School Redesign: performance and practice

Every Monday for the next few weeks, I’m going to be taking a look at the list I generated in this post, about how to renovate a school’s physical spaces to take on the challenges of 21st century learning.  My goal is to describe the purpose of 2-3 rooms in one possible configuration of a new school environment.

The three I’m going to look at today are practice spaces, theater spaces, and presentation spaces.

Let’s consider the third of these first:

Presentation Spaces

We teachers all know that you learn something much better if you teach and share it with others. But we also know if we let a teacher say, “my classroom” that there’s a tendency for the teacher to become a on-stage sage rather than a side-guide. So let’s have dedicated presentation spaces in our schools… renovated classrooms designed to accommodate more, and more comfortable chairs. There should be a whiteboard, a digital projector, and a Smartboard in these rooms, so that learners offering a presentation have tools to make presentations to the community. There should be video cameras, to record the presentation..

Older learners (former teachers) reserve the room to make their presentations. Younger learners (former 5th-12th graders) get blocks of time throughout their learning process where they must present to the community, to larger and larger audiences. The schedule is openly published, the transcripts are blogged and YouTubed (or its equivalent), and not only resident learners but the larger community (businesses and politicians alike) get to make use of the room.

Presentation rooms are staffed by a body of learners under the guidance of some older hands, who have to work out a duty schedule for manning the cameras and acting as master of ceremonies, moderating panel discussions, and editing and uploading the video feeds.

Theater Spaces

The second kind of space that schools are going to need more of, because they are going to be doing a lot more of this kind of work, are theater spaces.   Why are theaters going to be important in any new curriculum? You may ask.  Let’s think about what acting teaches:  it teaches emotional connection, first of all, or Empathy.  It teaches memorization of lines and small group dynamics.  It teaches history and history, through the use of costuming and set design.  It teaches language through dialogue and monologue.  It  It teaches a group how to cohere and work together to create a performance on deadline, through rehearsal and practice.  It teaches a theater company how to design sets, imagine costumes, and construct them.  It teaches people how to be artists.

Let’s consider what being part of a dance company teaches: it teaches coordinated movement, gracefulness, movement in rhythm, musical education, rhythmic education, preparation to deadlines, need for rehearsal and practice, and much of the same material as acting does.

Let’s consider what opera, or musical theater, teach: singing, dancing, community, deadlines, practice, practice, practice.  Again, design, creativity, communication, small group cohesion, forward thinking, practice, deadlines, marketing, interaction, scheduling,

Let’s think about what being in a musical group, like a chorus, rock band, orchestra or multi-voice performance poetry troupe entails.  Do I need to keep spelling this out?  design, creativity, communication, small group cohesion, forward thinking, practice, deadlines, marketing, interaction, scheduling.

Most of all, it’s an opportunity for students to exercise leadership.

Practice Spaces

With all these performances going on, schools are going to need to think about former classrooms as practice spaces, not as rote-directed learning spaces.  All of this is going to be nightmarish to schedule and plan, because some rooms are going to need pianos, and some are going to need digital keyboards, and all of them are going to need computers — for these arts organizations to plan and design on, to schedule their practices so they don’t interfere with other organizations’ practices, and so they can all see how much they still need to do before their next performance date.

Already, I think we can see that this school doesn’t look like any other school we currently know of.  It’s not a performing arts school, dedicated to performance — but it is a school built around the idea that there  needs to be an end product in mind, whether a night at the opera or a Shakespeare-in-the-Park or a staged reading of Under Milkwood. It’s going to involve reconnecting Mendelssohn, Moliere, Mötorhead and Motown to the experience of learning.

It’s also an open place.  It expects visitors, who come to attend performances and presentations.  And it expects that its students are going to go on the road quite frequently: to the electronics store for gear and parts and new projector bulbs; to the hardware and fabric stores for tools, supplies, and advice; to other schools to give previews and performances; and to attend the performances and presentations at other schools.

It’s not a school that believes in boundaries.  It’s a school that believes that kids can do great things.

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