In 7th grade English, we are currently reading Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. In order to understand the way many children like Alice lived at the time the book was written in the late 1800s, we took a trip back in time by reenacting a Victorian-era classroom. Students adhered to the classroom rules that were expected in those days, and found them to be just a little different than our modern classroom!
In a Victorian classroom students must:
- Enter the class in silence, in neat lines, and stand by their desk until the teacher grants them permission to sit.
- Greet their teacher with "Good morning, Miss," said in unison.
- Sit at their desks with hands properly folded, in view, and with straight backs.
- Stand when reciting or answering questions.
- Use cursive in all writing.
...and students must not:
- Put their hands up until told to do so.
- Ask questions.
- Speak until spoken to.
We prepared the students by going over pictures of Victorian classes from the era, reviewing the protocol for how our classroom would run, and how we would transform our behavior as teachers and students. We then gathered outside the classroom and began the scenario by entering properly!
For 20 minutes, the class worked on the traditional three R's: Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic. They wrote, in cursive, "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you" as many times as they could to practice handwriting, recited the poem "How Doth the Little Busy Bee" to be reminded of the value of work, were quizzed to recite the multiplication times tables as quickly as possible and did the oral spelling of vocabulary words spelling-bee style. The tone was very strict, adhering to the old notion that children were simply a group of empty vessels for knowledge without regard for the innate abilities or capabilities of individuals.
Since we had prepared to enter this old-time world beforehand, students were ready the strict interaction and all participated fully. Many loved the experience of having a trip back in time with different rules and discipline. Many students thought that it would be too much to sit straight for so long without being allowed to talk or laugh or ask questions, but several also thought that they might get more work done in that kind of classroom. Everyone appreciated that Alice in the book might be very happy to be in Wonderland after such "proper" and serious experiences at school!
Our experiment in a Victorian classroom opened up the world of Alice and Lewis Carroll to an actual, experiential understanding of the world in which the book is set and which it explicitly parodies. And it was really fun!
Middle School English & Drama Teacher
- middle school