An Open Letter to Stanislavski

Amy Suiter is an American student in her second year of the MFA. She spends her time writing a novel, juggling the PG Cert and a part-time job, and trying to cut down to two cups of coffee per day. She occasionally finds time for random musings on her blog, A Minnesota Yankee. Today she considers whether and how she can apply her dramatic studies to teaching creative writing.

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An open letter to Konstantin Stanislavski, after using his sense memory acting technique to teach fellow students how to write sensory character descriptions:

Well, Mr Stanislavski, my idea was a bit daring. Can I really use an acting method to teach people a new way of writing? Even more, can I teach this to people who have little to no experience writing?

Yes, in fact. I believe I can. With careful preparation and enthusiasm, I feel that I succeeded. The session started off quite well with genuine interest from the students. I introduced my idea and learning outcome: that they should be able to write a sensory description of infatuation by the end of the lesson. I proceeded straight into an activity, asking them to recall a time when they were infatuated with someone.

This is where I believe I made an error, as I then called out examples for them rather than letting the students come up with their own first. The Teaching Center (2009) warns specifically against this: ‘Do not give in to the temptation to answer your own questions, which will condition students to hesitate before answering.’ While my over-eagerness may have limited the number of responses, they still had plenty of ideas of their own.

After explaining the idea of putting oneself in the character’s circumstances, the class was asked to write the reaction of a character to a specific circumstance, using guided hand-outs I had prepared. I intentionally avoided Power Point slides as I did not feel they were necessary with the time constraints, although student feedback suggested it would have been beneficial to include the quotes I delivered as a visual aid. After all, who would not want to read your great words, Mr Stanislavski?

Overall, however, I felt it was an invaluable experience on my road to becoming a teacher, and saw from the student feedback that it was an enjoyable lesson for them as well.

References

The Teaching Center: Washington University in St. Louis. (2009) Increasing Student Participation. Available at: http://teachingcenter.wustl.edu/increasing-student-participation. (Accessed: 6 November 2012).

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