Improv and teaching

Posted in Teaching by Alex L. on January 20, 2010

An ancient Greek statue of the slave Pedagogue (Wikipedia)While browsing through blogs about history a few days ago, I read an interesting post on Pedablogue, a blog about the scholarship of teaching, titled, “Whose Class is it Anyway? Presentation on Improv”. The author, Michael Arnzen, has posted the presentation slides from a lecture he delivered about using improvisational acting in the classroom.

The presentation describes a strong case for shaking up the traditional formalism of a classroom by creating an environment where intellectual play by both students and teacher is encouraged. My best experiences as a student have been in classrooms where teachers have had a sense for the drama of the classroom.

There are many benefits to improv in the classroom, as Mr. Arnzen points out. One interesting point he made was that improv allows for a temporary suspension of status roles: if the teacher can playfully relinquish the power role in the improv atmosphere he creates, then the students feel more comfortable participating in class.

Mr. Arnzen does not address whether improv in the classroom would be a formal event that the teacher plans (“Tomorrow, we will be acting in class…”) or whether he meant continuous and unannounced intention on the part of the teacher to make his or her classroom a more intellectually playful environment. I think the mark of a good teacher is if he can perform the latter role well.

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