Today was a phenomenal day with my German I class that just organically evolved. I based it on a Matava story script that contained the phrases “got a ticket” “goes to court” and “believes him/her”, but the way the class worked out we didn’t so much do a story as a live-action role play.
It started out on PQA, when talking about giving a ticket, I played the role of policeman and started telling the class about a student’s transgressions: Tina, you drove too fast by the elementary school. How fast did you go? Bob, you were texting while driving. How much should I fine him? Larry was bad. Class why was Larry bad? (It turns out he was a Justin Bieber fan.)
Then we set up a kangaroo court with me as the prosecutor, another student as judge, and the various perpetrators who were allowed to defend themselves. I quickly established myself as a corrupt official by planting evidence (writing “Baby Baby” in the Bieberfan’s notebook), calling Larry’s sister (who happens to be in the class) as a witness that he sings Bieber songs in the shower, and putting it before the judge. Larry surprised me by giving a great defense speech in German that he has no Justin Bieber songs on his iPod. The judge had two mini-whiteboards that read “Guilty” and “Innocent” and pronounced judgement all day long. (The accused Bieberfan was pronounced guilty and given a $1000 reward; the judge happened to be the biggest Justin Bieber addict in the school).
All in all it was a fun day, but a lot of my time afterwards was spent trying to figure out what made it work so well. I mean, we all have home run days, but sometimes trying to replicate them can really be an elusive process. I think what really made this work is that the social roles involved were so clearly defined: judge, defendant, policeman, etc. that everybody knew what type of behavior to do once they were slotted into a certain role. I was dumbfounded at how well one student who I was accusing of speeding turned the tables on me in court by explaining to the judge that he racing on a racetrack, and that the ticket was invalid. I apologized, but was subsequently fined by the court to do a dance. I mean, I know high schoolers are past masters at making excuses, but on the spot in German is something else altogether.
So really, what we’re creating is not so much a bunch of skits, but a bunch of roles in which the social expectations are defined so well that they become resources for creativity. Creativity occurs by manipulating pre-existing building blocks of socialized expectations, not by coming up with something out of the blue. Today worked so well because the roles were socially so well defined that they could be slid on and off like a jacket, with the students job to simply embroider their own embellishes on their various assigned jackets.
Anyways, I find myself moving away from traditional stories to more of this “sandbox” mentality. We create a little world with the phrases, set up a situation, loosely define expectations and then see how the situations play out. I can still use the pre-written script to organize the messiness of our play into a story for the reading day if we need it, but mostly we just play in our sandbox, then sit back and marvel at our handiwork.