on “doing” plays

Old school five-paragraph essays and literary analysis stifle creativity. Sitting around a classroom answering thought-provoking questions is a little better.
The gold-standard in learning is experiences: learning-by-doing.

Teaching-by-telling is particularly bad if you’re trying to “teach” a play. A play is meant to be experienced. The labor involved in creating and staging a play is un-thinkable without the experience of it.
My 10th graders are finishing up a unit using Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun to examine playwriting. There are three moderately large projects involved in the unit, and zero days spent in group discussion (small or large) zero reading quizzes, and zero minutes watching the movie.
I’ve challenged my students to experience this play. They read it at home, and worked in class (some people call this a flipped classroom… I call it smart teaching) on three projects:

1) Student as set designer: create a diorama of the set as Hansberry describes in her stage direction at rise Act 1, Sc 1.
2) In a group of three, write a paper that defines and describes one of the themes in the play.
3) In a group of eight, write and present a scene that occurs six months after the last scene; matching Hansberry’s tone and style and thinks creatively about how the lingering questions of the Younger family’s fortunes.

The outcomes are astounding from the last 14 class days and the reason is simple. The kids DID stuff:
They navigated group dynamics, broke pieces of their sets, wrote and re-wrote and re-wrote dialogue that sounded “awkward.” They practiced close reading of pieces of dialogue to capture character’s voices without us saying anything about close reading. They spoke to the back of the stage, then re-did their lines facing the audience. They wrote and re-wrote topic sentences till they were focused and concise statements that described paragraphs that advanced their thesis. They explained grammar to each other. They even used cloud-based collaboration tools without being required to!

I had a student who was home sick log-in to google docs to work on a script with her group yesterday.

I should acknowledge the argument that staging the play would be the “best” way to “do” it. My rebuttal is only that the kids need to write and think and not just interpret and act. I need to meet them where they are andĀ individualizeĀ to their interests and level as much as possible. These assignments allowed for that sort of customization. It was also more time effective for me to do it this way.

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