Spolin's Wisdom: The Fight for Creativity

Hooray--I'm back to blogging!  After performing in a ton of shows, muddling through STAR tests, etcetera, etcetera, I can sink back into writing about integrating improv into education.  Ahhhh....
I've been reading a bunch of fabulous work by inspirational theater folks: Augusto Boal, Neva Boyd, and Viola Spolin have been my recent teachers as I dig into their texts again and again.

I'm always reading and rereading ideas, theories and activities published by other coaches and educators.  Viola Spolin wrote the bible of Improv: Improvisation for the Theater.  While it's both dense and often overwhelming, this book offers new insights into learning, play, and drama integration every single time I pick it up.

I was thinking about classroom management related to integrating improv as I came across this passage in the "Understanding the Child" chapter:
"The teacher-director who forces set patterns of thinking and behavior (a 'right' or a 'wrong' way of doing things) on child actors is restricting them most severely; both the individual and the art for will suffer... If we remember that rote teaching...[is a summary] of another's findings, our students can then grow and unfold in a free atmosphere.
Today more than ever before we are faced with the need for developing crating and original thought--in the sciences as well as in the arts."

While I have often spoken out against curricular pacing guides, formulaic "learning" and calls for robotic "teaching", I haven't often thought of classroom management and academic expectations in the above terms.  Although Spolin is referring to the young child's rigid view of "right" and "wrong" in staging (e.g. Never turn your back on the audience), neither should this rigidity exist for the teacher in a classroom in which risk-taking and innovation are valued. 

Rather than telling a group of learners and players to "speak up", a coach/teacher can show them that "the audience needs to hear your voice" through play and imagining.  Instead of constantly admonishing students and expressing our frustration with disruptive behaviors, we can find ways to explore these issues with the class.  We can demonstrate these challenges through discussions of what works in told/read stories and plays, and then we can make the connection to learning in a classroom context.  Through these explorations, we can discuss volume, commitment, characterization, side-conversations, and calling out (upstaging a fellow player).

At the same time, maybe these kids have got something right.  Maybe a dinner scene doesn't always have to involve "cheating out", and perhaps the kinesthetic or vocal or playful students really CAN learn and communicate in ways that are quite different from our narrow "sit in your chair and be quiet" set of expectations.  As a teacher, if I take the time to take a deep breath and give the students the space to show me a different way, if I accept that maybe I don't really know everything and that perhaps my assumed rules need to be tossed aside, I may be delighted by the new road upon which I can travel with my students.  And isn't that sense of delight what keeps us going--as teachers, as professionals, as members of this class community?

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