17 Aug 2012

I recently got a letter from a teacher who uses Spolin Games in the classroom. She asked an interesting question:

…Here’s my question: what theatre game would you recommend I use in evaluating the ability level or strength of a 4-6 grader performing improvisation? In other words, which game might let me know which student is strong and which one is weak in the area of improv.

I know in school it’s important to grade students and categorize their progress, but I had to ponder my response. It’s not so much a grade, but what to do with students who are not strong improvisers.

Here’s my reply to her:

Evaluation is important to do after each game. But skill level can be something that comes when focus is complete. If not complete, (you ask the players and the audience if they thought focus was complete or incomplete). Discussing why is not needed, just have the group and the individual note it.

You the teacher are the diagnostician. If a child exhibits resistance to the focus for a variety of reasons – from joking, not taking it seriously, to asking questions on how (which shows fear and dependency on authority) to do it, to exhibitionism (ego centric behavior that does not include fellow players), you have to figure out what game might address those issues.

Do not tell the student what their problem is. It only focuses them more on your approval and less on the fun of the game/task. Instead, figure out what game or sidecoach might help.

Growth will always be uneven. Some kids naturally possess intuitive, non-judgmental behavior and have a good time playing with others. Some need more exposure to the games.

If you evaluate for yourself a child’s ability, do so with the idea that resistance is a form of fear and seek to get those  kids more involved in the fun of it all.

Kids who play with abandon and full focus will be able to help others who are less confident. Put those players with stronger players and use the sidecoach “Help your fellow player play the game!” or something like that.

 It’s a paradigm shift to work this way rather than grading kids on natural ability. Everyone can find full involvement with the proper side coaching and game selection.

 I hope this helps.