Manual: Architecture

Classroom Architecture

The proscenium stage is the usual architecture for a classroom with the teacher standing above and in front of the student audience.  This encourages passivity and receptivity.  Most students are simply watching the show. As specific activities vary, modify the social environment with changes in the design of classroom features.

For each of the titles and descriptive detail that follows consider how you might set up your classroom to enhance the activity.

The Proscenium Stage
The standard classroom focuses attention on the presenter, usually the teacher.  Alternatives include having students or guest speakers present.  The board or screen can be replaced with video or slideshows or PowerPoint presentations or more modern possibilities for integrated projected images to highlight or connect ideas in the presentation.  Students can also present.  Their familiarity with modern devices can enhance their offerings dramatically.  [In my To Hell and Back course students had the opportunity to define Hell as they saw it and understood it.]
War Games
Serves for competitions, perhaps with teacher as game show host or scorer.  It can also be used for verbal sparring of some kinds.
A variation on war games, really, is the debate configuration with teacher as moderator of a formal dispute or value clarification. Going from debater to partial consensus is a difficult but valuable process.  
Ideal for peer editing, tutoring or two-person exercises like lab partners or mirror games in an acting class. 
Small Groups
Alternatives allow groups to designate a speaker to present to all. An easel holding large newsprint sheets, offers mobility for easy shifting of the visual aid,. Modern alternatives would allow each group’s text to be easily projected for whole class viewing.
Critics Circle
The group circle allows the teacher to become a member of the class (perhaps for lit discussions), a process facilitator or moderator.  The educator can also present by moving inside the circle, then change roles by sitting down.
Variation: allow a smaller circle to be viewed by a larger one, whose members might be asked to comment on what they saw.
For large classes concentric circles are sometimes necessary.  You might consider spacing carefully so that persons in the larger circle are not lost in the discussions.
Three Quarters Round
A variation on the arena stage allows smooth transition between presentation and group discussion.  Note that students should be encouraged to address the whole group and not simply dialog with the teacher.  Educators can encourage this by NOT looking at student speakers directly.   
Isolation Variation
Moving desks so that they face the wall offers a sense of solitary time for writing and (by turning chairs around) a quick transition to the circle with unusually large presentation space in the middle.  

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