All the Classroom's a Stage

Teaching Articles - Essays to fuel your creative life

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Ever the creative teacher, Cameron Brooks combines innovation and improvisation as he capitalizes on students' natural creativity. You will enjoy his reflections on the ways he nurtures deep thinking and spontaneity in the classroom.

All the Classroom's a Stage

by Cameron Brooks

Elqui Domos Shadows by Cameron Brooks

This year's convivial third-grade bunch includes a few hams, endlessly seeking the chance to perform for the class. Their collective penchant for theater became clear while constructing a "What an Awesome Audience Does" anchor chart. Our resident comic quipps, "DOESN'T THROW TOMATOES!" Now, whenever a group or individual is presenting, we revisit the requisite behaviors - listen, watch, avoid distractions, etc. Then just before the presenters begin, I check in with the young humorist and ask, "Did you leave your tomatoes at home today" Rather than stifle the comedian's impulsive creative energy, which some find distracting, I seek ways to nurture it.

While conferencing with a student burning through the Harry Potter series, I asked, "How can I enhance his relationship with these characters" That's when I offered an exercise in synthesis typically consigned to college courses: scriptwriting. We studied a couple readers' theater formats, then he chose a favorite "scene" from The Deathly Hallows, when Sirius Black's head appears in a fire. The next day, under the spell of creative motivation, the final script was revised, edited, and actors cast. Developing strategies for strengthening literacy among those reading on grade levels three and four years ahead offers creative opportunities for theatrical differentiation. Next week they'll perform.

Improvisation celebrates and solidifies the individual child's understanding because it negates extrinsic influence. In social studies, our curriculum map calls for a number of influential personalities many kids have a hard time relating to, but theatrical interpretation promotes an empathetic awareness of historical people and events. After selecting a biographical picture book, parts are assigned at random. During the read-aloud, captivated students watch the cast improvise a life's worth of notable events, from birth to death. When Susan B. Anthony befriends Elizabeth Cady Stanton, she throws her arms around her and lifts Stanton off the ground in a three-second bear hug. The biographies are read multiple times, with different students playing the same part, and the beauty of experiencing multiple interpretations touches students in a way a video or lecture never will.