The idea for this post came to me from a source that seems pretty far away from my teacher world but it is due to recent events, present in my home life. My husband has many creative friends from his youth spread out across the country, mainly in New York and LA. We have two friends who are Broadway actors, and these are really close friends, so theater and artists are a part of our everyday social lives. I have always thought their jobs were so different from mine. They certainly keep different hours! Lately, however, I’ve started to see many more similarities than differences, since we have been hosting an actor friend for a while. One of my husband’s friends from middle and high school, Joey, has come “home” for a bit. By home I mean back to the Northwest from NYC and he is staying at our house. One of the big topics of conversation
the first few days he was here was what was he working on. Well, he is working on a new show that is classified as immersion theater. Immersion theater the best I can discern from the internet and from my friend is interactive theater. The production is going on all around you. The audience is taking part and can choose to open doors, go into certain rooms, and see certain scenes the actors are playing out all around you. It’s choose-your-own adventure theater that has been designed to allow the audience to piece together details and plot lines as they choose. The audience can choose stimulus as they want to, they can take a path different from those who they came with. At times they might impact the story by offering details, or interacting with the performers.
We got to talking about how this is more than just breaking the fourth wall. (Breaking the fourth wall is when the performers acknowledge the audience.) Joey was talking about how much more impactful the theater experience is when the audience isn’t just sitting passively. This made me think about classrooms I have been in where I have felt like a passive audience member to what was going on up front. Usually I can say the teacher at least broke the fourth wall and acknowledged us. Asked a question, or just said, “you got it” and moved on. I sometimes still see this style of teaching.
Joey and I began to really discuss what it means to be a part of something. To be part of an experience, a plot, a resolution, and an objective. Not the have something done in your presence, or to you, but to be a real part of the action and the outcome.
I began to really think that this is how my classroom should be and feel. It should feel like immersion theater. I am not saying we are here to entertain as educators. I do not believe that teachers primary focus should be a big circus show or even that at the end of every lesson the kids walk out talking about how much fun it was. I do however believe the feeling of being an integral part of it should be close. I want my classroom to feel like a big immersive theater experience in that students are in it with me. Students are part of the production. Their experience is impacting the plot line. If I am able to do the lockstep same lessons every year… maybe I am not immersing myself in this year’s group of students, or this particular class period. There should be change and it should be responsive to my participants. I really want my classroom to feel like an experience they are trying to figure out along with me. It’s our production and our team, not mine.
I then started to think about the new state standards. I also recently had the experience where a colleague on Facebook was looking for a good response to someone who was calling into question the creativity of the schools this day and in particular the Common Core State Standards. It forced me to take a look at the standards to look for creativity and where they might be limiting just as I was thinking about this theater analogy. My conclusion is that they are not stifling to creativity and all these ideas go together.
As you look at the following Common Core State Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, & Technical Subjects, watch for the action words that could come to life in an immersive theatre classroom:
Introduce precise, knowledgeable claim(s), establish the significance of the claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims and create an organization that logically sequences the claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly and thoroughly, supplying the most relevant data and evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both claim(s) and counterclaims in a discipline-appropriate form that anticipates the audience’s knowledge level, concerns, values, and possible biases.
The bold words are the part of the standards that require students to be creative and to be a participant and not an audience member. There is no way that I could have my students meet these standards without highly engaging them in the production that is my class.
Here are some more examples from the same set of standards that call for student creativity and action:
Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience.
Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products in response to ongoing feedback, including new arguments or information.
Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
I could go on. There are so many places in the standards that call upon students to participate in their learning and in their expression of their learning. Just the words themselves invoke action, art, and creativity; words such as conduct, solve, investigate, develop, produce and publish to name a few. When I am planning my lessons this year I am going to be thinking about how to immerse the students in their learning As the curtain rises on our production I am going to be able to do it by considering all the theatrical, creative, and participatory words that are outlined in their standards.
I am so excited for this new analogy and invigorating way to plan for my production. I am really looking forward to each scene and to being the director of all of my cast members. I think this production will get rave reviews.