Lincoln & Love Students Discover “Slopera”

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Gerald, the elephant, has a very dramatic fall in "Slopera," an opera based on a Mo Willems' book. Lincoln Elementary School kindergartners acted out the scene on their own as they watched the opera on-line.

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Jamestown Public Schools

Opera, pigs, elephants, music and library time are all combining for a unique experience for Lincoln and Love Elementary School students. Lincoln music teacher, Cathy South, and Lincoln/Love Library Media Specialist, Jennie Vaughn, have partnered to present Slopera! A Bite Sized Opera based on the children’s book, I Really Like Slop, by Mo Willems. The 20-minute opera is provided to schools online by the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

“Lincoln parent, Courtney Theofilactidis, shared some info with me about the Kennedy Center releasing the opera,” said Mrs. South. “Slopera was only available to schools for a short period of time. I thought it would not only be a great topic for music class, but since Lincoln students don’t have instruction from the Library Media Specialist for this quarter, it was also a wonderful opportunity to tie in some library lessons. What was a 20-minute opera has been infused with so much more – a unit covering a variety of lessons! It has been wonderful working with Mrs. Vaughn ‘long distance’ and I think Lincoln students have especially benefited from this music/library unit.“

Slopera! A Bite Sized Opera is the story of a piggy that loves slop and shares it with her friend, elephant Gerald. He hates slop. But says, “He’s glad he tried it because he likes Piggie.” The opera holds the same ideas but expands to say “Piggie makes his world bigger.” Although the story is about Piggie’s love of slop, it’s really about friendship, being kind to others, and also trying new things.

Mrs. Vaughn is teaching the unit at Love School during library time and Mrs. South is teaching during her music classes at Lincoln School. They are both covering musical terms like: composer, librettist, conductor, opera and actors and library and literature terms such as: author, main idea, characters, illustrator and moral of the story. Mrs. South adds background information about opera to the Kennedy Center lesson and Ms. Vaughn created a “Reader’s Theater” lesson that the kids love.

Love Elementary School students, Sailh Reyes Torres and Leianne Sherwoo, perform a Reader’s Theater revolving around the book, “I Really Like Slop.”

Students first read the book in class, then watched a cartoon version of it being read by two actors. The teachers focused on how the illustrations help tell the story because so few words are in the book. They listened to how the actors used inflection when they read the book aloud. Kids really love the book and opera because the characters are ones many of the kids know already. Everyone can also relate to not wanting to try new things…or relate to wanting our friends to try things that we love!

“Students were so immersed in the author/story prior to viewing Slopera! A Bite Sized Opera,” said Mrs. Vaughn. “They watched it with anticipation waiting to see it meet their expectations of what they believed would happen next in the various scenes. I often caught students saying the character’s lines before the character had a chance to say them – they were so familiar with the story – their comfort level led them to verbalize aloud what they expected was coming next. I saw so many students who might not have wanted to sit through an opera, just completely immersed and embraced the story when we offered them a fresh format.”

Students also had the opportunity to discuss how the actors/singers moved on stage to help the audience understand the opera more clearly. How did their voices, facial expressions, movement…all help tell the story. They discussed how the stage design was very limited because this was written during the pandemic and they wanted to perform it outside for audiences from a portable stage (opera truck). The classes also discussed how the costume designer had to decide what the characters should wear…how the ears move to mimic the illustrations of the book. Students learned about possible careers that related to the opera including: costume designers, set designers, musical directors, puppet designers, lighting designers, conductors, musicians and librettists. They talked about how the composer and librettist were inspired by the book but added their own flair and how the music itself helped paint a picture.

To really become “part” of the story, students did a Reader’s Theater, which allows students to rehearse and practice for fluency, all while gaining confidence to take that leap to performing. Reader’s Theater gives students the opportunity to “act out” in a controlled environment, after all their hard work practicing. Groups read prior to asking for volunteers to read the part of Piggie and Gerald. The first read was to get the wording correct and begin to feel the rhythm of the bantering dialogue. The second read helped build fluency as their confidence grew. There was a distinct change in a stronger rhythm and cadence to how they read. The students were asked to focus on voice and volume during the second read. They were to create two different voices – a voice in a higher register for Piggie and a voice in their lower register for Gerald. Students were also encouraged to add their own flair of intonation, inflection, and energy.

“The fact that so many students WANTED to volunteer and have their voice be heard was inspiring,” said Ms. Vaughn. “Hearing students giggle at their peer’s performances because of the attitude they brought to the character or the funny voices they used – was heartwarming. It offered the controlled environment to be silly, yet focused. It was the perfect library/music culmination to this fun unit.”

The teachers had so much fun collaborating on the Slopera unit, they have signed up for two St. Louis Symphony workshops that focus on incorporating music with the book, Giraffes Can’t Dance. The teachers think it will be another great way to combine music and library time in a way students love.