Two best features in my high-tech classroom: configurable tables and the dry-erase wall.

I’ve already blogged about the awesome modular tables. Now I’ll talk about the whiteboard wall.

This morning I wanted to help my students understand why, in Oedipus Rex, the characters say things like  “I wonder when Creon will get here. Look, there he is. I can see from his face that he’s got an answer from the Oracle. Pretty soon he’ll be close enough that we can talk to him. Tum te tum. La de da. Hello, there, Creon!”

There are, of course, photos and 3D models on the internet, but that front wall was empty and white and inviting. Rather than interrupt the flow of the discussion, pull down the screen, turn on the computer and projector, log in and Google for just the right image to illustrate my point, I uncapped a marker and started sketching.

The reason the characters talk so much about who enters and who leaves is in part because the Greek stage was huge, and it took the actor some time to walk from the wings (where he could be seen, and where the mask he wore could convey to the audience some sense of his character) to the center of the stage, where the acoustics were designed to amplify the actor’s voice so the crowd could hear him.

After I sketched enough of a Greek theater to make my point, I went on to fill in more details, and labels and arrows and vocabulary terms and etymologies and pronunciations. It was great fun.

Half of the class had already read and studied Oedipus Rex in high school, but they seemed to enjoy revisiting it. Usually I teach Oedipus Rex in the beginning of a drama survey course, but this time I shifted things around, and we’re doing it in week 6. My feeling was that understanding Greek drama requires quite a bit of background knowledge, and if it’s the first full-length play I assign, well, that doesn’t always set the right tone at the beginning of a 200-level course with no prerequisites. By saving it for the middle of term, I gave students more time to acclimate themselves to interpreting literature and close-reading scripts.

I wish I had thought to take a picture before I erased the wall.

English literature is such a textually-focused discipline, but a drama class really frees me to make points in other ways, such as delivering the same a monologue from Doctor Faust with a slant to influence the audience’s opinion in different ways, or performing the “You Must Pay the Rent” skit as part of a lecture on melodrama. If I can get the whole class talking to and listening to each other as eagerly as I got them to listen to me today, then I’ll feel I’ve taken the class to the next level.

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