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Theater of the Classroom: Staging the Lesson | Ecology of Education

Theater of the Classroom: Staging the Lesson

The last series of blogs focused on designing and delivering a well balanced and engaging lesson utilizing the five act dramatic arc as originally presented by Freytag (1863).  This next series will look at the actual presentation of the lesson in both the physical, virtual, and cerebral spaces shared between the students, teacher, and ideas necessary for learning.  However, the first two spaces are usually the least thought about in the planning of a lesson.  The learning environment, the actual staging of any lesson is just as important as any other step in preparing and executing the teaching of it.

After the mad rush of the in-service preparation for the beginning of new school year, little more thought is rarely given by the majority of classroom teachers in regards to classroom design and decoration.  Posters and affixed to walls, laminated rules are re-hung, pithy motivational sayings are re-applied to their familiar haunts, and newly purchased items are added to remaining blank spaces and shelves from conferences, workshops, and holiday excursions.  Yet, in most circumstances little thought is given to the perspective of what and how the student sees the classroom.

This is a crucial point of view.  In fact, this is perhaps the only point of view that counts in the end.  While many an educator, rightfully so, has decried the infringing upon that business principals have made in education over the past few decades this is an instance when it may actually be somewhat beneficial.  Thinking about our students in the classroom as an audience and the lessons as a deliverable consumable, while not necessarily a new idea, is something that bears further scrutiny.

Keeping with the theatrical metaphor, delivering the lesson in the traditional vein in something akin to just reading a script.  Flat, monotone, and lifeless in its presentation.  There is nothing in it to engage or excite the audience, our students.  It is not difficult for us to hearken back to our days on the other side of the desks battling boredom at every scratch of the pencil across the paper or chalk on the board.  While teaching is not necessarily ensconced firmly in the entertainment industry, it can be easily categorized as a performing art.  As such not only is the story, or narrative, important in captivating the audience, but the environment is also crucial in capturing their attention and cultivating their awareness.

This same holds true in the classroom, whether it is a brick and mortar or virtual one.  Neither setting should or can be taken for granted.  While in the classroom our audience is more being held captive than captivated, it does not necessarily mean this fact should be taken for granted.  Sadly, this mere happenstance of situation has been exploited since the advent of schooling.  Thus the resulting negative memories of attending school as well as stories of cutting class.

However, if classroom teachers were to capitalize on the fact that we have a guaranteed audience each day of 90% attendance or better as enforced by law, then why not repay our students with the best show we have to offer.  Cinemas and theaters would literally kill for these guaranteed box office receipts.  Granted, not every performance is going to necessarily be stellar.  However, more often than not, authentic and engaging will occur and a lasting bond between the students and the content will be forged due to the teacher’s actions.

So what does this necessarily have to do with the physical space?  As teachers, we need to sit in our students’ desks regularly and look at our rooms.  This is something similar to directors and playwrights watching rehearsals from the rows of seats in the theater or dailies after shooting their scenes.  Teachers need to thinking about the staging of their lessons before, during, and after their delivery.  This rehearsal, resonance, and reflection is a key component to instructional design which is often overlooked if considered at all.

What thought given other than the adornment of classroom walls and bulletin boards is spent upon the arrangement of the students’ desks or tables.  While this is both a worthy and worthwhile subject of contemplation, our thoughts need to move beyond this matter.  This is where the experience and expertise of the set designer, interior designer, and architect come into play crucially.  And, if we classroom teachers are dedicated lifelong learners then it is never too late to embrace to role of student once again.

Placing ourselves in the role, mentally and physically, of our students gives us a true perspective of their perception and understanding of school, and more importantly the learning process.  As teachers we understand the material, the message, but we do not always understand the audience, the student/learner, nor do we necessarily understand the venue, the classroom as we should.  Changing chairs, moving to the other side of the desk or the table can literally shift the axis of our own paradigm.  Done regularly enough, and it will affect our teaching style and attitude in a way which blurs the lines between character and method acting in a way which will have even Stanislavski spinning in his grave.

The following few blog entries will explore and investigate the three types stage presentations in theater: proscenium, thrust, and in the round.  More importantly, these entries will integrate how these presentation of stage designs can be adapted with instructional design and delivery in order to guide and assist teacher to adapt their teaching approaches to best fit the needs of their students.  Also to be addressed on these posts will be ways of creating an atmosphere in the classroom where the willing suspension of disbelief, a critical component in theater, can be conjured up in order to facilitate authentic learning.

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