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Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Performance of Close-Up Teaching

I LOVE planning and reflecting on what goes on in my classroom. The class with Dr. Meyer always sparks a more in depth examination of what is occurring in my classroom.

We just finished moving all of our belonging from one household to another. It is always interesting to see how much stuff has been accrued over a number years. It is exciting to clear out some things you don't need and I always seem to re-discover a few books and items that I need to spend more time with.

In my college days I used to perform magic as a hobby and a way to generate extra income. I have attended a few magic conventions and been fortunate enough to watch some very talented magicians. One such magician is Eugene Burger. I have a book written by him called 'The Performance of Close-Up Magic'. I can't say I remember ever actually opening it up and reading it. To my surprise as I flipped through the book and read the Foreword that the book wasn't simply about magic tricks but was more about the philosophy of performing.

I have come to believe that people are always performing. We perform differently depending on which audience is in front of us. Teaching is no different. We are putting on a certain persona and performance for our classes. Admittedly, I also believe that teaching is THE most demanding sort of performance in that it is for so many hours in a row and for so many different participants.

Recently I had the privilege of watching a great presenter by the name of Arel Moodie.  I can see why he was named "America's Top Young Speaker".  What an inspiring performance he give to students all across America!  

As I began to read this book I realized there were many similarities between this book and my current musings about education. I have always enjoyed pulling relevant quotes out of pieces of work. Whenever the term performer is used, I believe teacher could easily be inserted. Let's take a look.

Quote 1: " What is important, in short, is the thinking that is necessary before any performer can reach any of [their] goals." (pg. 20).

The thing I love about the class with Dr. Meyer and the performance from Arel Moodie is that it challenges us to think about the performance in our classroom. Unfortunately, I think when teachers believe they are "thinking" about what is going on in their classrooms they are really just worrying about all the things that their administration is going to be looking for. This is not thinking that is going to help them reach their goals. Assuming that their goals are about doing what is best for their students.

Quote 2 is out of Chapter 4. In this Chapter Burger is discussing the idea that the tricks aren't what makes a magician.
"His ability to communicate his own sense of wonder and fun to his audience" (pg. 23) is what makes the magician.

I believe that this holds true for teachers as well. Unfortunately teachers are often times required to use the "same tricks" in the classroom as if that is what is going to "fix" them. When in reality the teachers ability to communicate is most important.

I have to admit that in this Chapter there were quite a few pages describing a certain trick and I was about to abandon the book as far as relevant information towards teaching goes but at the beginning of each chapter as Burger discussing his thoughts on magic in general I find another gem!

For example, on pg. 36 it reads, "The modern problem, Nathan Scott Jr. once wrote, is a failure of the imagination." (Quote 3)

There are many analogies that could be made between this quote and education. I would say that administration doesn't truly appreciate teachers using their imaginations in regards to the classroom AND even more disheartening is that teachers are less and less afforded the opportunity to cultivate the growth of student imaginations.

In Chapter 8 Burger discusses the idea of approach. How one approaches people (and by extension a classroom full of students) is vital.  Arel Moodie comes to mind here as well! 

Quote 4: "In close-up magic, as in life, it is very often our approach --- the impact of our initial appearance, presence, and manner---that determines whether our efforts will be successes, failures, or complete disasters." (pg. 51).

I can't help but be saddened thinking about all the teachers who allow their approach to be dictated by systems focused on testing and activities that lead to a disadvantageous approach.

Quote 5:
"Consider the following two propositions.
1. My show will be good if my tricks are good.
2. My show will get off the ground if my approach is strong.

Frankly, I very much doubt that the first proposition is true. In most instances, I think it is largely false. The second proposition, however, I take largely to be ignored but, nonetheless, to be true. A strong approach obviously cannot
guarantee a good show because even a strong approach can be followed by material that fails to be sufficiently deceptive and/or entertaining [or educational].

"Well", you might ask, "how does one make a strong approach?"

Wouldn't is be wonderful if I could simply tell you by spelling it all out in a few sentences that you could memorize and apply!

I can't. Performing doesn't work that way. It is you who must find your own strong approach through your own work. That is, through your own trial and error. Others might give you pointers along the way which you may (or may not) be helpful and effective for you. The final criterion, is the response that you are able to generate from your audiences...If the response isn't what you want, the only answer is more thought and more work. This, I submit, is the path to performing excellence. It is a path the requires great attention and awareness. A willingness to look at our own work with ruthless honesty and to see what is there." (pgs. 53-54)

I don't think teachers would read Quote #5 and have any difficulties understanding the similarities between "performing" and teaching. Unfortunately, I believe the general public has a grave time understanding that the best approach to education is a process. It isn't something that can be prescribed to masses of educators in a cookie cutter format. Without acknowledging that the best approach is unique to each teacher, teachers are always set up with a disadvantage.

In Chapter 12: Conversation at the airport, the whole chapter actually revolves around a conversation that Burger has with a teacher during a plane flight. Towards the end of the conversation the topic turns towards discipline.

Quote 6:
"Magician: I am saying that the real work leading to real accomplishment requires great energy, great interest, it requires clear vision.

Teacher: Yes, but it also requires great discipline.

Magician: Doesn't interest create discipline? On the other hand, if there is no interest, then I am simply following orders, following some program imposed from the outside, trying to conform to what someone else says I must do. That, I'm afraid, is a most uncreative way to approach one's art.

Teacher: But if there is no discipline

Magician: If there is sufficient interest, then there will be discipline--but discipline of a quite different quality from one which is simply obeying orders...I see that a teacher who doesn't challenge me to move beyond my own little interests, and wants and worries and likes and dislikes--all of it--leaves me exactly where I was. I don't move forward. There is no real accomplishment."

I stand behind my use of the Whole Brain Teaching techniques and score board that I use in my classroom to ensure appropriate behavior. However as I reflect on the particular techniques I use, I realize they work so well for me because they are part of my developed approach. I've always wanted to write up a "how to" for other teachers in regards to how I run those techniques but it always seems too complicated and involved. Why? Because IT IS! I have developed that approach through many years of trying, failing, and trying again!

However, as I believe Dr. Meyer has been trying to convey for most of this semester, getting students interest is so vital! A student with interest will help create a system with discipline. Perhaps part of the great thing about Whole Brain Teaching is that it embeds interest and fun within the general framework of the classroom. Reflection on some of my "behavior students" is leading me to rethink their interest level. 

Thanks to Dr. Meyer and Arel Moodie for providing inspiring performances and creating authentic interest among students and teachers.  

Till We Meet Again,
J. McKinney

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