Sunday, March 2, 2008

Sawyer's Down with the Improv

Sawyer’s argument that “creative teaching is better conceived of as improvisational performance” is well taken. I agree that teachers and students need a space for improvisation inside the classroom. Not only is scripted teacher-proof curricula killing the motivation of everyone in education but it’s also keeping healthy, vibrant, and creative prospective teachers out of the classroom. I have witnessed firsthand the color drain out of teachers’ faces when they hear they will be teaching High Point (a direct instruction language arts program). No one wants his or her qualifications questioned. As Sawyer recognizes, teachers think of themselves as professionals but are increasingly being treated as clerical workers. What I found even more disheartening and angering was the quote by a Direct Instruction advocate that, “the reality is that we draw our teachers from the bottom quartile of our colleges” (18). This seems to me to be an excuse Direct Instruction advocates are using to better handle the controversy surrounding the need to implement such a constrictive form of instruction.
Sawyer isn’t advocating for a structureless classroom but rather a classroom that uses the best attributes of improvisation within a logical framework. “Several researchers have noted that the most effective classroom interaction balances structure and script with flexibility and improvisation” (13). Improvisation is the best of both worlds because it allows teachers and students to work and learn cooperatively and to be creative without completely losing sight of the curriculum or goals of the course. What I find particularly positive about an improvisational approach is its ability to create true shared learning. The students, with the assistance of the teacher, can formulate their own understanding in a shared learning environment.
The big question that Sawyer poses and one that seems to have already been answered in many school districts is: “Should we improve schools by investing in scripted curricula – a capital intensive approach – or by investing in teacher training and professional development, a labor-intensive approach?” (17).
I, for one, buy into the worth of our teachers as competent human beings. I believe teachers have a right to learn how to be creative and improvise in their classrooms. After all, once we take away the right to invent ourselves in the classroom, what is left?

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