An Energized Classroom through Interactive Structures

This week I am away on an offline vacation. Rather than let the blog be dormant or rerunning old posts I decided to give some other people a chance to share their experiences and ideas with you. I hope you enjoy the posts.

any passionate educator would say the teaching practice is one of trial
and error, success and failure.  I am no different. Whatever hasn’t
worked in our classroom, the students and I have simply altered,
enhanced, or sometimes completely overhauled.  Quitting is not an
option.  We collectively supply the energy needed to create a
collaborative and engaging atmosphere of shared knowledge.  To allude to
a favorite baseball great, we “Pete Rose” any challenges in our AP
Language or American Literature classes by diving in headfirst and
supplying a zest for learning that is clearly palpable in our classroom.
 The great
Ralph Waldo Emerson,
who once stated “The world belongs to the energetic,” would surely
agree.  In essence, our students transcend selfishness, boredom,
narrow-mindedness, and unoriginality by embracing an academic setting
that demands participation. 

           Even with the success of our project-based assignments and
some traditional teaching methods, the most tested and highly effective
solution for creating this active environment is our implementation of
learning structures.  The students and I totally create them ourselves.
 With names like “Stage Fright,” “Recording Artists,” “Force Field,” and
“Six-Shooter Firing Squad,” these organized but spontaneous designs
have been the foundation of our success in
Studio 113, an interactive Language Arts classroom that houses a basic recording studio, a hexagonal, raised stage, green screens, a smartboard, and a secondary room for digital production. 
           One of our top ten structures is one verbosely named “Flip Forum, Unaware Speaker, and Silent Discussion.”
At first, it may not appear overly exciting, but the students’ feedback
reveals a clearer vision. Actually a conglomeration of three
mini-structures, the design is highly effective.  First off, the
students are placed in one of four teams that will eventually
through four structured areas.  Stations A & B, circled around our
stage in the middle of the room, constitute the “Flip Forum” discussion,
where students analyze and discuss the assigned literature by sharing
their original ideas, flipping over their assigned numbers located in
front of them on stage, and then calling on classmates to continue the
thread.  A continual backchannel via
is viewable on a drop-down screen, and students are also encouraged to
enlarge the discussion audience by using Apple’s Facetime or by simply
switching to “speaker” on their cell phones.  There is nothing quite
like having a student’s mother offer her opinion in real time.
 Obviously, I remind the students a few days before to prepare any
outside audience members with a tentative schedule for our “Flip Forum”
discussion.  If communication on the assigned prompts needs to be
Voicethread is embedded on my webpage for afterschool continuation, or students can use Posterous to send in their video-recorded opinions to our class blog.  

           Station C, “Unaware Speaker,” invites the students to record
a team member to speak to the assigned prompt while pretending to be
oblivious to the symbolic and silent acting performed behind him.  One
particular student, acting as the camera man, will frame the video with
the acting appearing directly over the speaker’s shoulder.  Students can
choose to share camera, speaking, and acting responsibilities in this
station.  All videos may be later mashed-up into an original video in a
style determined by the class after completing all rotations.  Ideas
range from movie trailers to newscasts to
music videos to any original and appropriate student proposals.   

           Finally, Station D is one that adds a bit of serenity to the
bustling learning environment.  The “Silent Discussion” asks students
to explore the prompt by contributing in a
TodaysMeet chatroom or by using a Twitter
hashtag.  Of course, I follow along on my iPad or laptop as I stroll
through the stations and observe the students sharing knowledge in a
variety of ways. 

           A few educators in my PLN question the effectiveness of the
“Flip Forum, Unaware Speaker, and Silent Discussion” in their classrooms
due to a perceived lack of technology.  That may very well be the case.
 As I have witnessed so many times, students are eager to share tech
gadgets, knowledge, and ideas to circumvent any problem caused by
technology or the lack thereof.  However, no worries.  I have used this
exact same structure with Post-It notes, dry-erase boards, rolls of
bulletin board paper, rotational manila folders, etc.  Whether it’s old
school or tech-integrated, the students are encouraged to express their
original ideas.    

           But the next structure I want to share with you is way too simple, yet it’s extremely effective.  In fact, the “Wax Museum” structure comes with a warning.  Although no technology is required, the energy level in the class will
skyrocket the moment the students understand the level of freedom
allowed to create a motionless, symbolic “wax” statue that successfully
addresses the assigned prompt.  Here’s how it goes.  1. Students are
instructed to use any appropriate items in their possession and any
within the classroom (or my storage closet of tech gadgets and props for
that matter) 2. While focusing on the prompt at hand, students should
plan a “wax” statue that will be held without movement for up to five
minutes or more.  3. Students are given roughly 15-20 minutes to discuss
and prepare the assignment.  4. Once all teams are ready, students are
instructed to hold their positions quietly and as perfectly still as
possible while I record their creations with a video camera.  5. Lastly,
the students continue to hold their positions while one or more team
members explain their rationale while only moving their lips.  Simply
put…students love it.  

           Honestly, I am not sure if Mr. Emerson’s quotation stands true for our class.  After all, our energetic students in Studio 113 may not actually own
the world after an invigorating class, but there is one certainty: I
can guarantee you they will share their classroom of knowledge and
creativity through engaging structures, project-based learning, and
forward thinking.  That’s all I ask.  

Hardison is a facilitator of learning in an interactive classroom
called Studio 113 at East High School in Gainesville, GA where
literature creatively comes to life on a stage with students as the
stars. In the past 14 years at East Hall High School, Hardison has
taught AP Language, American Literature, World Literature, and Applied
Communications. Through original learning structures and a shared
classroom concept, students are inspired to connect literature with
their own talents and interests. Follow John on Twitter @JohnHardison1
and his class @Studio113_EHHS.  Hardison blogs monthly for and shares his interactive structures in workshops at local technology conferences.
Blogs from
The Structure Factory Blog
John Hardison’s Studio 113 Webpage


Thank You Readers for 14 Amazing Years!