"The free play of art is the result of mastery. " --Ernst Fischer, The Necessity of Art

"Children are likely to live up to what you believe of them." --Ladybird Johnson

"...a well-trained ear, a well-trained intelligence, a well-trained heart, and a well-trained hand...." --Zoltan Kodaly


Winging it? or Improvising?

Had an interesting discussion today with my Principal. This was during a discussion I initiated, about changes I've made in my teaching, in response to having my classroom space displaced this year.

Me Well, I actually got the idea from a friend of mine who's worked in both theater and dance. He suggested I try teaching some of my classes by improvising. The results have been pretty astonishing.

Mark* Can you tell me what you see as the difference between improvising and what some teachers call 'winging it'?

Me "Winging it" generally indicates a lack of thought or planning--more like coming in and saying, "Oh, dear, I don't have a plan. Guess I'll just do whatever I can think of, to keep the kids busy." Right?

Mark* Usually.

Me Improvising operates under completely different parameters. I've been learning how to take solos while playing jazz. It involves knowing appropriate scales, chords and arpeggios, likely rhythm patterns, what your audience composition is, what the cultural references are for the style of music, and remaining aware of what the other musicians are doing.
Most importantly, it involves intent listening and focus--responding to things happening right now, while listening on many levels.

Mark* Right. Working within the style of the music.

Me Exactly. The same is true for improvising while teaching: I have a clear idea of where my parameters are, and what the goal is. I listen carefully to where the children are--how they're responding--and shape my teaching throughout the class, to interact with them in a way that draws out their best effort, and also involves all of us in the active process of learning.

Mark* So you teach without a plan?

Me The plan is to not have a plan. The plan is to know exactly what I'd like the children to be able to learn and to do as a result of being in class that day, and to use materials, pacing and activities to accomplish that--tailoring it to fit the 'music of our learning' as we go along.

Mark* I see. Have you seen any benefits to this style of teaching?

Me Well, yes. First, it only works when I'm quite clear about the underlying goals and very secure in the actual use of the materials. Second, I'm not doing this in every class each week, just consistently in each grade, as part of the pattern of learning. The result is that I hear how the children learn, in a quite different way. I'm much more flexible in responding to their learning pace and individual needs. And I've seen that some of the things I do need to change.

Mark* Like what?

Me Many kids need to move a LOT. Even more than I'd thought. When I'm carefully listening to them, directly pacing the class to them rather than to a preconceived plan, it's much easier to say, for instance, "Let's stomp to show the beat this time. Put the rhythm in your hands" or whatever.

Mark* Many teachers do plan, and then tweak the plan as they teach--leaving some things out, adding some things in.

Me Yes. That's improvisation, too. I do that, too---it's just part of teaching. But it's on a different scale than what I'm talking about. No pun intended.

Mark* Sounds fun, actually.

Me Can be. Can be both a lively ride and an intense learning time. For the kids, yes---and most definitely, for me.

*Mark, of course, is not my real Principal's actual name.

No comments: