Teaching art vs. teaching to think as an artist

Since the beginning of this calendar year I have been deeply involved in gaining a better understanding of some of Harvard’s Project Zero initiatives. Years ago I was introduced to Project Zero and their Visible Thinking Routines, but it was only now that I could gather a cohort of like-minded colleagues that joined me to together learn and apply what researchers at PZ have been studying over the past 50 years.

This semester our cohort is focusing in discussing how to create Cultures of Thinking, and I have been fascinated by how looking at my lessons, the assessment tasks I’ve designed and the language I choose to use in my classroom from the critical perspective suggested by Ron Ritchhart in his book, “Creating Cultures of Thinking” has already brought so many significant shifts to my practice. I want to share more about my experience with the PZ Online Courses, the implementation of Thinking Routines in the Drama classroom, and how I’m moving more consciously towards fostering a culture of thinking, but today I wanted to talk  about a very interesting TED Talk I watched yesterday and that captured much of the discussions about Cultures of Thinking, but that also places it very specifically on my own field of expertise- the arts.

Cindy Foley makes a very strong case for how arts education in our schools is, most of the times centered around teaching students about art. When we advocate for more, for better arts education in our schools, we mostly focus on including lessons on how to draw, how to act, how to sing. The focus of our arts education programs are based on artistic skills, and creativity is something just expected to naturally happen in the arts education context. She asks: why is there such a disconnection between arts education and creativity? When thinking about what is the true power of a quality arts education program, she reminds us it lies on the power of teaching the capacity to think creatively, and the capacity to make connections. So, if we really want to teach for creativity, we need to make central to our programs teaching students how to embody the habits that artists employ. Foley will mention 3 of these habits she believe are the essential ones to foster creativity:

  1. Comfort with ambiguity
  2. Idea generation
  3. Transdisciplinary research

As I am still processing and translating what she shares in the video to my own context, trying to make sense of how I can teach these 3 habits, or dispositions, I feel reassured of how important my choice to focus on bringing light to the thinking that I am modeling, teaching and encouraging in my classroom is. I still have a long way to go, and at times I do feel overwhelmed by the amount of baby-steps needed to truly generate a palpable transformation. However, the only thing I need to keep on going is to, every now and then,  be reminded of how such mind-shift will pave a better, more meaningful experiences to my students, myself and our community.

 

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Bring on your passion!

It’s the beginning of a new unit. Students await for the big reveal of what comes next. “Are we going to to a normal play?“, they ask, still a bit unsure of what to expect from this class (even though all units have been outlined on the class syllabus!). We started off Theatre 9 exploring the Greek chorus, and moved to working with pantomimes. So when I am asked if what comes next is a ‘normal’ play, I can figure out what do they mean. But you see- the answer to the inquisitive hands that float through the air, and to the eyes that follow me through the room is not a simple one.

Since we moved to Morocco and I started working at CAS I’ve been intrigued by the apathy of my students, by their lack of passion and curiosity, and by how little sense of purpose guided their expected classroom interactions (well, grades would briefly and accurately sum it up). Learning and thinking had little place here. And grades and class work completion were at the heart of interest. So, when instead of answering their questions, I fired back a question of my own – why do you come to school? – they were not particularly amused nor interested in joining the conversation. After awkward silences and numerous prompts, they started sharing some thoughts. From being obliged to coming, to hopes of a better future, their reasons why coming to school were both removed from themselves, and removed from a present sense of purpose (a purpose constant projected to a possible future). So I told them, “see, we are here to make art, to create art. And for that, I need each one of you to engage. Right here, right now. present time. I need you to be present, fully. And I need you to see how that may impact your lives now- not later, not maybe, but now.” So no, we are not going to be doing ‘normal’ theatre. Normal theatre does not interest me.

What interests me in a High School theatre classroom is its potency. Theatre is the art of the here and now. To exist, theatre demands a personal commitment- as a performer or as an audience member. It demands presence and commitment. Right here, right now. It’s potency and ephemerality are what truly interest me. And to achieve that, we need passion. So, bring on your passion, and let’s create some art. Some ‘abnormal’ art if so we wish.

(and to be honest, our next unit was in Commedia dell’ Arte, so, again, no ‘normal’ theatre in the near horizon for this group…)

The importance of modeling what we preach

Focus. Reflect. Write. Share. Learn.

I am pretty sure these are some of the most common words in my classroom. Oh, and think. Think. When I moved from keeping my writing private to publishing some texts in this site, it was out of the passion for reflecting, writing, sharing, learning together. It was also a push towards modeling what I expect from my students. At that time, I was living in India, I was growing and learning so much, in both a personal and a professional sphere, that it felt like the perfect moment to give this a go. I was inspired by my surroundings, by a new culture, a new curriculum (IGCSE), new students. But then things changed- I decided to take a gap year and to dedicate my time and energy to motherhood- and my focus changed drastically. Time became a rare commodity, and the need to look inside and to find calm and purpose from within took over. All my thinking, my learning, my reflecting was related to my inner self- and at the time, that didn’t seen relevant or important to share. The thing is: I’ve been back to the classroom- both as a teacher and as a graduate student for over a year now. And, as things normally go, the habit of not writing, not sharing was just quite a comfortable one. Until now. Now- finally, it started to feel uncomfortable to not carve the time to reflect, to think. The need to write and share is back. Or maybe I forced it back. Actually, I hope I did. And I’m starting off with this quite irrelevant post- that says very little about what is actually going on my mind, or my classroom. A sharing of what matters to me. And a celebration of small victories and of a re-encountered sense of purpose. More to follow- soon!

 

An Outline for the Production of “Master Harold and the Boys”, a play by Athol Fugard

This is the outline of my plan to introduce the play and stage it with my Grade 9 (year one of IGCSE) students.

  • Introducing the play:
  • Class discussion:
    • Compare and contrast answers to the Play Analysis Guidelines.
    • What is specific – what do we need to know to understand the reality of when/ where the action in the play takes place?
    • What is universal?
    • How do you/ we connect with the action and characters in the play?
  • Relating to action:
    • What in Indian society mirrors the tensions in the play? (Cast System maybe…?)
    • Is this something you believe could happen here? Why or why not?
    • Choose an excerpt of the play and have students adapt to indian reality.
    • Discuss casting: who should play Master Harold? Why? Is race an important factor in casting for this play? Why?
  • Script & Character Analysis:
    • Work with identifying subtext and character motivation.
    • Whole group dramatic reading.
  • Making our own choices:
    • In small groups, work with a clear
    • Design: make clear choices on how to communicate the concept through costumes, props, lights, set & sound.
    • Casting: make a clear choice based and supported by the chosen concept

Planning a workshop on Creating a Character

For a while now I have been debating with myself how to better address the need of exposing my Drama students to different theatrical techniques, different theories, different methods without making it too “heavy”, or always research-based, or even worse, through constant lectures. Having this is mind, I challenged myself to come up with some practical ideas to incorporate important theatre practitioners and their techniques is a series of workshops I could facilitate and model with my students. This forced me to go back to my books and study many of these techniques again, select what I think would be relevant to my students and combine them with skills I need them to develop. This is a work in progress, but I would like to share here in this blog the plans to some of these workshops- the first one being a Characterization workshop based on Laban.

Workshop on Creating a Character

Essential Questions:

– How can we use movement to create a character?

Lesson Objectives:

– Students will be introduced to Laban techniques

– Students will explore their Kinespheres and 3 qualities of movement

– Students will create a character based on a sequence of movements

Resources:

– handout or ppt on Laban (short bio & specific terminology)

– music

– text (poem/ monologue/ novel/ newspaper article/ …)

Classroom Activities:

Circle: check in, introduce goals for the day

Step 1: Introduction to Rudolf Laban’s work (short bio) and the fundamentals of the technique he’s developed.

Students share with a partner what called their attention about what was shared and then share with the group one thing that surprised/ interested/ intrigued them.

Step 2: Physical warm up sequence: stretch, wake up the body, shake.

Step 3: Gathering focus: walking around the room (balancing the space, not repeating the same path, not walking in circles); one stop at a time/ all stop together – group awareness.

Step 4: Introduce some new terminology:

kinesphere; Students explore their kinesphere;

– 3 levels; Students include the awareness of the 3 levels while exploring their kinesphere;

3 qualities of movement (time/ weight/ flow); Students include the experimentation with the 3 qualities of movement while exploring their kinesphere;

Pathway & trace; Students will “paint” their names in the space using a tiny pencil; a big marker; a large paint roller.

Step 5: Trios improvisation (with music): one in each level at all times

Step 6: Introducing text: (the text here can be a poem, a monologue or a short extract from a novel; it can be a newspaper article or anything that introduces a theme the teacher wants to explore) read the text together & check for comprehension of vocabulary

Students create a pathway responding to the text (in pairs or trios)

Step 7: Students share their pathways and provide feedback to one another (key guiding question: what IN THE MOVEMENT reveals that? What sort of RELATIONSHIP do we see emerge?)

Quick reflection: what did you notice and what did you understand up to this point?

Step 8:Same pairs/ trios: physical dialogue (facing one another, one student makes a movement and freeze; the other will respond with a movement and freeze); some do the exercise as others observe.

Sharing impressions: what did we see?

Step 9: Same pairs/ trios: students choose an extract of the text and create a pathway. The chosen extract of text has to be read/ said out loud during the execution of the pathway (it can be done by a third person)

In upcoming lessons students will start to make clear choices about which parts of their bodies will guide the movement of the character that is emerging, which qualities of movement will apply to the character and students will either work on a pathway to a given piece of text (monologue or poem) or write their own monologue/ poem based on the work done.

The beauty of giving your students entire ownership over the creative process

Currently, both my Grade 8 sections of Drama class are working on an entire class production of a short play, “The Love for Three Oranges“, in an adaptation by Mark Billen. The play is a comedy fantasy, inspired by characters of Commedia dell’ Arte and on Prokofiev’s Opera of the same title.

As I have already shared in this blog before, this group of students has given me a hard time throughout the year with their reluctance in showing interest, commitment or willingness to participate in class activities. So, when I was planning how to approach this “From Page to Stage” Unit with them, the idea of providing them with complete and irrestrict ownership over the process was exciting and terrifying at the same time! My idea was to present them with the challenge of direct, design, build props and act in the production- I would be playing the role of a producer, overseeing their work, but they would be entirely responsible for every single aspect of making the play happen. That approach would also allow me to introduce and discuss the different roles and professions related to theatre production, and give all the students the chance to not only explore and develop their acting skills, but also discover hidden talents and new ways of being creative behind the scenes.

So, I decided to pursue that plan and take the risk of failing, as I strongly believed the possible learning outcomes were worth it. My idea was to introduce the assignment, already presenting the date for their final performance to a live audience, given them the sense of responsibility towards an audience, our community, therefore adding to the assignment a greater responsibility- and that was the scarier part of it: failing publicly in from of all Middle School students in case they didn’t commit to it; or having to cancel the performance in the last minute and admitting the failure to the administration- administrators I don’t entirely believe would be supportive of my approach…! So, this is where I’ve “cheated“. After deciding to move forward with the original plan, I introduced the project to my students, who were mostly shocked with the responsibility and authorship I was presenting them with (they are clearly not used to such a thing!). I did present them with the date and audience of their final performance: May 29th, during a Middle School Assembly. What I haven’t done at that moment was actually booking the Auditorium and discussed with the Deputy Head of Secondary about using our last Assembly’s time for the student performance. I wanted to see how students would commit to the task first, and try my best to avoid- or at least minimize- the chances of public failure (failing in my class, in front of my students, is completely fine by me, and, specially this year, with grade 8, has happened more than ever! Nevertheless, I was still struggling with the idea of the public failure in this particular school environment, where competition, certificates, awards and accomplishments are highly praised!).

So now, on with the process! After reading the play, in small groups, students casted themselves and their classmates, and shared their reasons behind their choices with the entire group. It was interesting to see how some students were cast as the same character by multiple groups! Students then elected a “casting committee”, prepared and conducted auditions until a final decision on the cast was made.

The next step was for me to introduce the different technical/ design roles they could choose from regarding the other aspects of the production. We discussed what is the role of a director, the importance of the stage managers, the impact of the decisions made by costume designers and, according to their interests and skills, students divided themselves into design teams and teach crews.

I then created and shared with them a document where the Requirements & Responsibilities for each team was clearly detailed. After that, rehearsals started!

Since beginning of rehearsals I’ve been positively surprised by the student’s involvement and responsibility towards the project. If you walk into my class, you may find it chaotic, loud, disorganised. But what I see are multiple teams designing, going after materials they need, problem solving how to build three gigantic oranges, discussing directorial concepts, listening to music they’ve never heard of before, discovering apps on their iPads where they can take pictures of one another and create makeup styles, sharing google calendars where deadlines are being established, projecting lists of props and costumes, sharing responsibilities etc. And it’s beautiful! It’s inspiring! And it proves that what students need to sparkle their interest and commitment towards learning is clear guidelines, a real audience, an assignment that truly matters, and ownership over the process.

As of right now, the date for the final performance has been booked and communicated to the school community. My trust in their work, as well as the acceptance that whatever is it they manage to accomplish by May 29th needs to be shared with our community, were the driving forces that made me overcome my silly, selfish fear of public failure.

I look forward to keep on being amazed by their talents and ideas, and to share that with our Middle School at the end of this school year!

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Update (April 30th, 2015)

Woke up this morning to find this email from the students who is directing her class production:

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So, I guess this is going just fine!!!

Approaching “The Memorandum”, an absurdist play by Václav Havel

This is the first year I am teaching a Grade 9 IGCSE Drama class. In october, 2014 I did an online intensive course on the IGCSE Drama Syllabus and requirements, and I have been trying my best to prepare my 24 students to their exam while getting myself familiarised with the requirements and assessment criteria used by IGCSE.

One of the components of IGCSE Written Examination is based on a pre-released “extended extract from a play (or an abridged version of an entire play) taken from repertoire from a variety of genres, countries and periods. Candidates should study the extract to enable them to understand both the text and the practical aspects of production. It is recommended that they perform it, at least informally. Candidates will not be assessed on their performance of the play.”  (from the 2016 IGCSE Drama Syllabus).

Two years ago, the play selected by IGCSE was “The Memorandum”, by Václav Havel. This is the play I’ve chosen to study with my Grade 9 students as a practice before their official examination next year. On their Written Exam, and on the mock exam I’m planning on giving my students this year, students will be required to answer 6–8 short-answer questions on the extract from the play (20 marks), and to answer one longer-answer question from a choice of three on the extract from the play.

Below, I am sharing an outline of how I am planning on approaching the work with “The Memorandum” with my class!

* as I have not had the chance of trying this with my class, please consider this a reflection on a plan, where I try to anticipate what issues I might face along the way.

Presenting the play:

To introduce the work we are about to start, investigating the play “The Memorandum”, I decided to use a different approach. Being Brazilian and having Portuguese as a first language I will produce a “memorandum” written in Portuguese and, as students walk into the class, using some Process Drama techniques (teacher-in-role), I will welcome them to the lesson greeting them in Portuguese. The classroom will be settled as to invite them to sit in groups of five (chairs are pre-arranged, forming four circles in different corners of the classroom). Using only Portuguese (and lots of gestures as well!) I will ask students to sit in the chairs and present each group with a copy of a heavy “memorandum”. In the first page, they will be able to read, in bold large letters, the word “MEMORANDUM”, however, as soon as they turn the page, everything will be written in Portuguese.

At that point, I will turn on the classroom projector, and on the screen they will see projected a web address to which I will point, indicating I want them to open their computers and visit that specific page. The web address will direct students to a new classroom blog (which later will be introduced as the class Process Online Journal), where they can read (in English) some instructions. There it will be said that the school has made the decision that each teacher should use only their mother tongue to provide instruction to the class. The Board has decided that exposing students to multiple languages will only benefit them and that full immersion is the best approach to this shift, meaning no translation will be allowed in classrooms. Exceptions can be made under specific circumstances but special requirements need to be followed. By then, I expect students to be firing up different question, which I will ignore, pretending not to understand. The post on the blog will ask students to go though the “memorandum” they were given and, by the end of the lesson, as a group, share with the class if they are either pro or against it. Students will also be told that the memorandum provides the setting of new rules, expectations, class syllabus and assessment criteria, so they must be very careful with making a decision. At that point, a timer (20 min.) will be set on the screen, and each group should start discussing their own methods for approaching the task.

At this point, this group is used to the teacher using Process Drama techniques, so the suspension of disbelief should not be an issue. If the group is not familiar with it, the teacher might face more resistance, students not willing to embark in the process drama, however that is not the case with this group.

By the end of the time given for groups to work, I will ask (always using Portuguese!) each group to present their vote. I anticipate some groups will use Google Translator (some of them might immediately know the language in use is Portuguese, for others it can take longer to guess), some groups might have fun trying to pronounce the words and trying to find the ones that are similar to English, some groups may decide to just go with “no” since they might assume that they don’t need to really understand what is written, it is probably supporting this “change”, so they will be against it!

At this moment I will break the teacher-in-role and ask the class (this time in English) what did they think of the activity, how did they feel not understanding what was being said and being asked to make decisions without truly knowing the content of the material provided to them. Following the class discussion, I will ask them to go to our new class blog and share their thoughts as a blog post.

When students walk in to the following lesson, they will see in the projector the text on Appendix 1*. After everyone has walked in to class, I will ask for one of the students to read the text out loud. Students will be invited into a class discussion about the connections they could see between this plot and what have happened in our previous lesson. They will also be encouraged to share their first impressions on the topic outlined (interesting, weird, unusual, fun, boring…). I will tell the class we are about to start investigating a play called “Memorandum”, written by a man named Václav Havel. I will inform the class they are going to be divided into three groups, and I will tell them their groups (7 or 8 students in each group). Each student will get a copy of the play’s Act One and they will be sent to do a dramatic group reading of it.

Working with the play:

The following lessons are to be divided as follows (depending on the activity it might take several lessons to accomplish it):

  • Introduction to Theatre of the Absurd:historical context, main play writers and other relevant tittles
    1. I provided a list of sources and each group was responsible for researching and presenting one of the topics
  • Understanding the play’s context: Communism in Czechoslovakia
    1. In their groups, students will be asked to watch a video using videonot.es (which allows them to simultaneously take notes)
    2. Students have to write their impressions as a blog entry
  • Second dramatic reading: how does our approach to the text change after gathering historical and aesthetical background?
    1. Students are to share their thoughts on the question, after the second reading, in our Process Online Journal blog.
  • Preparing the text for performance:
    1. As a group, choose a clear CONCEPT;
    2. Decide roles (5 actors – they will also have to decide who will play each character, 1 director, 1 or 2 designers);
    3. Present requirements: perform Act One; produce a Costume Portfolio for each Character; produce a Set Design proposal using Google Sketchup; keep record of the concept decided by the group (a one page paper outlining the concept and supporting the choice), rehearsal’s log and production notes in the Director’s Journal; regular reflective entries on the Process Online Journal blog.
  • Process workshops: the idea of the workshops is to help students explore different possibilities, stretching their repertoire of possible ways of approaching character creation, the use of the space, subtext, relationships, character motivation, the impact of costumes/ sets/ soundtrack/ lights/ props.
    1. Creating a Character: all participate, directors and designers included
    2. Using the Space: all participate; however directors will step out to observe and take notes after the first half of the workshop.
    3. Using Google Sketchup: all learn how to use the software
    4. Watching and critiquing a performance: watch a video of a performance of the play and write a critique, identifying the concept, analysing acting choices (characterisation), set, costumes etc.
  • Rehearsals, Building Portfolios & Director’s Journal
  • First performance & first presentation of Portfolios for peer feedback
  • Additional workshops
  • Final performances & Portfolios/ Director’s Journal presentations

A Reflection on the process:

The sequence suggested above aims at guiding students through a creative process where they are motivated to explore and experiment while being provided with sufficient opportunities to develop and master skills while reflecting on their creative process. Students should feel empowered to make artistic decisions but, at the same time, understand the need of aligning their choices to a clear concept to be communicated to an audience. In order to come up with a clear, interesting concept that can sustain the group’s vision, students must have a in depth comprehension of both the historical period in which the play was written, as well as of the theatrical tradition it is part of.

I can anticipate students struggling with understanding the specificities of Theater of the Absurd, and I believe that being presented with other examples of the tradition and discussing the possible reactions they might have to an absurdist play might help set the ground for allowing students to connect to it. When I decided to start off the work with the play by placing students in a similar situation as the one suggested by Havel, it was motivated the conscious choice of providing them with the opportunity of experiencing what the characters in the play do, experiencing how “absurd” the situation was and how did they feel.

Some students might also find it hard to come up with a clear concept to guide their approach to the play. I believe that brainstorming possibilities, and watching videos of different performances of the play can help them expand the realm of possibilities, stretching their creativity to approaching the task.

Physicalizing the characters is always a challenge to my students, so that’s why it is my hope that the “Creating a Character” workshop based on Laban’s techniques will help them look at these characters from a different perspective. The same goes for the workshop on “Using the Space” based on Viewpoints, presenting the students with a new vocabulary and a new perspective of placing actors, set pieces, defining pathways and body positions on stage.

Finally, the decision of including both the Set Design and the Costume Portfolios as part of their task comes from the desire of assuring that my students develop a holistic approach to the creative process, understanding how everything is interrelated, connected; how the process of “making meaning” is based on the interdependence of all the audience can perceive – consciously and subconsciously.

The expectation that every student will be an active participant of the Process Online Journal, blogging about their creative process, about their learning process, is a tentative of establishing a channel of communication that lives beyond the walls of the classroom, beyond the few minutes each class lasts. By registering their thoughts, students allow me to follow their creative journey, identifying moments when I will need to interfere, recapitulate, slow down, review or deepen up my instruction.

I am extremely excited about putting all this into practice, and I look forward to the messy creative journey we are about to start!

*Appendix 1

Josef Gross is the Managing Director of a large bureaucratic organization. At the start of the play, he finds among his mail a memorandum that he cannot understand. It turns out to be written in a new language called Ptydepe (pronounced tie – depp – ay) and its usage has been authorized across the organization by Gross’s deputy, Jan Ballas, without the knowledge of his boss. The new language is so complicated that no one can read it and the attempts to try to understand it create much of the humour of the play. A classroom run by Mark Lear has been introduced for employees to learn the new language. For those who cannot understand it, permission has to be granted by Otto Stroll’s Translation Unit before any translations can be made.

Gross goes to the translation unit to ask Otto Stroll to have his memorandum translated. Despite being the Managing Director, Gross has no authorization and the request is turned down until approved by the Ptydepist, Alex Savant, an unpleasant man who is the world expert on Ptydepe. But Gross has first to present identification papers and these have to be granted by Helena, who mysteriously describes herself as the Chairman and can only grant identification papers to those who have not already received a memo in Ptydepe! Ballas uses the control of Ptydepe as a means of manoeuvring Gross’s ultimate sacking from the organization at the end of Act One by blackmailing him and threatening to reveal a very minor offence. During all this, the office staff appears obsessed with getting whatever food is available and the constant references to it reflect the shortages experienced in Czechoslovakia at the time Havel wrote the play.

Exploring philosophical themes in Drama – Plato & The Myth of the Cave

THE TEXT

The Myth of the Cave

by Plato

SOCRATES: And now, let me give a parable to show how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened. Imagine human beings living in an underground cave with an opening upward towards the light, which filters into the depths of the cave. Theses human beings have been here since birth, and their legs and necks have been chained so that they cannot move. They can only see what is directly in front of them, since they are prevented by the chains from turning their heads to either side. At a distance above and behind them is a raised path. And if you look closely, you will see a low wall built along the path, like the screen used by marionette players to conceal themselves from the audience while they show their puppets.

GLAUCON: I see.

SOCRATES: And do you see men passing behind the wall carrying all sorts of objects, such as figures of animals and humans made of wood, stone, and various materials, which they are holding above the wall? Some of the men carrying these objects are talking, while others are silent.

GLAUCON: You have shown me a strange image, and these are strange prisoners.

SOCRATES: They are similar to us. For, initially, how could they see anything but their own shadows, or the shadows of each other, which the fire projects on the wall of the cave in front of them?

GLAUCON: That is true. How could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to turn their heads?

SOCRATES: And wouldn’t they see only the shadows of the objects that are being carried by the men?

GLAUCON: Obviously.

SOCRATES: And if these prisoners were able to talk to each other, would they not suppose that the words they used referred only to the shadows that they saw on the wall in front of them?

GLAUCON: Of course.

SOCRATES: And if one of these prisoners was able at last to free himself, and explore to the upper world, would he understand what he saw?

GLAUCON: Not immediately.

SOCRATES: He would have to grow accustomed to the sights of the upper world. First he would be able to see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other things in the water, and then the things themselves. Afterwards he would be able to gaze upon the light of the moon, the stars, and the spangled heaven. Would it not be easier at first for him to look upon the sky and the stars by night than upon the sun or the light of the sun by day?

GLAUCON: Certainly.

SOCRATES: Last of all he would be able to see the sun, not merely as it is reflected in the water, but in its true nature and in its own proper place.

GLAUCON: Absolutely.

SOCRATES: He will then begin to conclude that it is the sun which causes the seasons and the years, which is the guardian of everything in the visible world, and which, in a certain way, is the cause of all the things that he and his fellows have formerly seen.

GLAUCON: It is evident that he would first see the sun and them reason about it.

SOCRATES: And when he remembered his old habituation, and the wisdom of the cave and of his fellow-prisoners, do you not suppose that he would be happy about his change and pity those who were still prisoners?

GLAUCON: Certainly he would.

SOCRATES: And if they were in the habit of honoring those who could most quickly observe the passing shadows and decide which of them went before others, which came after, which occurred simultaneously–being therefore best able to draw conclusions about the future–do you think that he would care for such honors or envy the possessors of them? Would he not say with Homer, “Better to be the poor servant of a poor master,” and to endure anything, rather than think as they do and live after their manner?

GLAUCON: Yes, I think that he would rather suffer anything than accept these false notions and live in this miserable manner.

SOCRATES: Indeed, imagine what it would be like for him to come suddenly out of the sun and to return to his old place in the cave. Would he not be certain to have his eyes full of darkness?

GLAUCON: Most assuredly.

SOCRATES: And while his eyes were filled with darkness and his sight still weak (and the time needed to become re-accustomed to the cave might be very considerable), if there were a contest in which he had to compete in measuring the shadows with the prisoners who had never been out of the cave, would he not be ridiculous? Men would say of him that his ascent and descent had destroyed his eyesight, and thus that it was better not even to think of ascending. And if they caught anyone trying to free another and lead him up to the light, they would put the offender to death.

GLAUCON: Without question.

SOCRATES: You may append this entire allegory, dear Glaucon, to what I have said before. The prisonhouse or cave is the world of sight; the light of the fire within the cave is the sun. And you will not misapprehend me if you interpret the journey upwards to be the ascent of the soul into the intelligible world, which, at your request, I have described. Only God knows whether or not my description is accurate. But whether true or false, my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the Form of the Good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort. When seen, however, it can only lead us to the conclusion that it is the universal author of all things beautiful and right, that it is the origin of the source of light in the visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intelligible world. Without having seen the Form of Good and having fixed his eye upon it, one will not be able to act wisely either in public affairs or in private life.

GLAUCON: I agree, as far as I am able to understand you.

You can check an animated version of the myth in this video:

Flipping the Drama Classroom – A New Approach to Introducing Commedia dell’Arte

Commedia dell’Arte is one of my favorite units to explore with students. I love the masks, the characters, the exaggerated movements and the possible parallels to our contemporary society. Commedia presents an exaggerated mirror of our society, and I find it fascinating to witness young performers engage in and discover the world of Commedia.

The National Theatre (UK) has a fantastic archive of resources for teachers, including a great selection of videos on different theatrical styles, interviews and behind the scenes shots of their own productions. Amongst these videos, they have a series of short videos on Commedia, and this semester I decided to try and introduce the unit using a flipped classroom approach, trying to make students interested and engaged on the topic prior to lecturing them about its historical background and its main characters in class.

Using EDpuzzle and a video from The National Theatre, I created a lesson I can assign my students prior to introducing Commedia in class. My idea is to expose them to the topic, have them thinking about it, have them bring their own questions, doubts, understandings of it for us to then start a conversation. I want to make them curious and willing to know more about it, and it is my hope that this flipped lesson may help me achieve this purpose.

I haven’t shared the lesson with my students as we’re yet to start this unit. I’ll come back and share the results of this experience with you all. In the meantime, any thoughts or feedback on the lesson will be very appreciated!

Multiple Intelligences and the Drama Classroom

To teach Drama is a passion, I absolutely love what I do and I believe in it – I see the value and the importance of it. Now, the constant need to advocate not only for Drama, but for Arts Education in general, is a very frustrating task. The more I read about 21st Century Skills, the importance of Creativity and Innovation, Project Based Learning and any other of the new, contemporary educational approaches, it makes me question why is it so hard for administrators, educational policy & decision makers to identify how crucial is it to include Arts in the curriculum. It’s tiring, frustrating and a poor use of my time to keep on looking for arguments to prove a point newest researches easily support – but that are still being ignored when the number and value of Art classes are being defined by schools.

In my previous school we used to be two Drama teachers. When I informed the administration I was leaving, they informed me they were actually cutting one of the positions for the upcoming school year anyways. I left, and now there’s only one Drama teacher for both Middle and High School classrooms.

In the school where I am currently teaching, we were recently informed that they are discontinuing the offer of IB DP Theatre Arts starting next school year. Not that we don’t have enough students interested in the subject, but school’s administration sees more value in other subject areas.

I am not a radical, nor refuse to listen to other perspectives and arguments when it comes to people discouraging Arts Education. I do question my beliefs and doubt the conviction I carry of its importance, however nothing nor no one has presented strong arguments to make me change my mind.

The book I am currently reading and highly recommend, “Drama and Education: Performance Methodologies for Teaching and Learning” by Manon van de Water, Mary McAvoy, Kristin Hun presents many researches and valuable information on the power of Drama Education. In there I found two tables relating a list of the Multiple Intelligences we should aim at developing in our students, and Drama Activities that stimulate each one of them. It seemed to be didactic enough, clear enough to convey the specificities of Drama as a subject and it’s value in the curriculum.

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When planning the Drama Units, the sequence of skills and on constantly trying to build a strong Drama program, this seems to be a very useful tool. And, more than that, as there is still a clear need to advocate for the Arts, this seems to be a great tool to use when sharing the planning, making it clear how it aligns with many of the fundamental skills all human beings should be fostering!