Breaking the fourth wall

Have you heard the analogy in theater/television/video games for breaking the fourth wall? I was seeing people mention it on Twitter so I looked it up and here’s a glimpse:

Of course, you can keep going down the rabbit hole and find out about a fifth wall and how to break that down for your audience too. Either way, it got me thinking about engagement and feedback…

In many high school classes, lecture is a dominant instructional approach. I have some great lecturers in my school – they are well read, very knowledgable, prepared with notes and highlights that have been tweaked and refined for years. In many ways their lecture exists behind the forth wall. Like television or theatre, they “put on a show” for the learner to experience – but it isn’t inherently interactive for the learner. They are infrequently engaged in an interactive sense and aside from a little was nodding here and there they are hardly acknowledged in the lecture.

So, when a theatre production or even video games try to break the forth wall, they acknowledge the learner ask them to participate in some way and the leaner gets feedback of some kind. This is known as breaking the forth wall. From here on out, when I see kids listening to lecture or passively watching instruction I will be thinking of ways to break through and get them involved/interactive. Twitter is doing this with television shows when they do live tweeting events. Video games are truly forth wall destroyers (the user/learner has to make decisions, interacts, and it changes the experience.


So, how can a lecture break the forth wall? Here are some potential ideas.

Kagan structures offer a multitude of variations for the learner to interact process, and share ideas about the content (but this isn’t really interactive with the actor/lecturer UNLESS there is feedback or direct conversation).

Reflective response sheets/question points with different well designed questions can be integrated into the lecture. For example, could a lecture on the electoral college lend itself to some questions and a mini-simulation about voting? That is way more interactive.

A spin off of that could be to use a student response system (clickers) or just old school hand raising to ask questions about content along the way to determine if they need more content or more Q and A on the topic before moving on. This has to be more verification than asking, “Ok class, are we ready to move on?” The questions would have to be a bit more assessment based or diagnostic.

These are just some ideas to look at lectures and other instructional approaches (reading) that could benefit from breaking the forth wall.

How do YOU break the forth wall with your students?


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