A student’s reflection recently illustrated how performance of understanding can emerge as a conceptual dialog between teacher and student.
In this Arts inquiry, the Key concept is creativity and the Related concepts are expression, boundaries, narratives. The unit’s Global context is Identities and relationships, framing the learning around building expressive skills for performance, requiring the actor to discover his center, his essence and thus supporting a better understanding of self. In studies of drama performance, the ensemble requires that the actor ‘give up’ their identity to the ‘group’ when working together. The fostering of relationships in the ensemble is of paramount importance. The lesson focus was to introduce the concept of neutrality through use of the neutral mask (see Jacques Lecoq, The Moving Body, Routledge, NY, 2001), with the objectives to develop expressive skills for performance, increase awareness of how actors use their bodies and gesture not just voice, to communicate (Whitaker, personal communication, November 20, 2014).
The specific inquiry in the series of lessons using the neutrality mask was to investigate the tools of the actor preparing for performance (voice, body, mind, imagination). The student, Gavin Liu writes, “Putting on the neutral mask puts the actor in a state of “neutrality” when acting. A neutral mask is a mask that everyone wears to hide emotions on the face, and it requires the actor to use their body to convey the emotions. In the past classes, we have been wearing these neutral masks and practicing conveying emotions with the boundaries of not being able to express our emotions through our faces but through body movement.”
The teacher intended for the neutral mask to be ” the start of a journey. It produces a physical sensation of calm. The neutral mask opens up the actor to the space around them, creates a state of discovery” (Whitaker, personal communication, November 20, 2014). Dialog in the class revolved around the intention to form conceptualizations of creativity, neutrality, boundaries, and expression.
The students used two exercises with the neutral mask. Gavin describes one of the exercises, “Farewell to the boat.” “Farewell to the Boat” allowed us to express our emotions using only our body, without any narrations to the audience of how we felt when a friend leaves on the boat. Personally I found it really challenging because I speak a lot at school and having that boundary really challenged me to explore what I might express with my body. It used more creativity because we have to act like being water using the neutral mask. It adds more challenge to the activity and there is no right or wrong answer because anyone can interpret water differently, making it very creative (Gavin Liu, reflection).
The teacher reflects, “When students shared responses, what emerged was a sense of freshness, of new beginnings. The mask creates balance, calm and economy of movement, which the teacher will use as a point of reference for later work with expressive (Commedia) masks” (Whitaker, personal communication, November 20, 2014).
The depth at which the student experiences conceptual understanding emerges in the reflective dialog with the teacher. In Gavin’s reflection, he writes, “The reason we are doing these activities is that it is essential not to only rely on your facial expression to show emotions, sometimes you have to rely on your body to show those emotions when your face can’t. Therefore, having a neutral mask can explore creative aspects of our body because we are forced by these boundaries to think creatively more than usual.”
Gavin has achieved concept attainment in the few lessons at the onset of the unit, underpinning the importance of discovery through learning engagements designed to engage students in internal and interpersonal dialog and active inquiry into the concepts.
The depth of Gavin’s understanding emerges in this dialog. He writes, “This has helped me realize that sometimes there are things in life where there are boundaries that we can’t change. We have to work with what we have and try to convey the same intention we wanted to convey without the boundary. This helps me focus on what is most important, which is to convince the audience without saying a word and be creative about how to convince them into believing what you really believe.”
A valuable lesson suggested here is the student’s opportunity for metacognition and transfer, which were facilitated by the conceptual design of the lesson.
Thanks to Gavin Liu, Concordian MYP 4, for permission to use his reflection in this blog post and to Clynt Whitaker for permission to study his lesson design!