Improvisational teaching as mode of knowing

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Despite first looking at improvisation and teaching as two opposite activities, I have presented the connection and even the interdependence of them both. Eisner and Schonmann provided the theoretical assumption that aesthetic and theatrical concepts can be used as modes of knowing for human formative activity, including education. Thus, I applied Sauter's theatrical-event methodology to a lesson in a classroom as an educational event to explore the formative tension between the permanent and the unstable in teaching. I briefly surveyed the definition of improvisation, its uses and purposes in the theater field, and then I presented, with examples, the principles of improvisation. I applied and analyzed, through the principles of improvisation, the teacher-student behavior in a drama lesson, and I explored the tension between planning and flexibility in the educational event. Sharon's teaching constructed a relationship by the adaptation and design options between herself and the environment around her. The accept-add, as a main principle, actually creates the dynamic between the two options in the relationship - the "acceptance" of the teacher of the class' materials is equivalent to the "adaptation" to the environment, whereas the "add" of teacher's materials is parallel to the "design" of the environment. The well-known elderly improvisation teacher Keith Johnstone describes three teachers from his childhood whom he analyzed through the techniques of improvisation. The first accepted the pupils' actions most of the time but did not add or try to involve the class. The second mostly demanded from the class that they adapt to him and did not consider the pupils' actions. The third teacher was flexible, moving between acceptance of the class to directing it. Hence, it is not surprising that Johnstone appreciates the third teacher and says that this teacher "was much loved" by the class because he "never punished but kept excellent discipline, while remaining very human. He would joke with us, and then impose a mysterious stillness. "21 Therefore, improvisation as theatrical mode provides constructed knowledge of teaching, especially in the surprising, challenging, and frequently problematic situations in the classroom. It shows that although teaching is a "serious business," this does not contradict the necessity of improvisation for the vitality and enjoyment of this significant activity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-113
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Aesthetic Education
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2011


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