The Five Act Play and Instructional Design
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The Five Act Play and Instructional Design

The Five Act Play and Instructional Design

Over the years which I have been a classroom teacher a particular idea, a concept has continually circled my mind fermenting.  It would not rest, constantly gnawing, vying for my complete attention.  Recently, I finally gave into its plyings and gave it my full attention.  Way back when I first went to college, many lifetimes ago, I was bound and determined to be a world class English professor.  Extolling the virtues of Romantic poetry and Elizabethan drama would fill my days.  Life has its own way, as we all know.  Currently I am a middle school Science teacher.  However, my roots in the Humanities continue to bear fruit in my profession.  This was the seed which had been pushing through my conscious thought like a new shoot in Spring.  Giving the idea which had been germinating for an unspecified amount of time the ability to blossom, I was able to see the full beauty of the bloom.  The fruit produced from this thought was a new and fresh understanding of the lesson cycle and instructional design.

This new perspective of instructional design and the overall lesson cycle is based solely on the five act structure of Shakespeare’s plays, and many others from the Elizabethan period.  This structure first identified by Aristotle in his tome “Poetics.”  However this dramatic structure was later popularized and credited to Gustav Freytag in his seminal work ” Die Technik des Dramas” first published in1863.  Sometimes this analysis has been referred to as “Freytag’s Pyramid.”

Essentially, this dramatic analysis divides the play into five parts.  These are: (1) Exposition, (2) Rising Action, (3) Climax, (4) Falling Action, and (5) Denouement.  This is sometimes referred to as the “dramatic arc.”

What it was exactly that sparked this seeming epiphany, I am at a loss to precisely point out.  However, I have been teaching long enough to know that reflection is invaluable, but at certain time you just need to run with the idea and ruminate later.  It goes without saying that this is exactly what I did.  Reflecting on the framework and components comprising effective instructional design and completing an engaging lesson cycle, the parallels presented themselves very clearly.  In fact my very patient and forgiving wife was a willing participant in the discussion where the idea was fine tuned and polished.  So, this idea was shaped as much by here input as my thoughts.  For this, and so many other, things, I owe her all of my thanks which could never be fully expressed even adequately.  This series is especially dedicated to her…Thank you.

This column is an informal and friendly introduction to the upcoming series of columns where each stage of the “dramatic arc” will be explored as it applies to the lesson cycle and instructional design within the context of daily classroom instruction.  The following columns will explore each of the individual facets of Freytag’s pyramid and investigate their complementary portions of the lesson cycle.  Understanding instructional design with this point of view may help the classroom teacher engage students with an approach that has the lesson unfold more as a kinetic narrative rather than as a lifeless progression of prescribed activities.  Looking at my own classroom instructional design and practices with this understandingbrought new life and light into my daily teaching activities.  I was able to understand my students as actors on the stage of middle school Science and myself in the role of Director.  My hopes are that a similar experiences happens for your students and you after reading this series.

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