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The Great Animal Escape

By Tom Fearon
The Great Animal Escape

A Collaboration that Embodies ISB’s Core Values
Collaboration and creativity soared to new heights for some of International School of Beijing’s youngest and most senior students who teamed up to create The Great Animal Escape, a book written and illustrated by children in Pre-K 4, translated into Chinese by high school students, and staged as a play at the theater on March 16.
The project was the idea of kindergarten teacher Ms. Cindy Martin-Curtis, whose goal to share student work with the community and engage students from multiple grades was made possible with ISB’s innovation funding grant.
The story was written as a group by Ms. Martin-Curtis’s Pre-K 4 class last year, with her students working together at every step of the creative process. After brainstorming ideas, they settled on the tale of a daring escape plotted by a cast of exotic animals, including a green zebra, flying lion, and red-shoed rhino. Kept in captivity by a cruel zoo owner and a ruthless circus ringmaster, the animals—much like their story’s innovative creators—collaborate to seal their escape.
“Writing with kids in a group is purely collaborative—it has to be. I wrote down the children’s ideas so that we could draw on those when it came time to develop the storyboard. The last step was to write the text. In order for young children to write the text, it’s important they have something to visualize,” explained Ms. Martin-Curtis.
In addition to fostering students’ creativity and innovation, the project also instilled other skills, including leadership and responsibility among high school students who were a part of the dynamic project. Ms. Martin-Curtis’s students submitted black-and-white drawings of their characters to high school art students, who enhanced the illustrations using color, shading, and depth for the 42-page bilingual book.
The story was translated into Chinese by students in high school Chinese teacher Ms. Delinda Wu’s neo-native III class, while students from her neo-native II class performed a play based on the uplifting saga. Ms. Wu described inter-divisional collaboration as “one of many benefits” to her students, who thrived when applying their translating skills in the real-world learning opportunity.
“The project allowed my high school neo-native II students to utilize their creativity, imagination, and collaboration to bring the book and its characters to life on stage,” she said. “Students applied what they learned about characterization from our short story unit and enhanced characters by using their Chinese creative writing skills. Presentation skills were also greatly nurtured through the integrated application of multiple academic disciplines including Chinese, English, drama, and music.”
The Great Animal Escape realized several initiatives of ISB’s Strategic Plan IV by increasing relevant learning through an authentic, compelling local engagement, optimizing each student’s capacity to learn through individualized experiences and opportunities, invigorating ISB’s practice based on best research on teaching and learning methods and changing realities of the 21st century, and forging new learning opportunities through additional collaborative efforts and networks beyond ISB.
“It’s all about validating children and their ideas. We are taking from the children the wonderful ideas, experiences, and insights and doing something with them. Seeing those ideas come to life on stage was really meaningful. The book was great, but the performance really added another dimension,” said Ms. Martin-Curtis.
The project also embodied ISB’s core values of global-mindedness through deepening Chinese integration; creativity through storytelling, performance and illustration; respect among students of various divisions for one another’s roles in the creative process; and service in the donation of books to local Chinese primary schools through ISB’s external partnership with the Love & Hope Center, a local NGO that provides educational support to migrant children.
Ms. Wu said the benefits of promoting a commitment to service among students would put them in excellent stead for life after ISB. “When we teach Chinese, we aren’t limited to the classroom and its four walls. We are able to contribute to society and our local community through language. Giving our students this sense of fulfillment nurtures their whole being by instilling a sense of achievement in being able to give back to society with their language skills,” said Ms. Wu.

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