Adding Improvisation to the Playground Metaphor

article written by
Marit Kulild, Høgskulen på Vestlandet, Campus Stord, Norway,
Francine Behnen, NHL Stenden, Leeuwarden, The Netherlands

What happens when two teacher educators must adapt their “Playgrounds” to COVID-19 pandemic in their respective countries? They both welcome teachers’ students in their first year of teacher training and seek ways to ‘set the stage’ for sound teacher training. Marit invites her primary school teachers’ students (TS) to an outdoor teaching program at the start of the semester and encourages them to reflect on how teaching and learning can take place outdoor. Francine takes her apprentice biology, physics chemistry and math’s student teachers to the Waddencentre. She encourages them to relate their subject matter content to the reconstruction works on one of the most important dams in The Netherlands.

This year both faced ‘impossibilities’ and had to re-invent the “Playgrounds”. In a dialogue about their experiences, a new aspect of their Playground metaphor for teacher training appeared.

Francine: Normally, we spend a full day at the Waddencentre to explore the different objects, deepen understanding and get to grips with the request to design learning materials. This year the students could visit the centre for just one hour in shifts of 30 students at a time.

Marit: We performed the outdoor “Playground” in August. However, in the autumn term of 2020, the students were not allowed to sleep in the 5 –6 person tents we usually use. We solved that problem by buying hammocks for the students. In addition to the Covid-19 restrictions, no bonfire was allowed because of the drought. Therefore, we couldn’t bake the bread and make the charcoal for drawing which is part of the outdoor teaching program. We had to improvise to meet our goals. Nevertheless, the TS got enough practice to carry out their outdoor school projects during their first internships.

With the TS, I have used examples from the outdoor teaching program to discuss pedagogical improvisation as an example to show them a teacher must always prepare for the unforeseen. The unforeseen can be different things like not being able to light a bonfire or topple upside down in a hammock but can also be more severe incidents like that of a whole country turning red with the spread of Covid-19.

Francine: Did we include improvisation as an aspect of our “Playground” metaphor?

Marit: No, not yet. We could do so and refer to what Keith Sawyer (2011) says: “What makes good teachers great, is the artful balance between structure improvisation”. A proper plan is essential, and the preparedness to let it all change when it becomes apparent that a pupil does not ‘get’ it or discover the teaching plan is impossible to carry out. Teachers need to improvise, and every TS must start to practice this as from day one. Yes, I think improvisation can be an essential aspect to add to the Playground metaphor. Both our “Playgrounds” are places to rehearse, train and gain experience. As teachers, we all need to be able to improvise as a part of our professional development!

Sawyer, R. K. (2011). What makes good teachers great? The artful balance of structure and improvisation. Structure and improvisation in creative teaching, 1-24.

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