Arian Underhill on Jazz not Pron.

Adrian started by asking who always planned lessons, sometimes planned lessons, and never planned lessons. Not many hands went up for the last one! Then he asked if we followed the plan and if we didn’t did we still manage to give good lessons. The conclusion, ‘By planning and not following it you give good lessons!’

Improvisation is not planned and also the part of the lesson that is often not assessed and it is this that Adrian calls the ‘dark matter of teaching’.

He then suggested some rules for improvisation – and if you were wondering where the jazz comes in – this is it. As playing jazz includes improvisation, he argues that the same rules for jazz impro can be applied to teaching impro. Here they are:

  1. Skilful knowledge is required (but he warned against being too eager to teach).
  2. Accept the offer – respond to what the student says or does
  3. I can either accept the offer or refuse (keep on plan)
  4. If I accept it, is my response fresh or clichéd (habit – students soon notice habit)
  5. Listening -The queen of skills – I need to see/hear the offer
  6. The Ace – In order to hear it, I have to be available and present

Fun activity followed. In pairs, one person starts talking about a recent event (journey to IATEFL) and the other person throws in random, unconnected words which the first person has to then incorporate into their story.

He then demonstrated ways of using questions when collecting answers in feedback. This, he says, is where you can see improvisation happening. He’s promised to upload his slides of the questions so they should be on the demand high blog soon. There was real evidence of his demand high approach in action here, too. In a recent conversation Hugh Dellar said, ‘Going through the answers is when much of the real teaching can/ should occur’. I have to agree, but for that to happen, we have to do it well. So, thanks Adrian for some extra tools to help us on our way.

Unfortunately the session recording isn’t available on the IATEFL or BC site so no chance to watch it again but Adrian has written a paper on the subject and here is his post talk interview.

*** I almost forgot, something that also came up was the suggestion to video yourself and look for improvisations. The recording yourself was something which kept coming up in various sessions. I think I’ll start with audio and work up to video.