BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Students of fifth-grade teacher Karen McCauley at Watsessing Elementary School did a script reading Friday, Nov. 20, of a play about the Boston Massacre. The number of roles in the dramatization was great enough to accommodate many of the students. The activity taught lessons that, like a snowball rolling down a slope, big things develop from small beginnings. The children also learned that confusion is sometimes a very significant factor in the actions of people.
The classroom play was stage managed by Kim Robinson, a student teacher from Montclair State University. Robinson stood in the middle of the seated students, on one hand, cueing actors and telling them to speak up, and on the other hand, warning children to pay attention. She wore a remote microphone which connected her to a small speaker system on which she could be heard.
“What was Paul Revere’s profession?” she asked.
One child said a blacksmith.
“Close,” Robinson said. “It has ‘smith’ in it. A silversmith.”
The Boston Massacre, it was learned, started with a snowball fight which turned to deadly musket fire. The incident helped ignite Colonist fervor and the Revolutionary War against Britain. On Friday, the scene which was read was the trial of British soldiers charged with the murder of bystanders.
The children learned that John Adams, who later helped create, and sign, the Declaration of Independence, and became a United States president, defended the British soldiers because he wanted a fair trial. The boy who played Adams, like a modern-day attorney, carried a briefcase, although his was made of aluminum. Another actor wore a Disney sweatshirt when he gave testimony. Appropriately, the student who played the judge was in a wardrobe of a black robe.
A lesson in the role of confusion in tense situations was offered to the students when the anti-British group, the Sons of Liberty, rallied Boston citizens with the ruse that a fire had broken out and needed to be extinguished. The word “fire,” the children learned, was overheard by British soldiers who mistakenly took it as an order and fired their guns. Soldiers were charged with murder because of the fatalities that resulted. But Robinson said they were found guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter, thanks to the defense of Adams. Otherwise they would have faced the death penalty for murder. Instead, two soldiers were discharged from military service and their thumbs were branded.
McCauley said her class had been studying the American Revolution and the Stamp Act, which was a British tax on all printed material in the Colonies. Students were researching actual people and events and also reading a book of historical fiction, she said.
“We plan to go to the Declaration of Independence and then go to westward expansion,” McCauley said of her lesson plan.
She said there was one English Language Learner in her class, a boy from Costa Rica. The play was given to his ELL teacher, Heather Sall, to translate. The school has a second ELL teacher, Nick Lee, who teaches in Spanish so that Spanish-speaking students keep up with their classwork while learning English, according to McCauley.
“Generally, a lot of our students have a Spanish background,” she said.
Robinson said she started at Watsessing at the beginning of the school year and will be there until Dec. 16. She is working toward a dual certification in K-6 teaching and teaching students with disabilities. She said the speaker system she was using will help students to focus on the teacher’s voice, but also, in McCauley’s class, there was one student who required it.