About the Authors

Carrie Lobman and Matthew Lundquist are the Authors of Unscripted Learning: Using Improv Activities Across the K-8 Curriculum.

Carrie Lobman, EdD is Assistant Professor of Education at The Graduate School of Education, Rutgers University. She is the director of the Developing Teachers Fellowship Program at the East Side Institute. Send an email to Carrie

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

REMINDER Book Launch on June 9th

Just a reminder that the launch of Unscripted Learning is fast approaching! On Saturday June 9th at 11am Matthew and I will host a panel of teachers who have trained and the East Side Institute and in the Developing Teachers Fellowship Program. If you have ever felt depressed about schools in our city, come hear these amazing stories of creativity told by NYC public school teachers. Then...it will finally be time to buy your very own copy of the book and of course have it personally autographed by us. We hope to see you there!

And then in the evening--come out for a night of truly hilarious improv comedy. Matthew will be joining the cast of This is Your Ridiculous Life at the Castillo Theatre at 543 42nd Street at 7pm with a second book signing to follow.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

A Playful Antidote to Standardized Test Stress

In the past few years the release of New York City's standardized test scores has become a spring ritual for anyone with connections to children, teachers, schools, or politics (pretty much anyone). Each year there seems to be one grade level which everyone hails as a huge success and another whose scores evoke concern. This year, according to the New York Times article by David Herzenhorn (New York Eighth Graders Show Gains in Reading), its the Eighth Grade that has made significant gains and the third and fourth grades that showed decline. Last year, if I remember correctly, the opposite was true. One of the more disturbing aspects of this constant shifting of concern and pride is that it leads to an enormous amount of stress among teachers, parents and children.

In writing Unscripted Learning one of Matthew's and my goals was to create a book that could be used by teachers who worked within the real world of high stakes testing and its ever shifting priorities. While I believe that the assumptions behind standardized tests are about as undevelopmental as you can get, I think there are opportunities to create test taking performances that have the potential to be developmental for everyone involved. The best program I've ever seen that does this is called TeamPlay for Test Stress developed by Gwen Lowenheim and Stuart Sears. This program uses improvisation and team-building to help inner-city elementary school students and staff deal more productively with test anxiety and stress. The teachers and kids work together to come up with test taking performances and while obviously each child has to take their own test, the class approaches the test as a team and works hard to help everyone succeed. Its one of the best examples of creative teaching out there.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Did you know there was a National Museum of Play?

Well there is, and its in Rochester, NY. They even have a Toy Hall of Fame. In it are such toys as the Slinky, Legos, Candyland, Lincoln Logs, and Mr. Potato Head. But, my favorite is that last year they inducted the Cardboard Box into the Hall of Fame. Very cool.

I was at the museum because they co-sponsored a conference called "Play Matters", co-sponsored by The Association for the Study of Play and the International Play Association. Once again I did a presentation on the Developing Teachers Fellowship Program and the use of improv in the classroom. The audience was made up of other play researchers, teachers, social workers, and playworkers (apparently a career in the United Kingdom). I had the luxury of having over an hour for my session so in addition to presenting on the methodology of the program and the work of the Fellows in their classrooms, we played several games from Unscripted Learning. We played several rounds of Yes, and and went on an Emotional Bus ride. One of the participants said that she had been feeling a little depressed at the conference until she heard about the work of the teachers.

I attended a couple of really interesting sessions. One of them was organized by Ana Marjanovic Shane and Beth Ferholt. Beth was discussing the Playworld project that she is studying. I've been a big fan of this program for several years now and try to hear Beth talk about it whenever I can. Playworlds is an international project for early childhood classrooms where the teachers take books and bring them to life in the classroom. For example, in Beth's case the teacher and researchers brought the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe to life in a first grade classroom on an army base in San Diego. Its amazing work that allows the children to improvise with the script of the books, but also creates an incredibly intimate environment between teachers and children. Ana showed a film from arts based camps for refugee children during the war in the former Yugoslavia. The films are wonderful and I have been encouraging Ana to get the out to more places. Finally, I attended a session led by Fraser Brown who does playwork with Romanian orphans. Again, if you can every get a chance to hear him speak--do so. It is truly inspiring work.

Performing New Classroom Conversations While Creating a Play

In late March I visited one of the Developing Teachers Fellows and her 2nd grade class in Brooklyn. This is a very energetic class – many of the students are full of life, song, dance, and humor – and struggle with being able to sit still and do school work for any length of time. As is the often the case, the teacher is required to keep them in their seats doing work for many hours at a time. After a few minutes of doing school work, there can be a lot of bickering, fooling around and sometimes punching over almost anything.

We had been working/playing together for a few months when the teacher and I decided to create a play with the class. They love performing, and as I mentioned are quite artistic. So we thought that they’d be motivated to create a play – to do the writing, scenery and music. We decided to organize them into small work groups, each one responsible for a component of the play. We spoke to them about the importance of building those work groups for the success of the play.

In the last few visits we led a variety of improv games (Yes/And stories, spectrum games, the Emotional Bus) in which students got to perform themselves. So prior to this session, we looked at all of the material we got from them and came up with an overall framework. The name of our play is “The Amazing Changing Child.” Children will travel in the Emotional Bus from scene to scene – scenes they’d previously performed for us, like: cleaning their room, being yelled at by a parent, someone calling them a name. Each time the bus travels to a new scene, a different student will play “the amazing changing child” (s/he will always have the same name, wear the same costume). The child is amazing because s/he can change emotions on the spot – and s/he rehearses and tries on whatever emotion is needed for the next scene as s/he is traveling on the bus.

On that day in late March we broke the class up into small groups with the Jig Saw framework in mind:
Writers Group: At first we asked the writers to write dialogue for some of the scenes, but that was too difficult for them, and they began fighting amongst themselves. So we came up with something we thought they could be successful at: making up superpowers for each new emotion the Amazing Changing Child will perform. With this task they began busily writing and illustrating a superpower for each scene. For example, one superpower is the ability to freeze people and make them forget what they were doing. We’re going to use that for a scene where a family is fighting and the Amazing Changing Child wants them to stop.

Theme Song Group: Two girls and one boy are writing a theme rap for the show. Their first time together they did a great job and performed a rap about friendship for the class.

Scenery Group: Children drew pictures of various scenes on their own. A few of them drew pictures of a girl cleaning her room. The teacher and I spoke after the class about wanting to see if they could also draw one picture together, and then we realized we needed them to create the Emotional Bus. A prop! A couple of kids can draw the front of the bus on very big paper; a couple draw the middle, and so on. We’ll create a conversation with them about how to accomplish this artistic feat.

Interesting conversations

One girl, T, is always complaining about things. She pouts, pushes people, instigates conflicts. Does it seemingly indiscriminately. At one point, the teacher and I were sitting next to each other, right near T, and T was angry, pushing, etc. The teacher began telling her to stop, but instead broke with the old script and said, “Wow! I just saw you in such a different way. You are great at this pouter performance! You are a great pouter! Unbelievable. We should see if we can use this! Maybe you can play a pouter in the play! (T is looking at her, stunned). Let me see you do your pouting performance.” T starts smiling, looking embarrassed and kind of joyful. She makes the pouting face, can’t do it, starts smiling and laughing a little, tries pouting again, and does it really well.
“Excellent,” said the theacher. We’ve got to figure out how to use that!
The Developing Teacher was excited about both T’s new performance, as well as her own: the performance of seeing performance!

One boy in the Scenery Group, JQ, kept getting into fights with other kids. He loves drawing and he’s good at it, but also loves fighting (which he does often in the class). I was speaking to another child when he approached me and insisted that we speak right then. I performed as a director and told him I was working with a script writer at the time. He whined, kicked at things and insisted we speak. I exaggeratedly told him that directors were important people, that people wait in line for days to see the director and suggested he have a seat. He did! I got into a few other conversations before I got back to him, and there he was, patiently waiting.
He said that kids in the group were making fun of him and he wanted to move to another group. He didn’t want to try to do anything about what was going on there. He wanted to go into the Song Writing Group. I told him that being in that group would place a lot of demands on him, they’re working hard on writing the song and he’d need to help them do that. What did he think about that? He said he wanted to do it. I said I thought he could do it, but it would be hard work. Did he want to take on that hard work? He said yes. I said, let’s try it.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Team Building in a Brownsville, Brooklyn Classroom

One of the classes I work with is a self-contained Special Education class that has second and third grade students. The teacher, paraprofessionals, students and I have used Improv and Performance activities to create a community of acceptance, collaboration, and productivity throughout this school year. This has been a challenging process since all of the students in this classroom were placed in Special Education classes since they were five years old. They have experienced failure, low expectations and a continued acceptance of their negative and anti-social behaviors.

When I started working with this class, I introduced myself as their teacher’s coach and asked them if they would be willing to work as a team to help their teacher learn some new and different ways of working with them. The class enthusiastically agreed to assist me. We engaged in Improv activities and theatrical performances that allowed them to create a space where they can experience new ways of being a team.

During our April session, a parent came to the classroom to observe her son who had been newly admitted. When she arrived, her son was being coached by the other students in our warm-up game of Whoosh. The other students helped him learn the game and encouraged him to “keep playing” whenever he made a mistake. They told him that “his job as a team member is to keep going so that their teacher can learn how to work with them better”. We started to act out some Improv scenes when the parent entered the room. The setting of one of the scenes was in the school playground where one student helps another student find their way home. The teacher, paraprofessionals, and I all took parts in the scenes with the students while the parent observed. The parent then asked if she could join in one of the scenes with one of the students. I cautiously said yes, because I was concerned that she would try to take over the scene. What occurred next was impressive and encouraging. The student took the parent’s hand and instructed her where to stand off stage and how to wait until they were announced to come on stage. The parent followed the student’s lead throughout the scene and they created a beautiful “Yes, And” story together which included the parent giving a convincing performance of crying because she was lost and the student telling her that she would be her friend and help her get home. We all clapped enthusiastically at the end of the scene.

The parent stayed for the entire class and joined the other activities that we played during that period. She then stated that she had never seen her son so engaged in class work and thanked me for letting her join us. According to this parent our work should be a mandated part of all school curriculums.

I believe that the students and teachers in this school would agree with her. I know that I do!

"Riding the Bus" Improv Game

I had not planned to introduce the improve game “The Emotional Bus” game on the day or at the time that I did, but after a discussion about feelings during morning meeting one day, it seemed like the perfect time to introduce it in my first grade class! In “The Emotional Bus” game, several students perform different emotions as they enter a bus and interact with a bus driver who also performs an emotion. The tricky part is that each person who is on the bus must take on the emotion of the person entering the bus. For example, if the bus driver is happy and then someone sad gets on, the bus driver and the person entering the bus both perform the emotion of sadness and so forth.

What I had anticipated, or rather feared, was that the students would all want a turn on the bus and we might never get to play the game. A short reminder discussion about the importance of both the performers and audience, with a promise that all children would have a turn to “ride the bus” at some point, enabled us to play,. The children had a blast. Performers were so fun acting out their emotion. They also did really well remembering to perform each other’s emotions. The audience was spectacular, giving emotion ideas and listening and watching attentively. This game is such a great hit with our class and is a new favorite!