February 29, 2008

Disciplined Improvisation

A Few Weeks Off Topic ~
On the way home Public Radio International's radio program The World played a few songs from
Vinícius Cantuária's new solo album. Cantuaria reminds me of satura because he grew up in Rio (where bossa nova comes from), and he incorporates frevo, a wide range of musical styles from Northern Brazil, which is also associated with Brazilian Carnival ("frevo," Wikipedia). Now that Cantuaria lives in New York, there is ever more blending of sounds -- even his homepage picture whispers satura.

Another semi off-topic topic: The kids in this video are amazing lindy hoppers. At 3:45 (minutes:seconds) one of the couples does a remarkable flip.

Back to Sawyer: A General Overview
R. Keith Sawyer explores the differences between scripted instruction and disciplined improvisational instruction in his Educational Researcher article titled, "Creative Teaching: Collaborative Discussion as Disciplined Improvisation" (33: 2: 12-20). The resurgent teacher-proofing method requires that teachers essentially read their lesson from a predesigned lesson, one that does not account for students' individuality, which critics say "emphasizes lower-order skills" easily measured by standardized tests (12). Ugh. On the other hand, an improvisational performance method requires that the teacher work hard to retain students' attention with teacher-centered concentration and awareness.
At the bottom of page 12, Sawyer has a good point when he argues that "creative teaching is better conceived of as improvisational performance" because the performance metaphor alone "reduce[s] teaching to an individualistic focus on the teacher as an actor."

Sawyer In Practice:
As an undergrad at CSU Fullerton, a new PhD taught one of my literature survey classes. Before discussions, she presented biographical information on the author, the presentation of which was more scripted but not read as a script. Once we got into the discussion of the literary piece, she started us off with a question about the work, but she let us take the discussion in any direction we found interesting and pertinent. If we asked her a question that she did not know or made a statement that she was unfamiliar with, she either said, "I have not thought of it that way," or she said "I don't know the answer to that; let's research it for next time and see what we come up with." This professor, new though she was, held a great deal of skill in balancing the script with the performance, and she managed to maintain a fairly student-centered class. I think of her often when planning my classes.

As a graduate student at Humboldt State, I feel as though both Kathleen Doty and David Stacey give directional assignments, yet they allow the class to explore the ideas or passages which are most important to the students. I will not elaborate more than that other than to say I appreciate different styles of teaching that are still able to maintain a reasonably student-centered focus.

I have had the good fortune experience classrooms devoted to constructive and disciplined improvisation, presented by professors who understand the delicate balance between scripted instruction and improv-appropriate settings and guiding structures. I strive to emulate their skills.

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