Daily Surprises: Curricular Integration Offered By Students

I am often taken aback as I see the brilliance our students offer up when we take the time to really listen...and to give them the space to think and communicate with one another.  Of course, I spend time planning how and when to integrate theatre arts (especially improvisational theatre) into the classroom to meet discrete curricular objectives.  However, I believe we can feel too bogged down with the task of how to integrate...and these efforts may be limitingIf we teach a craft--say, improv, for example--we need to also trust that the students will make connections on their own.  The principles of improv and the power of these activities offer up a plethora of opportunities to make connections and to think abstractly.  In addition to planning lessons in which we integrate improv to support content standards, let's give our students a chance to make connections on their own.

Here are two examples from last week alone:
Narrative Structure
My 7th- and 8th-grade English class has been studying and creating picture books as a way to tackle all of the basics of narrative--plot structure (including tension and climax), character development, theme, and so on.  As we reached the home stretch of this unit of study, I guided the class through a processing session on what they had learned about narrative and/or picture books.  They silently added to our list on the white board, and then they made connections between ideas.  (Thank you, Lisa Rowland--of BATS Improv--for the fabulous and simple white-board-with-many-markers strategy!)
A number of concepts were taken directly from our work in creating characters, stories and scenes in improv workshops--most notably, "A character who changes and learns something."  That little gem is in the upper, left-hand corner.  A bit below that bit of wisdom is, "Make mistakes and learn from them."  Hmm...that sounds an awful lot like the "Woo hoo!" principle of improv. 
As I look at the list, I get ideas for my own scenework as an improviser.  "Make the reader (or viewer) care about your character" is awfully perceptive.  I'll hold onto that one. 

Class Meeting
To not only develop our skills as communicators, but also our sense of community, we have class meetings for a variety of purposes.  Of course, we have meetings in which we talk about logistics and plan for school events.  However, the most meaningful meetings might be called Character Education by some; these are the meetings in which we build real human connections, where we discuss and solve serious issues that affect our school.
As we were talking about romantic relationships (what is and is not appropriate at school), the discussion progressed to a couple of students suggesting that "drama" between couples be kept to a minimum while at school.  Stacey said it perfectly: "I mean, it's like the principle of improv thing--Just keep it simple.  Do what needs to happen, and don't add in a bunch of drama that we don't need here."

Thank you for inspiring me with your insightful connections, class. 

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