Controlled Chaos: Freestyle Theory in the Classroom

Teachers often over-plan, teachers often under-plan. Either way, planning can often be a major source of anxiety.

Negotiating this can be difficult, but it’s clear that the ethos behind freestyling can help find a path.

In hiphop, the freestyle is an off-the-cuff, in-the-moment stream of lyricism, unprepared and delivered in real time. Because they are completely live, freestyles are an ultimate test in ingenuity and  mental dexterity, requiring a rapper to produce coherent rhymes, edit them in real time and display lyrical skill with the constant threat of slipping up.

As so with lessons.

For me, even ‘well-planned’ lessons require an element of freestyling, as you need to live in the moment and react to fluctuations in the ‘beat’ of the classroom. The completely improvised lesson (which, by the way, I would NOT recommend) is a far riskier variation of this, in which you are improvising the content as well as the structure.

Recently, I found myself living in freestyle mode in a classroom context, riding that delicate wave between control and chaos. Let me explain…

Case in point

The idea was that I would give the kids the chance to complete an active reading mini project, independently, selecting from a range of tasks as outlined below:

activetasks

The basic premise was simple. We read through the tasks and everyone chose three that they might work on. Then, I asked them to produce a first draft.

This is where it got messy.

My teacher instincts were to give some kind of structure and scaffold each activity, but with such a range of tasks on the boil I couldn’t feasibly do this. With the panic rising and the realisation that these kids might end up doodling around doing nothing much for two lessons, I decided to embrace the chaos.

 

 

First, I got one of the kids to audit the class and find out what they were working on. Then we had a quick standing meeting talking through our initial plans and finding any groups that could work together. Freestyle analogy: Finding the rhythm.

After this, took the largest group (and sat them down to come up with a plan for developing a script). A quick search through some existing content from another unit, backed up by a google search for Top Tips, led to this:

WP_20140704_011

 

With this group up and running, I could focus my attention on three students who had all decided to interview a character from ‘Inside My Head’ (No, I haven’t read it either. After a quick chat, it was apparent that they hadn’t yet thought about the character’s personality, or which questions to ask, or how to structure their writing, or anything at all really.  Which was fine, but they needed some help.

So, back to my resources and I drummed up some character creation prompts from a year 8 unit on Macbeth to give them a headstart:

WP_20140704_012

 

Meanwhile, one student (one of most able in the class) had undertaken the task of writing a song about Romeo and Juliet. She was quietly engrossed in her lyrics, drawing on prior knowledge of the play. I steered her in the direction of a novelisation of the play in the school library, which she promptly went to get. While away, I printed off a section of my own analysis of Act 1 Scene 4 from this very blog, ready to discuss with her on return.

 

Meanwhile, I’d forgotten about a pair of students working together on dramatising a scene from a book they had both read. They were hunched over, conspiratorially, whispering over esoteric scribbles. Upon investigation, it turned out that they were developing a fairly intense screenplay of their chosen scene, but they hadn’t yet interrogated the motivation of the characters. So, I told them to and went off to check another group.

About 10 minutes later, the whispering pair of screenplay writers approached me with this:

WP_20140704_014

 

A colour coded diagram plotting emotions and screen time. Genius.

Of course, I stopped all the other screenplay writers and got the pair to explain this to them all, which they did, effectively taking on the role of teacher.

And so on.

 

Now, the point of all of this is that I found myself, in this lesson, completely in flow. By responding and reacting to the students and their shifting needs, I was required to use my expertise in as pragmatic a way as possible. And there’s no plan for this. It was all live, energetic, purposeful and thus rewarding.

So, ever had a freestyle moment in a lesson? Let me know,

Yours, in teaching,

-Unseen Flirtations

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