As I try to remember that I don’t teach year-round anymore, and that I need to stop and enjoy this summer, I’ve been catching up on some reading. One of the books that I am glad to finally read is “Imagine” by Jonah Lehrer. I haven’t finished it yet, and I plan to post a full review when I do, but here is a tidbit that I want to share.

Update: Jonah Lehrer has just admitted to some egregious breaches of trust that include lying about his sources and fabricating quotes. As such, I can no longer recommend this book, no matter how true the referenced chapters may be. I apologize for my poor judgment.

The entire book lays out our research-based understanding of the nature of creativity. Lehrer discusses the conditions and practices that are associated with novel ideas and invention. In a chapter entitled “The Letting Go”, in which the author reveals the importance of improvisation and loosening of restrictions, he examines the critical role that unconfined brainstorming and unscripted explorations play in the creative process. In looking at jazz musicians who must master their craft before ad-libbing, however, he notes:

“It’s only at this point, after expertise has been achieved, that improvisation can take place.” (p. 105)

This struck me as an interesting idea. We often consider free-association exercises and open-ended creative activities as a learning opportunity in our classrooms. I continue to see value in them.

However, I will now think twice before starting a lesson with this form of improvisation, because it seems clear that improvisation is much more powerful after students attain mastery of a topic. Consider the powerful role that ad-libbing can have in extension activities for students who reach mastery ahead of the rest of the class. Divergent thinking activities may be an ideal form of differentiation for these students.

How do you utilize improvisation in your instruction?

photo credit: JD Hancock via photo pin cc

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