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Acting Lessons for Teachers

Acting Lessons for Teachers

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Published by: cem balcikanli on Sep 27, 2010
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Practitioners—in particular, award-winning teachers—concur. In the
research conducted prior to writing this book, we contacted award-winning pro-
fessors and K–12 teachers in various disciplines and asked them to comment on
their use of acting skills in the classroom. Their testimonials, which are included in
Appendix 2, Testimonials from Award-Winning K–12 Teachers and Professors,
testify to the value of teachers’ incorporation of acting skills in their classrooms.
An English teacher agrees that acting skills “can be useful in engaging stu-
dents in the course and focusing their attention on the major ideas or problems
of a discipline” (Carroll, testimony 4). Another English teacher, with twenty
years of experience, readily attests to the usefulness of acting skills as an “aid in
maintaining both the vibrancy and quality of learning” (Harrison, testimony 8).
A biology teacher, although admitting that she has had no formal training in
acting techniques, has “become increasingly aware of their [acting skills’] impor-
tance to the quality and effectiveness” of her teaching (Grimnes, testimony 6).
Another biology teacher claims that “good teaching sweeps people away and
involves them in the mood of the acting production. It is the ability to involve
an audience that a teacher must master if he/she is to be completely successful in
teaching” (Light, testimony 10).
An instructor of theater and dance writes that acting skills “will help a
teacher create classes with drama: classes that generate interest, sustain suspense,
and leave students with a feeling that something important has been achieved”
(Hall, testimony 7). According to a philosophy teacher, “students considering
secondary-school teaching need to become very outgoing and spontaneous in
their delivery. While instruction is never coextensive with entertainment, none-
theless, to learn how to work an audience should not be downplayed” (Lisska,
testimony 11).

The world of drama pervades a history teacher’s comments when he says that
he has spent a decade learning his craft “in an environment conducive to the
development of educational acting skills and the awareness of the classroom as a
stage upon which the instructor may combine aspects of the lecturer and the per-
former” (Mahoney, testimony 12). A psychology instructor, although admitting
that his acting experience outside of the classroom has been limited, has “learned
how to act, and how to teach, on the same stage.” His use of acting skills has not
limited his responsibility to teach content: “they simply enhance the content
and make it a part of the student’s reality” (McBrayer, testimony 13).
A marketing teacher acknowledges the importance of teaching up-to-date,
well-organized material. The real challenge, she argues, is to “teach the material
each time as if it’s the first time. Every ‘performance’ must retain the excitement
of opening night. For every member of the audience, after all, it is just that”
(Rogers, testimony 15). In a response typical of those received from our award-
winning teachers, a political science instructor starts off her testimony with, “I
never thought of myself as an actor” (Steuernagel, testimony 19), and then goes

Educational Foundations for Teachers as Actors


on to enumerate teaching techniques that she believes she shares with fellow

Our testimonials support Kelly and Kelly’s (1982) interviews with, and
observations of, award-winning teachers. Among other common elements, the
teachers compared their teaching to a theatrical performance. Effective basic-
education and higher-education teachers report that they “come alive” when
they step in front of the class. At this point they feel they are on stage. When
educators take on the teacher role, they are able to speak with a sense of confi-
dence and enthusiasm that energizes both themselves and their students.
In a special issue of Communication Education, writers offered a series of
“docustories” celebrating situations when teaching actually “worked.” Immedi-
ately following these stories, four guest authors critiqued the stories, attempting
to analyze common elements. One such element was performance. Conquergood
(1983) sees successful teaching as a shift from informative to performative. Spra-
gue (1993, 356) cites the common element of “teaching as assisted perfor-
mance.” Strine (1993, 374) sees teaching as crossing “comfort zones” where
lessons are learned from performing.
Wulff (1993), an associate director of a center for instructional development,
acknowledges how the various contributors’ stories have influenced him. When
faculty visiting his center ask, “What makes you successful in helping faculty
with their teaching,” his first inclination is to enumerate a series of reasons.
Instead, now he says, “Let me tell you a story . . .” Storytelling is probably the old-
est, and most enduring, of the performing arts! Puckett and Shaw (1988) offer
ways to enhance the powerful skill of storytelling.
Worldwide, the message—the evidence—is the same. The dramatic style of
teachers in many cultures emerges as one of the highest correlates of teacher
effectiveness (Sallinen-Kuparinen et al. 1987). In Australia, for example, Hollo-
way, Abbott-Chapman, and Hughes (1992) report that a common element
among effective teachers was demonstrated through their enthusiastic—to the
point of being highly dramatic—presentation of subject matter.
Successful practitioners everywhere, in every discipline, and at every grade
level, agree: there is an educational foundation for using acting skills in the

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