By ADELE BRUNI ASHLEY
We begin our session with an exercise borrowed from Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts. Players (our term for students and teachers who are in creative collaboration with each other) disperse throughout the room facing in any direction and are invited to move silently about the room at their own pace without collision, always passing through the center of the room en route to another side (rather than merely circling the periphery). Welcome to the act of milling and seething.
The purpose of this introductory activity is twofold: first, to foster an awareness of space. All too often in school, students are aware of neither the classroom as a physical space nor themselves and their peers as bodies coexisting within that space. Milling and seething prompts students to examine the entirety of the classroom space; at points, the facilitator leading the activity claps and says, “Look around. Are there any empty places in the room? When I clap again, move to fill them.” Students thus begin to notice the gaps and spaces within the room at any given time and to understand their responsibility to venture out and fill those gaps and spaces. And because of the mandate that they move through the center of the room as they mill and seethe, students must negotiate encounters with one another. They must become aware of where their individual bodies end and the bodies of others begin.
Second, to ease players into imaginative work without any burden of “performance.” There exists no audience in this exercise; all are players. Players need only follow the directions of the facilitator (“When I clap, pause wherever you are. When I clap again, begin moving.”), and these directions shift subtly as the exercise progresses. While at first, the facilitator might ask players to “speed up (or slow down) by 50%, whatever that means to you,” directions ultimately become more like this one: “Pause. You have somewhere important to be. You’re late. When I clap again, get there.” Even with this simple direction, the players start to move into imaginative worlds.
Reimagining texts and teaching
The Literacy Unbound initiative, the driving force behind this session, was originally conceived as a grand experiment in teacher education that sought to encourage instructors to consider the power of artistic play as an opportunity to help students develop as critical, collaborative, creative readers. At its core, Literacy Unbound seeks to reinvigorate students and teachers through project-based, collaborative curricula developed around challenging texts. Throughout this process, we often witness increased student engagement and the development of a stronger classroom community.
By bringing students and teachers together as creative collaborators, we’re able to reimagine the acts of reading, writing, listening, and speaking through multiple modalities. Though various aspects of this process can change, the core principles always remain the same:
Why does this work?
Through this approach, students get the chance to move — intellectually, physically and emotionally — into the world of the text. So frequently, we talk about text in the classroom. By contrast, our process allows students to talk from within the text; they speak directly from the perspective of one character and then another. They can feel the story in ways that might not otherwise be possible. At Literacy Unbound, we believe strongly that rich meaning-making happens when we find ways to experience literature together in the classroom.