31 Mar The Five Act Lesson Cycle: Act II “Rising Action”
According to the dramatic arc, the Second Act is commonly referred to as the “Rising Action.” At this stage of the theatrical production, tension is generated both on the stage between characters and off the stage between the story and the audience. At this point, crucial information is given to the audience in dialogue, monologue, and asides. Tension is created by seemingly up-ending the perception of the audience with just enough information in order to create a sense of comfortable unease within the minds of the viewers. Under the tutelage of a skilled playwright and effective actors, a theater production, whether a comedy or tragedy will have the audience edging with anticipation and even some anxiety. These new revelations and understandings challenge the perceived norm which the audience began with in comfort.
Similarly, once the classroom teacher has artfully maneuvered through the warm up and has the interest and curiosity of the students, their audience, piqued, then it is time to create a little cognitive dissonance in order for critical and creative thinking to arise. This is achieved through introducing new knowledge and skills to the students through what is typically known as “direct teach.” Traditionally this has taken the form of a lecture. In fact this is what the majority of classroom teachers understand the method to encompass. Others may include activities such as guided reading along with other passive methods which only engage, if luck prevails, the students at a basic knowledge or comprehension level of thinking.
True, these tested and tried methods do expose the students to new information and can inoculate them with certain, basic educational skills. However, this does not ignite the interest, nor entice the synapses within a student’s mind. Teaching methods that can accomplish these seemingly protean feats are many times shelved due to the misunderstood requirement of additional time and effort on the part of the teacher. Also, some classroom teachers may not be able to comprehend this approach to teaching, which is actually more traditional than the lecture, because of their own educational experience being limited.
Basically, this portion of the lesson cycle is based in the foundation of drama, dialogue. Except, instead of the dialogue taking place between character on the stage, it is between the classroom teacher and the students. Yet, unlike a stage actor, the teacher must play numerous and varied roles, but they are all grounded in the same perception. The teacher must narrative, enquire, and even sometimes mislead the students while guiding them through the educational experience. In essence, the teacher lays the role of narrator, antagonist, chorus, playwright, and director at the same time. Changing the roles must come fluidly, and will with experience.
At this stage of the lesson cycle, the teacher engages the students in a manner which ignites their thinking in a manner which causes some form of discomfort in order to elicit a critical response from the students. This manner of relaxed anxiety excites actually fires the neurons and grows dendrites in a positive manner. The goal at this point is to set the students on edge, creating a palpable tension. This seemingly simple act goes far to engage the students, capturing and maintaining their attention.
While the classroom teacher continues to deftly balance these seemingly disparate roles, another must be added. It is actually somewhat familiar and recurring role for the majority of classroom teachers. The role is that of an, if not the, antagonist. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of educators may take offense to this. Some of them serious offense, rightly so. However, if the quick and easy definition of antagonist which is summed up in the synonym enemy is set aside for the intents and purposes of this analysis, then and opportunity for an expanded perspective occurs, and perhaps something momentous to follow.
Moving past the popular, and well-known, enemy definition, a new and unique understanding for the classroom arises. Let the educational point of view broaden to encompass new synonyms such as challenger, opponent, and even rival in some cases. An Old Testament metaphor concerning this is found in the story of Jacob and the angel. Both entities struggled against one another. The angel finally surrendered to defeat, however not without leaving Jacob with a permanent limp.
In the classroom setting the teacher and the students play both role fluidly, but also in opposition to each other. While the roles switch imperceptibly at times, neither the students nor the teacher are engaged in the same role simultaneously. This is virtually impossible. In this scenario, both the students and the classroom teacher are struggling to understand, while grappling with one another and their own limitations as well. In the end, the teacher and the students surrender their knowledge to the party in opposition and each leaves the contest limping.
While this may seem to be a violent metaphor to understand teaching with, it is no different than the dissonance Hamlet struggled with in the eponymous play. Both the interior and exterior manifestations of this struggle to comprehend, to understand this seemingly new world which Hamlet have been thrust into are apropos. Neither for the students and teacher need to end as violently as Hamlet’ did. However, the act of sharing, transferring, and incorporating new knowledge and skills is always a challenge. However, the guidance and example shared by the teacher goes far in assisting the students.
In fact, the literary metaphor can be extended further to include other eminent genres such as poetry and novels. Building upon the foundation of Hamlet’s conflict, the quest for understanding is similar to the Poet’s journey recorded in Dante’s immortal trilogy “The Divine Comedy.” As classroom teachers, the challenge is to inhabit the multiple roles of Virgil the poet who accompanies and guides the Poet through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise along with the numerous inhabitants the Poet encounters along his journey and the wisdom and warnings they all dispense. In this metaphor, the character of Beatrice is the embodiment of Wisdom. Luckily, the teacher is required to be neither as dire nor divine as what the Poet encountered.
Perhaps the best literary metaphor is truly saved for last. It is that of Miguel de Cervantes’ classic novel Don Quixote. However, the similarity may be surprising for some teaches. While many times classroom teachers may feel or believe that like the eponymous protagonist, the more apt comparison is his boon companion and sidekick, Sancho Panza. Like Quixote’s companion, the teacher is called to function as the grounding voice of reason while continuing to afford the students ample opportunity to follow their own seeming flights of fancy and fantasy. The entire time the classroom teacher, like Sancho Panza, pokes and prods with questions in an attempt to spur novel thinking in the students through critical reflection and creative response. And along the way, as boon companions in their own right, the teachers are there to re-direct and encourage their students when the results are different than anticipated.
In the end, this understanding of the lesson cycle and overall instructional design can be readily founded upon the seemingly simple act of questioning. Whether it is hermeneutically based or entirely out of context and content, questioning is essential and requires constant cultivation at this stage of instructional delivery. The level of seeming discomfort and even dissonance is an adequate preparatory experience for the next stage, or Act III in the lesson cycle. During this current, second stage, or Act II, the ascent towards the summit becomes more arduous. It does almost become religious or spiritual for both the students and the classroom teacher. It is at this point which the teacher’s experience comes to the forefront. Like a veteran athlete or combatant, muscle memory becomes the greatest ally in the face of adversity and indecision. This is also an opportunity for classroom teachers to exhibit their own unique skills as adept learners. This gives the students a visceral example of self-directed and self-aware lifelong learning if executed properly. It is also a chance for the students to witness the humanity of the classroom teacher through their use of self-depreciating humor. Humor is essential at all times in the classroom and will be mentioned further in the next installment.