Studying Shakespeare as a Community

Lolding/ July 3, 2020/ English, LDRS 663/ 0 comments

According to Garrison et al. (2000), “a worthwhile educational experience is embedded within a Community of Inquiry that is composed of teachers and students … [and] assumes that learning occurs within the Community through the interaction of … three essential elements: cognitive presence, social presence, and teaching presence” (p. 2). A learning experience that comes to mind where all three elements were present is an English 11 lesson that I taught a number of years ago; it was during our study of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. For this particular lesson, students needed to work together to design a mini-stage out of a shoe box and use small pieces (e.g. coin, lego, etc.) to act out what was going on in a specific scene.

This lesson demonstrated the cognitive presence in that students had to “search for information, knowledge and alternatives that might help to make sense of the situation or problem” by using Shakespeare’s language to discover clues about the staging directions while also using some best guesses to make sense of a sometimes complex text (Garrison et al., 2000, p. 98). As they worked together, they created a final product by “integrating the information and knowledge into a coherent idea or concept” that represented their interpretation of what the scene would look like for an audience at the theatre (Garrison et al., 2000, pg. 98). Each student needed to think critically about the text and the information being communicated through Shakespeare’s words, and then make choices that were applied to the final staging of the scene.

This lesson also demonstrated social presence as students worked together to solve a problem and create a final product of which they could be proud. I’ll never forget the laughter and volume in the room as students quoted Shakespeare and discussed the meaning of various lines. The small group of 3-4 students worked together as a community while they navigated discussions and decision making by recognizing each others’ contributions and communicating their ideas.

Finally, this lesson demonstrated teaching presence in a number of different ways. To begin, I selected the activity, determined the timeline, and provided the assessment rubric. In addition, I needed to redirect students if they became distracted and were not on task during class work time. There were also times when direct instruction was required due to the complexity of the text. On occasion, students struggled to come to a consensus and needed assistance with problem solving and conflict resolution. Finally, I assessed student’s presentations and provided feedback about their choices.

In my opinion, all three presences were demonstrated fairly equally. I don’t believe this lesson would have been successful if any presence was left out completely. However, the teaching presence is probably the least important to me in this example. My main goal was for the students to interact with Shakespeare’s words in a way that would bring understanding and a realization that Shakespeare is meant to be performed, not merely read. Without the cognitive and social presences, these goals would have been unattainable.

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2, 87-105. doi:10.1016/S1096-7516(00)00016-6

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