Acting It Out in Literature Class

“This is not a passive program. In every class, the girls have a chance to move, engage, be creative, inside and outside.” -- Seana Dorich, Middle School English
Montrose Mavericks benefit from an education rooted in the core texts of the liberal arts—a program that starts in 6th grade. This fall, that has meant taking to the great outdoors in Mrs. Dorich’s Literature class, to act out the poem “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll and scenes from The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis. “Jabberwocky” is a nonsense poem, and, Dorich says, “it really brings out the girls’ playfulness.” The Magician’s Nephew is more serious and “brings out the girls’ flair for the dramatic.” It presents a heavy-hearted dilemma for the main character, Digory: should he set off to save his friend, Polly, who was sent into the unknown, or should he stay by his dying mother’s bedside? Dorich uses it as an example to teach about virtues, specifically which virtues each choice would demand of Digory. The 6th graders debate this question not once, but twice, and reflect on how their thinking is influenced by the points made by their classmates. Dorich works with them on the structure of their debates, as well as how to exercise restraint and courtesy with one another. “They really do enjoy speaking aloud,” she says. “It’s a fun way for them to express themselves.” 

Describing the process of acting things out, 6th grader Cara Knight says, “It definitely helps us collaborate. Reading the poem aloud and actually acting it out helps me visualize what is happening. If you’re someone who’s not used to performing on the stage, you can step out of your comfort zone. If you do like doing that, it’s definitely your chance to shine.”
 
Director of Middle School Rebecca Roberts gives context to this performative element of the Montrose curriculum: “Over the course of middle school, girls have the opportunity to engage with core texts in a variety of ways that are intended to support the development not only of critical thinking skills but also skills for listening, reflection and discussion— skills that can also help them as they build friendship with others here and beyond Montrose. Encountering characters through stories enables students to cultivate critical habits of heart, in particular, such as empathy: learning about the world from another's perspective and perhaps inhabiting that character through dramatic presentation or in a class discussion provides an understanding about an aspect of the world she may not have previously considered or understood. And these lessons can translate later to interactions with peers or the greater community.”

The culmination of 6th grade Literature class is a full dramatic performance of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Over the course of their time at Montrose, these students will experience a signature program: Seven Years of Shakespeare. What effect does this performance-based approach have on students’ work back in the classroom? Mrs. Dorich observes that it makes them more confident in their writing and more comfortable presenting their work to the class. Sharing their work on a regular basis is strategic, Dorich says, as it takes the stress out of it for the girls, while letting them enjoy and recognize each other’s work. A question she gets often: “Can we do the 'Jabberwocky' again?”

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