Monday, March 3, 2008

Keith Sawyer refreshes the stale metaphor of the classroom as performance by tweaking that metaphor to conceive of the classroom as improvisational performance. Adding the element of improv, not just to the teacher's plan (or lack thereof) but also to the model of interaction between teacher and students, accommodates social construction and dialogism.

And the improvisational performance metaphor works, not just as a way to talk about what teacher's and students do in the classroom, but also as a way to construct lesson plans and as a general guide to one's teaching practices. I find Sawyer's discussion particularly convincing when he talks about the classroom conversation as a sort of improvisational performance in which both students and teachers participate. Why do I find this convincing? Well, because it mirrors experiences I have had in classes--and those experiences were among the most rewarding I have had as a student. I think that improvisation and collaboration are what make writing workshops so fun (and instructive), and it's no accident that peer groups (a common technique used in composition courses at HSU) are reminiscent of the creative writing workshops I have attended.

As Sawyer warns, the skills needed to effectively lead an improvisational classroom may not come automatically to the beginning teacher. As I look ahead to teaching my own classes, I only hope that I can learn to be as effective an improviser as some of my past teachers. And I think it's important to keep in mind that for even the most gifted and experienced teacher, improv can go awry, just as it can for the stand-up comic who, after a series of jokes that have the audience in stitches, suddenly loses his place, or delivers a punchline that falls flat. The trick, it seems to me, is knowing how to recover from errors, because as human beings we're always going to make mistakes. Skill lies in the recovery as much as in the performancea.

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