The final act of exploring and investigating the lesson cycle and lesson design utilizing the continuing metaphor of the five act play framework (Freytag, 1863) has reached its last act, the denouement. Similar to its dramatic doppelganger within the realm of instructional design this closing act helps to bring all of the previous acts together into a semblance of order for all of the participants, including the audience. In both instances, it may be beneficial to examine the actual definition of the term “denouement.”
According to the website dictionary.com, the term denouement has the following meanings: “(1) the final resolution of the intricacies of a plot, as of a drama or a novel. (2) the place in the plot which this occurs. (3) the outcome or resolution of a doubtful series of occurrences.” For the purposes of the classroom investigation the first and third definitions are probably the most useful.
Adding to this, the dramatic understanding of this term and its significance within the overall dramatic narrative creates a richer and deeper complexity within the context of the classroom setting. The translation of the term is “to unite.” In a dramatic or theatrical work it is the point where a sense of normalcy is re-established primarily through the resolution of the conflicts existing in the fabric of the narrative. This is done primarily through either restoration or retribution. This has been more fully explored in previous blogs.
It is similar with the reflective summary at the end of the lesson cycle. Teaching and learning is like any of the other performing arts. The audience, in this case the students, need and deserve a discernable ending to the particular experience. With students, it allows time to both look back and look forward simultaneously while processing the required content knowledge and skills as mandated by either the state or national standards.
The summative reflection is perhaps the least outwardly discernable act in the lesson cycle. By its very nature this particular portion is somewhat quiet, definitely rumative, and many times still or having little physical movement involved. This, however, belies both the rigor and complexity of the act as well as the importance within the greater scope of the overall instructional cycle and design.
Without this particular facet to round out the educational experience, students are left with an incomplete reckoning of the content-based objectives which are the driving points of the lessons and the experiences in the first place. An apt metaphor, which has become a commonplace practice in current society is dining alone. When one enjoys a sumptuous meal in a solitary setting, in many ways a certain dimension of the experience is lacking without a friend or family member there to share the experience with in all of its immediate sensory beauty.
By not incorporating a form of some sort of summative reflection at the end of each and every lesson cycle, students are effectively robbed of the opportunity to fully engage the material in an individualized setting so that the knowledge and skills can be both personalized and internalized in as much of its entirety as possible. Doing this affords the students the opportunity to adapt, improvise, and engineer the skills and knowledge as necessary in order to best suit their own use and eventually catalogue and store in their own long-term memories.
Personalization and internalization of knowledge and skills taught and exhibited during the lesson cycle is one of the primary objectives of teaching and learning. Utilizing the practice of regular reflective summary aids and assists students in achieving this. Shakespearean dramatic works provide apt metaphors, again, for understanding the practice and process. The conclusions, the final scenes, in the majority of his comedies as well as his tragedies end in some for of what could be understood as and enlightened resolution. Even some of the Bard’s histories end in as similar manner too.
Take for example the universal yet mysterious subject of love. This theme inhabits the majority of Shakespeare’s plays. For the purpose of this particular exploration, a single tragedy along with a comedy will be utilized. The well-known tragedy of “Romeo and Juliet” along with the seemingly parallel of “Much Ado About Nothing” will serve as the framework for our investigation. With both works, the crucial act of the summative reflection is essential in resolving the narrative as well as offering closure to the audience.
In the first example, “Romeo and Juliet” – often recalled a the literary bane of numerous high school freshmen – ends with the suicides of the eponymous main characters. Those familiar with this work know that this is an aberration of the Friar’s plan to help to make the newlyweds’ life somewhat easier. Yet, as with the Bard’s tragedies, the resolution of this particular dramatic work is retributive in nature. Through the loss of their only children by suicide, the patriarchs of the feuding Montague and Capulet families call for a lasting peace. Through their mourning and loss, these families have had time to reflect upon their actions and perspectives which have pushed them over this precipice. It also allows for time to look forward and possibly bridge together a new future.
Similarly, the fairly well-recognized comedy “Much Ado About Nothing” takes its own unique look at love, passion, and some of the results of these emotions when misapplied. However, since this work of the Bard’s is a comedy, the resolution is restorative in nature. As such a sense of balance and harmony is re-established. In a certain sense, a modicum of operational peace is arrived at for the primary characters involved in the story. It ends with the young lovers, Claudio and Hero, reconciling with each other and marrying. Perhaps more importantly, Beatrice and Benedict realize that their intense revulsion they feel and express towards and about each other throughout the majority of the play is actually passionate love.
Most importantly, in both “Romeo and Juliet” and “Much Ado About Nothing” the main character come about their revelations through reflection and introspection. The performing nature of Shakespeare’s dramatic works these summative reflections are done aloud for the benefit of the audience. However, in the theater of the classroom this is a primarily solitary acr conducted interiorly. But, this does not prevent any of the students from engaging in productive dialogue between each other.
Just as the Bard utilized simple tools to create and present his works, classroom teachers will find that physically implementing this aspect of the instructional cycle fairly simple and not necessarily cost prohibitive. Also, it allows for the student to cultivate and maintain a discussion, an interior dialogue, within the reaches of their own journal. As such, the only limiting factor factors are those that reside within the student ar are brought into the activity.
Yet, in a certain sense, this act of summative reflection by students in their journals is not essentially a new act. What is new, however, is the classroom teacher’s implementation and understanding regarding this particular facet of the instructional cycle. In many cases, this summative portion of the overall lesson has been utilized as something of a “spill and kill” ending episode of sorts. Teachers who have maintained these basal expectations of students’ products and performance were completely satisfied with shallow regurgitation of facts, concepts, and skills. Oddly enough, many times these same classroom teachers have also decried the lack of critical and creative thinking displayed in their students’ products, especially their writing.
If Shakespeare’s protagonists were given resolutions at the end that audience could hold on to, but not necessarily ones which were clean and tidy. Many times the ending of the plays left the audience to continue the action further in the own minds or in discussion afterwards. Nonetheless, the were given a certain sense of catharsis as set forth in Aristotle’s foundational work Poetics. Similarly, as performance artists and playwrights in our own rights, we must strive to deliver a similar experience to our students through our lessons and planned educational experiences.
At the final Act and Scenes of the Bard’s works, the tumultuous path to seemingly enlightenment is not easily trod. Similarly, getting through a lesson is not necessarily neat and easy for the majority of students as well. However, through the patient guidance of the classroom teacher students can navigate the daunting gauntlet with fewer injuries and more wisdom. Through the regular implementation and correct usage of the summative reflection, the students are afforded an outlet and an opportunity to examine and explain their experience. This can help the student understand not only the content knowledge and skill they are exposed to in the particular class, but also perhap large life issues which seem to dominate secondary education.
This is the final act of the lesson cycle. And yet it does not necessarily denote finality in regards to instructional design or delivery. Just as in the Bard’s plays many of the characters survive and continue their lives off stage irrevocably changed so it goes with students and teachers. In essence Act V, the Reflective Summary, is more of a transition rather than an end. Both the students and the classroom teacher move on to learn again, changed from their experiences. Perhaps it is imperceptible, but their is a difference.