: While first reading The Different Dragon, our discussions focused on gender stereotypes and the importance of being “true to oneself”. This message was so perfectly age-appropriate that very little explicit teaching was needed. I really let the kids drive the discussion. It was through the lens of gender stereotypes that the class looked at turning the story into a “show”. The kids really took ownership around how the dragon would be portrayed.
TFC:What did your class gain from Jennifer’s visit?
Zachary Bernard: The class was energized in a major way when Jennifer visited. All of the ideas they had swimming in their minds suddenly became concrete. They LOVED putting a face to the character Goma and ideas for costumes and set backdrops crystallized in the aftermath.
TFC: What insights did your students bring to The Different Dragon?
Zachary Bernard: We spent a few different sessions working on the script together as a class. We made revisions and added detail to the bare bones adaptation that I presented to the group. There was a lot of talk about how characters should be portrayed, and one theme that emerged focused on the character of Claire (who played a minor role in the book but a more significant one in our play). A student had the thought:
Maybe in our play we should have Claire be really into girl stuff, like pink princesses.
But wouldn’t that just be a stereotype?
Maybe. But I just think it would be cool to show that it’s ok to be different than stereotypes, but it’s also ok to be like stereotypes too.
Well, we do have the dragon breaking stereotypes, so we show different ways of being yourself in the same story.
In the end, the group decided not to add much extra detail to Claire’s character, but I appreciated their careful consideration.
TFC: What tips and tricks can you offer other educators who want to include their students in the creation of a class play?
Zachary Bernard: Find the right story! If the story has a message that resonates with kids and they can deeply understand it, they will take ownership and have a clear vision. When I let the kids pick the roles they wanted for the show, I realized that certain students were drawn toward portraying characters outside of what’s normally portrayed on the gender spectrum. It was a potent reminder to me that having characters representing a diversity of positions along the spectrum is another powerful tool worth considering as part of the youth theater experience. Many little people have never had the chance to act like someone they identify with in a theater production, and we can create these opportunities.
The Different Dragon
(sung to the tune of Puff the Magic Dragon)
Lyrics by Ms. Noll
If you’re a different dragon,
and you don’t like to roar.
It’s not your style to bully,
then we can change that lore.
No pressure to be anyway
you don’t want to be.
Here we will accept you
in our community.
Oh, I’m a different dragon
than I was before.
‘Cuz being mean and hurtful
is such an awful chore.
I’m a different dragon,
and you can be one too.
Just choose a kinder, gentler way,
and we will all love you.