Play, Creativity, Improvisation

Why are  play, improvisation, and creativity showing up in so many different conferences and publications these days?  And what do they have to do with best practices in legal education?

The 2008 AALS Conference in New York included an Open Source presentation on play, and a Clinical Section presentation on improvisation.  The 2008 Clinical Conference in Tucson also included a session on improvisation (I organized that one and can vouch that we sent in our proposal before  learning that the same topic would be addressed in New York).

Master teacher Gerry Hess wrote about asking his students do  creative representations of the conceptual framework for personal jurisdiction years ago  (I stole his idea for a “class participation” option and built on it twice.  By also asking them to integrate the pieces of civil procedure into a creative  “big picture” project.  And by giving an in class group work assignment to draw the “stream of commerce.”)

And,  of course, interest in storytelling is high (perhaps a follow-up to the focus on narrative in the late 80’s and 90’s, including the LawStories series, and the Conferences on Storytelling.

I pondered the “why now” and “best practices?” questions when I saw the Journal of Legal Education scholarly article follow-up to the Open Source play presentation.

Is the why just aging law professors?   Always-were- creative types who now feel the confidence to be a little more “out there”?   Others starting to develop that side of their brains late in life?   Or another result of the tightening market for Ph.D’s and K-12 teachers in the 70’s that brought people into law who otherwise might have landed elsewhere?

As to “best practices” — presumably active learning necessarily means engaging both hemispheres of the brain.  If we want to “Teach the Whole Class” (to crib the title of an excellent Institute for Law Teaching video), surely we need to teach to learning styles that include the kinesthetic  — maybe manipulating play doh, as one of my married-with-children law students did for her personal jurisdiction conceptual framework?  And good legal work and good teaching require some ability to improvise in response to new situations.

I’m curious how many other such efforts around play and improvisation I’ve missed.  Am I right that these issues are “in the air”?

2 Responses

  1. Toni Halleen is a wonderful lawyer/improv artist here in the Twin Cities who runs a program called “Fun With Law”. Here’s her website: I have her do a workshop with my clinic students every semester focused on “the Art of Listening” in which she engages all of us in all sorts of group improv exercises. The students, who moan and groan and pull their baseball caps lower over their eyes in the beginning, invariably come away from the session with smiles on their faces and an appreciation for the lessons learned — about thinking on their feet, trusting themselves (“saying yes”), being comfortable with uncertainty. It’s a great way to connect right and left brain functioning, and I find that both I and my students refer back to the improv language and ideas repeatedly throughout the semester.

  2. So their salary won’t go up by 1.4% next year. They still have jobs. The middle class won’t see their taxes go up by an average of $3000 either because that’s what the GOP would have stood by and watched happen in order to protect their precious top 2% of earners. Millions across this country will also have heat and food due to the extension of unemployment benefits that the GOP would have let run out.

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