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Tableau Installations: Kinesthetic Literature

Movement can't be underrated in the classroom and creating art using one's body is a thoughtful and creative way to get kids to work cooperatively while analyzing literature.

Tableaux are motionless figures creating a snapshot of a scene. Like pausing a movie and capturing the still moment, using tableaux in literature discussion in a way to convey meaning and emotion through body language without words.

In the past, I've had kids write skits (we do this all the time) or jigsaw the text or have a student-led discussion or Socratic seminars, but this time I wanted to push harder. Challenge students by taking away their words and forcing them to emote their understanding of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

9 topic discussions ranging from novel themes to historical portrayals were cut up into pieces for students to select. The students who selected the same topic were in the same group (I'm always looking for creative ways to group my AP students - not always just be level or strength or weakness, but sometimes, just to mix them up to work with folks that aren't their friends).

Once in their groups, students had to discuss their random topic. Which scenes and ideas came to their mind first to communicate an answer to the prompt?

Each group then had to determine a series of tableaux to create an installation that shows their analysis of the text based on their discussion topic. Students have 2 days in class to prepare, using class time to brainstorm, establish positioning for each tableau and confer with the teacher.

This assignment coupled with two earlier assignments done in class is meant to support the completion of an independent synthesis assignment being done by students outside of class that shows the depth of their understanding of the novel as well as their growth as writers and thinkers.

The Performance

Students work together to perform the meaning of their installation, while the rest of the class watches keenly to discover the meaning of what they see. They are encouraged to develop questions of the group presenting that will launch into a class discussion of the text. Through this discourse students are engaging with the text on multiple levels, synthesizing understanding while developing context and critically thinking about the author's craft and intention.

Rather than have a teacher-led discussion with pre-determined questions and answers, it is more meaningful to allow for an open-ended exploration of the text. Keeping the text alive for students as it pertains to them and for the teacher who has taught the novel numerous times is exciting. New ideas and concepts get discussed each time keeping a "classic novel" relevant.

Learning is a full-body experience and when we can incorporate movement in projects, we are allowing students to express themselves in different ways. Sometimes forcing them out of comfort and encouraging greater relationships with their understanding of texts and their classmates.

How do you get students to use their whole bodies in their learning? Please share

*This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog Work in Progress in Feb of 2015

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1 Comment

Unknown member
Feb 11, 2020

Wow! This is interesting. Did students understand Tableux? How much prep was required before you tried it?

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