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In the media: What instructors can learn from improv

Chronicle of Higher Education
Keith Sawyer feature image

Creativity is not an inherited trait. It’s a skill that instructors can teach, says Keith Sawyer, the Morgan Distinguished Professor of Educational Innovations. But just as importantly, Sawyer says, techniques used by creative people use can help students learn better.

The Chronicle of Higher Education took a look at Sawyer’s work on creativity in teaching in an article “What Instructors Can Learn From improv.”

The article describes Sawyer’s research, which has included study of how creative work is taught in art and music schools. His work is also informed by Sawyer’s background as a jazz pianist and his study of how improvisational — “improv” — comedy troupes succeed at collaborating to generate new and funny material.

In his recent book, “The Creative Classroom: Innovative Teaching for 21st Century Learners,” Sawyer drew from his research to develop a set of techniques that can be used by teachers to guide their students to deeper understandings — or “creative knowledge” — of subject matter.

Sawyer’s book includes approaches that can be used by teachers in all subjects to move away from an “instructionist” mode of teaching in which they simply tell students what they need to know to a method Sawyer calls “guided improvisation.”

As the Chronicle of Higher Education described it:

“Guided improvisation, Sawyer writes, helps students develop what he calls “creative knowledge” of a subject — the kind of deep understanding that allows them to remember and transfer what they have learned, and use it to make something new.”

The article describes techniques used in improv skits that are geared toward generating continued engagement, techniques that Sawyer says teachers can use in classrooms.