Five “Best Practices” for Teaching Mixed-level InterPlay Classes

July 12, 2010
Five “Best Practices” for Teaching Mixed-Level InterPlay Classes
InterPlayers enjoy “performing life!”
InterPlayers enjoy "performing life!"

Gretchen status update

Gretchen Wegner’s blog heading reads “Play with intention…Learn with abandon.” She is a learning expert and coach. She teaches and practices InterPlay. Here is a recent entry:

For those of you who don’t know, InterPlay is an active, creative approach to unlocking the wisdom of the body. We use storytelling, movement, voice, physical contact, and stillness as a vehicle to creating healthy individuals and communities. InterPlay is also a performance technique, which is what I teach on Tuesday nights at InterPlayce in Oakland, California I’m so grateful to all the new and eager students! Many of them are experienced InterPlayers who have been hungering to practice performing; others, though, are completely new to the practice. Because it’s a drop-in class, the same folks don’t come every week (although there is a core of about five who are thankfully consistent).

As you can imagine, these disparities –  in experience  and attendance – pose interesting challenges for me, the leader. How might I teach in such a way that the new people learn the basic skills, but the more experienced folks feel challenged? How do I build skills with specific performance forms when folks do not consistently attend? (Note: I’m very aware that these questions are similar to the ones academic teachers ask in classes with both “gifted” and “learning disabled” students. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to reflect about how my InterPlay experience dovetails with my classroom teaching experience; however, there are definitely overlaps, and many of these best practices can be applied to the academic classroom as well).

Slowly, I’m gathering my own list of best practices.

1. Always teach the basic skills as a warm up into the more complex ones. Just as a concert pianist practices her scales, so must the most experienced InterPlayers practice the basic forms. Sometimes I’m tempted to forego a hand dance or 30-second babble because I want to get to the “good stuff” of dancing and storytelling using the whole body. However, easing the body into the more complex forms often provides a richer experience – for both the newbie and the old hat. Plus, I’m learning that teaching the basic skills doesn’t have to take a ton of time (often just a minute or two).

2. Provide multiple options.

3. Practice being an expert.

4. Name nervousness, but don’t dwell on it.

5. Change partners often.

Read Gretchen’s reflections on these practices.

She concludes by saying,”These five best practices are simply the ones I found myself using tonight. I’m sure there are many more ways of dealing with the challenge of mixed-level classes.”

These practices could apply to many areas of diversity in community. Phil and I wholeheartedly commend what Gretchen is practicing!

Gretchen is the creator of MuseCubes, an academic coach, and an InterPlay educator. If you are interested in ways that InterPlay can empower your teaching or learning community contact Cynthia@interplay.org


InterPlay Serves K Through Grad School

May 17, 2010

My daughter was in the first generation of online kids. By middle school her teachers didn’t know what to do. These kids needed to talk. They were hard to keep “on subject.”One thing at a time was tedious for multimedia, multisensory learners. The principal called them the generation the least likely to succeed. Flooded with empathy and stress from being on the phone and online, they were also overwhelmed. Personally, I think they were adapting to the world wide web. Were they victims or pioneers?

Times have changed, but what about education? How do we better connect to subject matter and each other?  Can teachers support healthy spontaneity in the classroom, the essence of curiosity and learning? Can students ask real questions? Can younger and older learners move past “be quiet and stay in your seat” practices to creative self-abandonment-the genius of youth? Can educators and students be embodied learners? Can InterPlay be of service? Yes. Excitement builds as teachers incorporate InterPlay in classes..

Joy Hodges, elementary school teacher, helps kids get a running start on projects by using InterPlay. Watch her describe it here.

Diane Rawlinson, high school teacher, watches it ripple through her student body as she teaches youth how to witness and affirm one another:
Unbelievable response to the Interplay workshops at the National HS Dance Festival..Wow…talk about freeing for them, especially those from fine arts schools who are so used to traditional training. The festival had over 1,500 students from over 100 public, magnet, and fine arts schools in the US, Canada, and Australia. They were able to create a non-judgemental community in a very short time, with dancers who are primarily used to being judged and corrected throughout their training. Seeds have been planted in a new generation of teens not from Wheeling!!!!

Gretchen Wegner, master educator, uses InterPlayful body-based inquiry for graduate level work. Read her journal article “The Role of Improvisation and Imagination in Accessing Body-Based Ways of Knowing.”

Sybil MacBeth, “who can’t paint a cat” uses InterPlay in religious education to teach kids to pray. Watch a video here.

Embodied cognition is a growing area of study. (Thanks Arthur)

InterPlay is at lab with a working methodology. Spread the word. InterPlay to learn. Learn to interplay.


Stressed Bodies Don’t Learn: InterPlay in Education

March 8, 2010

I’m enjoying a yahoo discussion group on mindfulness in education. Professors are asking each other, “WHAT DO YOU ACTUALLY DO IN THE CLASSROOM?” It seems that teachers literally use meditation and mindflness to work with students to be present, renew focus, reduce stress, learn through a more spacious physicality, and apply their learnings to their fields of study. Simply put, “Stressed bodies don’t learn.” And stress is quite a problem for students, educators, employers and employees these days.

In InterPlay, we’ve found that by emphasizing the play factor we see greater access to conection, ease, and energy. Over-efforting often fails us. Many of us are “recovering serious people” who no longer choose to sustain the out of reach expectations we had for ourselves or others. Shifting to simple practices like easy focus, noticing, taking deep breaths and letting them out with a sigh, and focusing on the physicality of grace (people places and activities that create energy), we gain easier, balanced, more joyful paths for study, life, and work. Wonder of wonders, it turns out that embodying these qualities are optimal for success. We became easier to be around. We attract learning.

Beyond the ease factor, when we widen out the behavioral path to learning, new insights spring forth! Book learning and lectures, while crucial, are slower, more mono-focused forms with limited access to diverse kinds of data. By adding other “forms” of activity we discover information inside and around us that can’t be reached or known in ANY OTHER FORM. For instance, you can only activate knowledge received in dance through movement (Susanne Langer calls movement a ” virtual realm of power.”) You can only draw on the learning implicit in story telling (history for instance) through stories. Dance can’t do that. Forms like dance and story can overlap, but they don’t replace each other’s data base. (Thank you Susanne Langer- Feeling and Form.)

A complete education would give students practical ways (ways that don’t require extraordinary talent)  to learn from diverse systems in their own body (their own body of knowledge). Different than learning to perform dance, or sing, or paint, or do drama, InterPlay grants access to five data bases of learning: MOVEMENT, VOICE/BREATH, WORDS, CONNECTIONS, and STILLNESS/BEING. Playing with InterPlay’s building blocks in each area, people around the world are harnassing and changing their energy, embracing creative exploration, releasing old patterns, coalescing new insights, building learning communities, and applying these learnings to their fields of endeavor.

If a computer program could be programmed to increase our knowledge by dancing don’t you think that we’d equip computers to dance? If we could develop computer programs that could move ideas, emotions, blockages, and even wider patterns of energy in the world, wouldn’t we?  So far only humans can activate the organic neurological, chemical fields of knowledge. Movement, voice, words, stillness, and connection are more than sensors. They are keys that unlock information to a wider web, the wisdom of the matter and energy (the body) in which we participate. Our ancestors had an intimate connection to this web. Similarly, InterPlay is helping people reconnect to embodied avenues of inquiry by staying simple and opening the door to diverse experiences.

Embodiment is not mindless or difficult. A human body is like a needle. Cognition is the eye of the needle and our ever changing experience is the thread. Cognitively aware and choiceful in mindbodyheartspirt thought and reflection is a vital aspect of embodiment as we sew the next pattern and create our life.

The simple tools of InterPlay are opening doors to learn about self, others, and the world. Students at all lifestages discover that they know things and want to share their knowledge in fresh, exciting ways that stimulate the curiousity of peers. Even more remarkable? This can happen in a matter of hours or days. Professor Diana Trotter marveled at athletes and other students when she used InterPlay in her January session public speaking class. InterPlay made a lot more than public speaking possible! Watch this video of Diana speaking about her class.

Stressed bodies don’t learn. But neither do bored bodies. Give students an interactive role and learning just happens. Would it surprise you to know that the majority of people are not stuck in their head? Most of us already learn through experiences. I am looking forward to InterPlay leaders who will open doors for other educators to learn the best practices of this approach.

PS. I love Gretchen Wegner’s blog about InterPlay, Education etc. Lots of cool links there.

I am also celebrating Courtney Goto’s successful Emory University doctoral dissertation defense using InterPlay as a practice for formation and spiritual development. Go team!


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