Performance and Play in the Classroom 

Ending Great Works classes with a series of collaborative performances by students has been by far better than any literature review session. Students use props, digital media, and theater to create some excellent revisions and re-imaginings of the texts. These photos from my classes at Baruch from 2010-2015. Permission granted by the amazing students who participated in performances. (Note also that these classes all met at 8am!)

In this process of play, performance and remaking of ancient to medieval texts, a kind of level playing field is created. There is here in these classrooms a celebration of the CUNY experience and no student remains in the shadows of the boldest speaker.

International students and immigrant students become most valuable because in this Great Works of Literature course they bring languages, cultural experiences, and skills that enrich the text. So the class, in the act of listening to each other and participating, dig deeper into the text.

The small group work builds over the time of the course of the semester and builds in level of problem solving. The groups present and perform in front of each other biweekly and eventually develop into solid teams of students who work the best with each other. Team members are switched throughout the semester so that all classmates work with each other at least once. Then students choose their own final presentation group based on compatibility and preference for text.

Students have told me that they have made friends by the end of the semester. In a commuter school, group building projects are so important to create networks and friendships that last outside of the classroom. I do not mind being called a friend-matcher!

Most importantly they develop communication skills, critical reading skills, and a foundational texts across cultures. Texts include: The Popol Vuh, The Epic of Sunjata, Beowulf, Gilgamesh, The Ramayana by Valmiki, The Jataka Tales, The Odyssey, Medea, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, The Shahnameh by Ferdowsi, The Tale of Genji, and Monkey’s Journey to the West.

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